Omo, it’s Prof Ben Leong! Ivangate, Gutter Politics & What We’ve Learnt About Ourselves As a Nation

By June 29, 2020Current

TL;DR – Prof in CS, Prof in life and elections too!

Have you been following GE2020? Betcha most people are just following Ivangate and the hooha about PAP candidate Shawn Huang not getting a pack of rice and also the latest much-ado-about-nothing, his Ingkiriwang surname.

But we really shouldn’t let all these side drama eclipse and distract us from the more serious business, and the crisis that we’re still facing. So can we please get on with the real GE2020 programme already?

Have you even read PAP’s GE2020 manifesto?

What about WP’s that was just launched today?

SDP has an old one from last year. It’s basically about spending a lot of money on a lot of programmes without justifying how to fund everything. We actually quite like Paul, but Chee is a problem. Actually Chee is THE problem. Character is permanent.

As for PSP, they seem more preoccupied to push out LHY as their latest mascot than to push out real programmes. Now we’re not dissing them, really. We even watched PSP’s Assistant Secretary-General Leong Mun Wai on Viswa’s Inconvenient Questions. Let’s just say he didn’t impress. Too many motherhood statements and too much said on stuff that he could not substantiate with real stats. Don’t take our word for it, watch it yourself.

We highly encourage everyone to find out as much as possible about what every party stands for, and to learn more about the candidates contesting in your hood. But PSP, so far, they have no manifesto, no plans, no conviction, other than the slogan #YouDeserveBetter. Vote what ah?

Anyway, the whole point of us even dragging our computer out at midnight on a Sunday is because… ZZANG! THE PROFESSOR HAS SPOKEN!

Yes, a couple of us here are mini-fans of Prof Ben Leong. I’ve been stalking his Facebook posts for years. I even read all of his replies on NUS Whispers and I’m not even a Computer Science student, LOL! I secretly adore reading all of his exchanges with other personalities I follow, and their banter always amuse me much.

So with trembling fingers and pounding heart, I PM’ed him tonight after reading his Facebook note.

It was so good I wanted EVERYONE to read it! So even though the good prof probably has more followers than we do, I still brazenly asked him for permission to republish his note here.

Hehehe, he replied almost in a heartbeat! He said OK since I’d asked so nicely BEAMS!

Posted by Ben Leong on Sunday, 28 June 2020



Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herewith are strictly mine as a private citizen and has nothing to do with my employer, the National University of Singapore.

I am so glad that Ivan has withdrawn from the GE. My FB feed was all Ivangate yesterday. Who cares about what PAP manifesto.

Now that Ivan has stepped down, we might perhaps be able to avoid yet another Gomezgate affair and actually have a proper conversation about the future of this nation in the coming GE.

What really amused me is that our Polish friend Michael (aka Critical Spectator) seems to think that this Ivan Lim affair is an example of “gutter politics.”

I considered his arguments — and he does make some good points — but respectfully, I disagree with him that Ivangate is an example of “gutter politics.” That said, his outburst has also got me to realize that we Singaporeans are a bit strange in our own ways that makes it extremely difficult for a foreigner to understand what just happened.

First, allow me to say that I do not know Ivan personally and in view that he has withdrawn himself, people should leave him alone. If people want to hammer PAP for poor vetting, whatever, please carry on, but please have the decency to leave Ivan alone. Once a man is out of the ring, enough is enough. I will unfortunately need to make some references to Ivan in the rest of this post, but think of it as a placeholder and not the man.

Expected Standards of Character for Politicians

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One of LKY’s greatest legacies to Singapore’s political system is that our politicians need to be whiter than white. People might not want to admit it, but we’ve all drunk his Kool-aid. To me, it is a feature and not bug.

Donald Trump will not survive as a politician in Singapore. CSJ is macham like the walking dead.

Like it or not, when one stands for election, everything comes up for public scrutiny (which is why the wives, and probably the husbands, hate it). The fact that Ivan’s conduct in the SAF came up for public scrutiny is fair game.

That said, I hope that people will focus on the candidates, and not drag their spouses and families into the upcoming GE. I hope that my fellow Singaporeans agree with me that families (sans those with surname Lee sigh) should be off limits.

I actually knew v shortly after Ivangate broke out that Ivan’s candidacy was in trouble. Notwithstanding that uncle had MR’ed for quite a few years already, I am still relatively plugged into the “SAF network”, and reliable sources told me that there was truth in those allegations.

NS is a national institution and half the population have done it. Singaporeans really hate 2-faced people who carry their bosses, but abuse their subordinates. This is especially so in the military environment where there is strict regimentation.

Michael highlights rightfully that no man who has accomplished anything at all would have done so without making some enemies. True that. However, Michael might have missed the full context of the situation given his likely lack of understanding of how our Army works.

A Commanding Officer (CO) is a senior military officer in charge of several hundred men. The RSM is his right hand man. What we have seen is the equivalent of the RSM stabbing him in the back in the middle of a war. The men seem to taken the side of the RSM and the RSM does not seem like some pathological homicidal maniac. Given this context, the allegations were v v serious and raise serious doubts about the leadership and character of the candidate. We are not talking about some petty work disagreement, or someone getting upset because you didn’t want her packet of rice. Those of us who have served, would naturally be alarmed.

Michael would probably be surprised to know that many of those who would object to Ivan’s candidacy are PAP supporters. Yours truly, included. We Singaporeans were weird. Given the sorts of reliable feedback I was hearing, I thought Ivan’s candidacy was not tenable. His eventual withdrawal from the system demonstrates that our brand of democracy is actually functional.

There is another big problem with Ivan’s candidacy. He was supposed to be fielded in Jurong GRC. Having undeserving candidates ride into Parliament on the coattails of the most popular Minister SM Tharman, also grates on many Singaporeans.

I don’t know Ivan personally, but let us show some charity and think about Ivan’s background and upbringing. The man started working after ‘O’ Levels and worked his way up in a v v difficult environment. Do people know what a shipyard is? Ivan’s background is likely be the “rough” kind because of hardship and survival reasons, so can we find fault with him for “being a bit rough?”

Allow me to highlight that while some people are natural-borne leaders, leadership is a learned attribute for most and folks from the lower economic strata have much less exposure to good role models to learn these attributes. Becoming CO (at least major) after enlisting at ‘O’ Levels is a great achievement that we cannot deny.

Out-Humble the Humble

PAP is going to get hammered on its process for vetting its candidates — and that’s all fair game, and expected.

However, in case people weren’t paying attention, this kaypoh would like to point out that what we have witnessed in this latest GE is PAP’s new “Out-humble the Humble” strategy.

People have been complaining that PAP has fielded too many ex-civil servants lah, generals lah, and there’s no diversity. So in this GE, PAP rolls out this new “diverse” slate. Ivan was one of those “diverse” candidates. People think ‘O’ Level boys made good are easy to find ah?

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If people want Presidents’ Scholars, I suspect that it’s a dime a dozen in the PAP. With Ivan pulling out, I will not be surprised if the PAP pulls another one of those President Scholar doctors out of the hat. Fella has probably been kept in the storeroom for this GE because “not humble” enough for this GE.

Allow me to highlight also the curious case of one BG Desmond Tan, one of your supposedly run-of-the-mill scholar generals. If we want to talk about mud-slinging, nobody has said anything bad about him as far as I have read. The Opposition supporters probably has every reason to do so, but nobody seems to want to do that. If this were not the GE and it’s some matchmaking contest, half of Singapore would probably be trying to marry their daughters off to him. Man is as squeaky clean as you can get. Hold that thought.

Just look at these 2 case studies and think about what we are seeing here: is it really a case of a problem with the vetting process, or a case of trying too hard to diversify and not getting it right?

Imagine that I am McDonald’s. I have been selling you these McSpicy’s, but got this group of people every time complain my McSpicy is too spicy. They want variety (diversity), not just chicken. So what do I do? I clever, I introduce a new Samurai pork burger — and I kenna flak. How come your burger not halal! Also, it’s not spicy enough! What am I going to do? I am just going to go back to selling McSpicy.

The real question in my mind is not so much whether there are issues with the PAP’s vetting, but whether the PAP will clamp down and go back to their usual star-studded cast. Ironically, what the electorate seems to be telling the PAP is that we like the scholar-generals, which may v well be true. People often say one thing but don’t really mean it.

While we can all agree that the latest “out-humble the humble” strategy of the PAP is somewhat over-done, I would be cautious about hammering the PAP on its vetting process. Notwithstanding the obvious clumsiness, I think we need to appreciate the attempts at diversity and that in the process of trying out new “types” of candidates, the PAP will take some time to get the recipe right. Personally, I welcome more diversity.

Rules of Engagement

Our MPs need to be able to stand up to public scrutiny. One of the reasons why I thought that Ivan was un-electable was not so much that he had allegations made against him, but the fact that he did not stand up to defend himself in front of the camera, but instead hid behind some poorly crafted press release (with the wrong date and a grammatical error).

As LKY says, ““Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine.”

I think we can all agree that we expect our elected representatives in Parliament to have the courage to face up to their detractors. They need to be able to publicly defend themselves and not hide behind the skirt of some Minister. We hate that too.

But in this day and age, the Internet is a complete wild, wild West. People are happily saying all kinds of things. You have your Temasek Review spreading fake news. So how?

Let me share a story.

Some twenty years ago, I was working for the late Chief Justice Yong Pung How. I received a phone call from his PA Agnes.

“Ben, CJ just received this poison pen letter complaining about you. He is furious.”

My heart stopped. This is CJ Yong that we’re talking about. When he gets upset, it’s not play play one I assure you.

But luckily, she continued, “Don’t worry. CJ is not upset with you. The letter is anonymous. CJ is furious at the person who wrote the letter. He says that if people want to lodge a complaint, they should have the integrity to put their name down in writing. Don’t sweat it. Nothing will happen. I am shredding the letter. I just thought I would let you know.”

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After that, I never heard anything about the letter. It was as if nothing happened, when I next had to meet with CJ for work. If Agnes hadn’t told me, I would probably never have known.

Years later while I was doing my PhD, I wrote to the Forum when I was bored. Wrote about all kinds of random stuff. In one instance, I commented on some legal case. Apparently CJ caught sight of the letter and discussed it at some meeting. Apparently, he said, “ah, this fellow, he used to work for me.” Apparently CJ still remembered me, and not in an upset sort of way.

What is the moral of this story?

I believe that we should take a leaf from the late CJ Yong: any allegation to which people are not willing to put their name to it should just be shredded.

In Ivan’s case, the RSM had signed off in his own name and he was willing to stand by those allegations, which Ivan did not address satisfactorily in my view.

Moving forward, I would expect candidates to publicly address all allegations that have a public face. But they and the electorate should probably ignore all these nameless faceless allegations appearing on Temasek Review and its ilk.

If you see something on Facebook, please click on the profile. If the poster has 1,000+ friends, some of them mutual friends, and you want to share, please carry on. If the poster has a profile created a week ago and has only 3 friends, please la, you know what to do. If you receive some random screenshot from dunno where, please don’t anyhow go and forward.

I think if we all agree and follow these rules of engagement, we can all help ensure that the GE will be fairer to all and the candidates are not subject to unnecessary and fake allegations. Fake news is becoming a significant problem. Even if we see one of the candidates saying politically incorrect things, we should probably do a second take. Deep fake technology can make anyone seem to say anything.

Solidarity, Not Polarization

Many long-serving MPs are retiring and will not be running in this GE. I am heartened to see that Singaporeans on both sides of the political divide have spoken up to thank them for their years of service.

Indeed, a recent survey has reported that Singaporeans have wisely ranked the job of politicians right up there with the cleaners in terms of undesirability. Indeed, it can really be a v unpleasant job, but much like the cleaners, our politicians are also essential to the proper functioning of our society.

I am proud of our people because notwithstanding our penchant for being champion grumblers, we are also a fair minded people and we will give credit where credit is due.

On this note, allow me to thank all the retiring MPs and politicians from both the ruling party and the Opposition for their years of service to the nation. I wish them a happy and fruitful retirement.

I also have a random suggestion for the PAP. In view of Ivan’s withdrawal, how about getting 花姐 to serve another term (even though you might have a couple of spare President Scholar doctors somewhere in the storeroom)?

I actually don’t understand why people want to have a live telecast of the Parliamentary proceedings. They are boring as hell. I once thought about becoming an NMP, but the thought of having to sit through boring speeches rapidly banished that thought. Folks like 花姐 help to bring colour to our rather staid Parliament. Just a thought.

Peace out.

Ben Leong


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Qiqi Wong

Author Qiqi Wong

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