It is clear that PSP got its seat in parliament because it succeeded in stirring a raw nerve among Singaporeans against foreign talent. Dr Tan Cheng Bock and his merry men found a simple political slogan for its campaign – anti-CECA.
Before Aug 2019, “CECA” was not a widely known term. Yes, Singaporeans saw more Indian professionals and their families living and working around them. People were renting apartments to them.
But Dr Tan Cheng Bock made “CECA” a household term. Anti-CECA also made it into PSP Manifesto. The term stirred up not just anti-government and ant-foreigner sentiments, but it became an anti-Indian phenomenon. Not unlike “peidu mama” almost a decade ago. But unlike the “peidu mama” phenomenon, CECA morphed into a monster with both xenophobic and racist traits.
In Parliament yesterday, there were expectations to see how PSP would make its mark against the PAP Government. Many expected PSP to pressure the government to admit they had let in too many Indians foreign talents to steal our rice bowl. But what happened was the collapse of PSP.
What went wrong for PSP?
Just two months before, Leong Mun Wai had ceded that FTA and CECA may not be the source of foreign influx into Singapore. He said then that he wanted to “assess”. Two months later, he came back more determined to accuse foreigners as the main reason why local PMETs are displaced. He put up quite a strong front to appear “stubborn” and “angry” about it.
But that strong front crumbled immediately after his opening speech when Minister Shanmugam (who had earlier challenged him to have this debate) asked him some simple sharp questions – Do you support FTA/ CECA? Which parts of CECA concern you? Do you think Singaporeans, like your own party members, will find your comments racist?
Mr Leong started to fumble. At times, he stared into blank space and wished the ground would swallow him. Three times he asked the Minister to repeat his question, and started to break into his habitual silly smile.
When asked, which part of CECA he had an issue with – he started to furiously scroll on his HP for an answer, and tried to throw his colleague Hazel Poa under the bus, asking if she could answer for him.
So what happened?
He did not understand his own motion.
1. It would appear that PSP rhetoric stood on very weak ground right from the start. It was borne out of opportunistic political strategy that leeched on some raw populist sentiments with little regard for facts or its potential implications on Singaporeans or Singapore. This is not constructive and Singaporeans can see right through this.
2. It would also appear that PSP did not do its homework. It is clear from his exchange with Minister Shanmugam that he did not even understand his own motion. He did not seem to understand that his Motion had expressly referred to CECA as being a problem. Instead, he told the Minister that he no specific objections to CECA (which makes you wonder why he filed the motion in the first place), and actually had issues with other FTAs like the US FTA, China FTA and Australia FTA.
He did not know what CECA is all about.
When asked for his opinion on the provisions of CECA, his shocking response was that he had “no opinion”.
He stubbornly refusing to engage with the information that had already been presented to him while brazenly insist that he simply wanted “more information”.
If Mr Leong does not have the faintest idea what CECA means or does – why has he been flogging his “anti-CECA” campaign, against FT from India, relentlessly? What are his true motives? Little wonder Pritam Singh decided to keep an arm’s length from his fellow opposition colleague by speaking out against such attempts to use CECA as a “dog-whistle” for racism and xenophobia. Mr Leong’s own party mates thought so too.
Being familiar with your speech and knowing the inside-out of the topic for which you are speaking up in Parliament are basics that all Parliamentarians should possess. It is the responsible thing to do.
Singaporeans have been calling for more diverse voices in Parliament. But this must be done responsibly, and PSP’s performance or lack of it is giving opposition a bad name. Hence, even WP decided not to support their fellow opposition colleagues. Leader of the Opposition tried to propose amendments to both Motion instead, support an open Singapore, and reject attempts to stir xenophobia.
If this CECA debate was an indication of PSP’s future displays, I’m afraid they face an uphill task in getting voters to trust them in the future.