The curious case of a politician who is so wildly popular

Tharman Shanmugaratnam is a one-of-a-kind politician. He has more ardent fans than any other. Netizens have long clamoured for him to be Prime Minister. Even critics of the PAP have heaped praise on him.

Yet Tharman never sought adulation. On the contrary he seemed discomfited by it and has done his best to deflect attention, protesting “I’m not the man for PM. I say that categorically. It’s not me . . . I know myself, I know what I can do, and it’s not me.”

What is it about Tharman that makes him so well-liked and wildly popular? It could be the sum of different parts in the man. Ironically the more he tried to shore up his imperfections, the more he connected with people.

He revealed that he was “completely disinterested” in studies and was aimless as a youth. “Studying medicine would have required time and academic effort, and I did not have that at the age of 17 0r 18 . . . I never had a job in mind, no ambition in terms of career.”

Tharman went on to major in Economics at Cambridge and Public Administration at Harvard. And the chap who hated studying became of all things the Education Minister!

As an ACS boy, Tharman spent much of his time indulging in sports – playing hockey, cricket, football, volleyball, rugby, sepak takraw. In later years he even played in the premier hockey league for Singapore Cricket Club and Singapore Recreation Club. The once sports-crazy politician gave this bit of advice on Facebook after Joseph Schooling won an Olympic gold medal: Discover something we each can be good at. Persevere and never give up. Then pass the passion on to the next generation.

There is also the rebel in him. Tharman has said that he was once “a dissident, a government critic.” He even got into trouble with the law. As a director at MAS 25 years ago, he was charged along with four others under the Official Secrets Act for illegal disclosure of sensitive or classified information. He was eventually convicted of a lesser charge of negligence and fined $1,500.

When cultural icon David Bowie died, Tharman posted the lyrics of the classic hit Space Oddity on Facebook and called Bowie a “musical genius.” It seems that his love for music goes hand-in-hand with a passion for poetry. Tharman penned four poems for a 1978 anthology called but we have no legends. He co-edited the book with two friends, all then in National Service and part of the Young Writers’ Circle at the National Library.

How cool is that – a poet and a David Bowie fan who became a Deputy Prime Minister?

The supremely smart and brainy side of Tharman is most apparent to people. He has a sterling record as Finance Minister and is the first Asian to chair the G-30 – a prestigious global body of top financial experts.  He has also been named Finance Minister of the Year by Euromoney magazine.

For someone who is not attention-seeking or rhetoric-driven, who is in fact  diffident at times, he actually has a great common touch and rapport with citizens. In the 2015 general election, Tharman outperformed all others, securing 79.3% of the votes for Jurong GRC.

Given his unique set of characteristics, his past as a rebel, his artistic bent, his refusal to airbrush his imperfections and struggles, it is a wonder that Tharman ended up as a man in white. He is not cast in the mould of a PAP politician.

Furthermore, we have been told by the ruling party that race and ethnic considerations will always be in the minds of voters when they cast their ballots. As a non-Chinese, he is supposed to be disadvantaged, although polling results have not borne that out.

In fact there are a surprising number of people who still harbour hopes of Tharman being Prime Minister. It may be wishful thinking. But it just goes to show that Singaporeans are not looking for sound and fury in their leader, for someone who is ever generous with promises. Rather, Singaporeans are dying for someone who is smart yet straight talking and sincere, and whose imperfections make him all the more human and relatable.

 

Augustine Low

 

 

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32 Responses to “The curious case of a politician who is so wildly popular”

  • N.Jungne:

    No lah he does not want to be kept inside without Trail

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  • you know why?:

    Tharman is popular because he really works for the benefits of Singaporeans. He is able to think out of the box.

    When he was the Education Minister, he opened the Polytechnics to students who are not academically good but have passions for the course. He enriched the lives of many such students who did not do well in their GCE ‘O’ Level but are able to show they are passionate for the course to enrol in our Polytechnics.

    When he was Finance Minister, he saved a lot of lives of people who are at their wits end facing bankruptcy. He set up a task force to work with all creditor banks in Singapore, and established our Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS).

    Mr Tharman saved the future of my son and he also saved my life. Singapore is blessed to have such a son in Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam – may God bless him.

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  • you know why?:

    Correction – “Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam (then Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry) challenged the banking and community leaders to implement community credit counselling schemes.

    you know why?:
    Tharman is popular because he really works for the benefits of Singaporeans. He is able to think out of the box.

    When he was the Education Minister, he opened the Polytechnics to students who are not academically good but have passions for the course. He enriched the lives of many such students who did not do well in their GCE ‘O’ Level but are able to show they are passionate for the course to enrol in our Polytechnics.

    When he was Finance Minister, he saved a lot of lives of people who are at their wits end facing bankruptcy. He set up a task force to work with all creditor banks in Singapore, and established our Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS).

    Mr Tharman saved the future of my son and he also saved my life. Singapore is blessed to have such a son in Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam – may God bless him.

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  • HarderTruths:

    Sure citizns – vote him in.

    Just leave me out of the wayang when your bills increase 1000% and you collect your CPF when you are 100.

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  • LIONS:

    Tharman would be a good PM after the mess created by lee ah long.
    Only he would likely be able to clear the big mess.
    Others like kee chiu would add to the existing mess.

    I hope tharman reconsiders to lead ALL GOOD SGS to a renewed SG.

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  • patriot of Temesak:

    Meritocracy my ARSE…as far as the Evil Father and Crap son with Crab Crawling all over him to devour him is CONCERN…

    “Singapore is NOT ready for a Non-Chinese Prime Minister” unquote!!!

    So what do you expect Thaman to say even though he KNOWS deep inside him and the MANY reformists in the system are CONCERN the F……g LeeDynasty and Cronies are CURRENTLY calling the SHOTS!!!

    The Bastard is DEAD!!! and the son will follow soon no later than 2020 as the OWL HOOTS!!!

    Till then Stay Cool!!! RETRIBUTION is at HAND!!!

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  • Selfish Sinkie Syndrome:

    He should really just quit the corrupted Pay & Pay party like the disillusioned Singh.

    Then he can start his own political party and contest in the next GE. If the “rebel” in him really does that, he will surely win big time against Pay & Pay. The voters will recognize his Pay & Pay resume plus he is willing to really to be a change agent that this country is in desperate need of.

    He will NEVER be chosen by LXL, precisely because he is most popular, capable and well-respected among the rest of the goons. That’s why he has become a THREAT to the Lee Dynasty.

    That is why the farking LXL and his fat empress chooses 3 idiots as the next temporary goons. One is a “anytime-can-hit-by-stroke” so no threat since expiry date will be short. Second one is a useless barking dog, and the third and most likely choice is a boy-scout whom everyone hates, so all these 3 idiots will be easy to control and un-seat since they won’t out-perform him nor be very popular with the people.

    Note that is also why Tharman is always self-deprecating and saying in public he is “not interested in being PM” etc.
    It could be his true intentions but then again it could be his way of hiding in the shadows until the time is right or he could be pleasing with his current boss not to break his rice bowl.

    Thus, his evil boss LXL will definitely NOT break Tharman’s rice bowl, but he will keep him in “Cold Storage” forever. If LXL break Tharman’s rice bowl anytime, it will only goad him to go start his own political career and become a real competitor to Pay & Pay….and I’m sure LXL fears competition.

    The coward only loves to have “global competition” for everyone’s rice bowl except his own.

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  • Akan Datang:

    patriot of Temesak:
    Meritocracy my ARSE…as far as the Evil Father and Crap son with Crab Crawling all over him to devour him is CONCERN…

    “Singapore is NOT ready for a Non-Chinese Prime Minister” unquote!!!

    So what do you expect Thaman to say even though he KNOWS deep inside him and the MANY reformists in the system are CONCERN the F……g LeeDynasty and Cronies are CURRENTLY calling the SHOTS!!!

    The Bastard is DEAD!!! and the son will follow soon no later than 2020 as the OWL HOOTS!!!

    Till then Stay Cool!!! RETRIBUTION is at HAND!!!

    Today I saw an angry couple beating a picture of maihum and wife with their slippers at a back lane of Chinatown.

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  • C'est la vie:

    *****
    Isn’t the adulation and love for the man …….. rather overboard.

    He is PAP after all, and one man alone, if he’s suppose to be the one which I personally doubt, to restructure and reshape the PAP for the sake of SG.

    So …………. no thank you. Count me out when you lot decide to send him chocolates and roses for Valentine’s Day !!!
    ***
    *****

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  • opposition dude:

    As far as I am concerned anyone from the party we love to hate is no good. Sure, he may feel uncomfortable about being PM, may have been a rebel and all that but so what? Please do not forget he is a PAP lackey earning very good money and what has he done for his country?

    And how quickly we all forget he was the joker who told you that $1000 can buy HDB flat?

    I do not care about his race nor religion. We all know voters vote based on which party the candidate is from, not his skin colour. Michael Palmer and Murali showed us all just how true this is.

    All these dafts who want botak to be PM, it just goes to show how easy it is to sway people when you are a nice guy. Never mind that his party doesn’t care for Singaporeans or makes life hard for us or even constantly bringing in non SIngaporeans to steal our jobs. For as long as you are a nice guy voters won’t care if you are from the party that screws them after an election.

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  • don't expect much improvement:

    If it’s the PAP running SG, don’t expect much changes or improvement to your lives even with Tharman.

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  • xlandjy:

    you know why?:
    Tharman is popular because he really works for the benefits of Singaporeans. He is able to think out of the box.

    When he was the Education Minister, he opened the Polytechnics to students who are not academically good but have passions for the course. He enriched the lives of many such students who did not do well in their GCE ‘O’ Level but are able to show they are passionate for the course to enrol in our Polytechnics.

    When he was Finance Minister, he saved a lot of lives of people who are at their wits end facing bankruptcy. He set up a task force to work with all creditor banks in Singapore, and established our Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS).

    What did he do to save your and your son?

    Mr Tharman saved the future of my son and he also saved my life. Singapore is blessed to have such a son in Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam – may God bless him.

    What did he do to save you and your son?

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  • Furn:

    If everyone in PAP is useless might as well leave the country. Why still stay?

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  • Goh Chin Tong:

    No one is good enough. Every man and woman in white sucks. Yeah right! Then get the hell out, pack up and go to Timbuktu.

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  • Alice:

    90% of those in the PAP are chiak leow bee. That’s bad enough. No need to condemn 100%. Get real! Tharman is the best of the lot…. Be thankful for small mercies.

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  • Perspective:

    He has earned international respect and stature; he is brainy; he exudes confidence; he is not delusional and does not have a huge ego to contend with. He will do a great job even as a sit-warmer, but that’s not him. However, if the Party is to throw open the nomination for the next PM, and he has the unanimous support of everyone, I think he will step up to the plate. What do you think?

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  • Bystander:

    Botak may not have done anything for me, let’s look at the big picture.
    Vote the lesser of all the evils in the PAP, rather this Indian botak be the PM than the good only as ass lickers trinity of three, Heng, Chan and Ong. Botak is the best man to unravel all the damages that Pinkie has done since LKY’s death.
    Bo bian ah, for our country’s sake. Pray that CCS the useless clown would not be PM, he can’t even face the audience on the international stage, he would simply freeze with stage fright.

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  • Go:

    He is the best among rotten apples so let’s at least acknowledge that.

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  • Concerned Singaporean:

    Dear Singaporean,

    Current leedership is failing Singapore, including the entourage who is more “kow-towing” lee dynasty and empress That is why we can start to see the Singapore going down hill, i.e.: unemployed and under-employed well educated Singaporean, high cost, homeless Singaporean, and so forth.

    Tharman, please stand out and be counted to lead us if you love Singaporean. You are probably the only man-in-white that is acceptable to us nowadays.

    Otherwise, you will see Singaporean going to be downtrodden and one day, Singaporean will rise up violently because of pent-up frustration, oppression, unemployment, high cost, being treated like 2nd class citizens in own land …. do you want to see that happens ?

    Look at history … Nicaragua, Cuba, many other dictatorship countries where the autocratic rulers are more self-enriching, self-indulging in power, ego, $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$, and so forth rather than caring for citizens.

    Very worried about Singapore and Singaporean future, especially next generations.

    Seeing relatives migrating – Singapore brain drain because they see no future being Singaporean in own land. Sigh ….

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  • you know why?:

    (a) Thanks to his enlightened education policy, my boy who was playful and did not do well in his GCE ‘O’ Level, but he was very good in computer programming, was accepted to study in Nanyang Polytechnic based on interview. He is now doing his Master’s degree in NTU. Thank you Mr Tharman.

    (b) My life was saved by CCS (Mr Tharman was instrumental in setting up CCS) as I was suicidal, burdened by humongous debts. Before I knew about CCS, I sought counsel from a private debt management firm and was advised to voluntarily declare bankruptcy. I was at my wits end and contemplated suicide. My wife forced me to attend a talk by CCS and the gracious people there very patiently and assuredly helped me with a 5 year Debt Repayment Plan (DRP). They talked and talked with the banks to plead my case. I persevered and cleared everything a few years back. Thank you Mr Tharman.

    Most of all, I thank God for His providence and for giving us this humble and great man, Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam. May God bless him and Singapore.

    xlandjy: What did he do to save you and your son?

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  • patriot of Temesak:

    Selfish Sinkie Syndrome:
    He should really just quit the corrupted Pay & Pay party like the disillusioned Singh.

    Then he can start his own political party and contest in the next GE. If the “rebel” in him really does that, he will surely win big time against Pay & Pay. The voters will recognize his Pay & Pay resume plus he is willing to really to be a change agent that this country is in desperate need of.

    He will NEVER be chosen by LXL, precisely because he is most popular, capable and well-respected among the rest of the goons. That’s why he has become a THREAT to the Lee Dynasty.

    That is why the farking LXL and his fat empress chooses 3 idiots as the next temporary goons. One is a “anytime-can-hit-by-stroke” so no threat since expiry date will be short. Second one is a useless barking dog, and the third and most likely choice is a boy-scout whom everyone hates, so all these 3 idiots will be easy to control and un-seat since they won’t out-perform him nor be very popular with the people.

    Note that is also why Tharman is always self-deprecating and saying in public he is “not interested in being PM” etc.
    It could be his true intentions but then again it could be his way of hiding in the shadows until the time is right or he could be pleasing with his current boss not to break his rice bowl.

    Thus, his evil boss LXL will definitely NOT break Tharman’s rice bowl, but he will keep him in “Cold Storage” forever. If LXL break Tharman’s rice bowl anytime, it will only goad him to go start his own political career and become a real competitor to Pay & Pay….and I’m sure LXL fears competition.

    The coward back-stabber Pinky only loves to have “global competition” for everyone’s rice bowl except his own.

    SPOT ON bro!!!… the F…..g LeeDynasty is so LEEgally Corrupted…they CANNOT take the RISK of having an OUTSIDER into the Fold…Dressing Up ok lah!!! but No Key to the VAULT…that is Only for the Lying Lies!!!

    Imagine the Piece of WOODEN Shit!!! PM for years and No Key to the Vault…the Crab infested Son takes over…the Key left the hand of the Evil Bastard…so, Live with the EVIL!!! you stoopid silly sheep!!! “YOU asked for it”!!!

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  • Remember the Titans:

    This baldy is no different la.. all the same ..sack them all.

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  • Parsh Singh:

    Tharman comes accross as a very transparent and unassuming character.

    Definately speaks facts and presents them clearly for all to understand – no
    hidden agenda.

    All the heir apparants can very well learn from Him.

    Hopefully sanity prevails and the PAP Whip nominates him as PM .

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  • patriot of Temesak:

    Akan Datang: Today I saw an angry couple beating a picture of maihum and wife with their slippers at a back lane of Chinatown.

    That, my fren, is the WORSE curse anyone can give to a famiLee…”Tar Sew Yen” according to the Cantonese…somewhat like “Burong Hantu” that comes a calling to drag the evil beings back to their master Satan!!!

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  • Ali babas:

    Same pack… what’s so great about him? You want a real leader, look for the opposition.

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  • CCS for PM:

    As usual, the top man will be appointed Finance Minister, the top idiot will take the PM position. Just like GKS and LKY.

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  • Perception is your reality:

    The author is blinded by perception, his perception.

    He claims how popular Tharman is. Yes, popular but can author quantify it? How many support that man, how many support CCS ? How many support LHL? How many support TCH or K Shanmugam? No one can quantify it.

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  • Rabble-rouser:

    you know why?:
    Tharman is popular because he really works for the benefits of Singaporeans. He is able to think out of the box.

    When he was the Education Minister, he opened the Polytechnics to students who are not academically good but have passions for the course. He enriched the lives of many such students who did not do well in their GCE ‘O’ Level but are able to show they are passionate for the course to enrol in our Polytechnics.

    When he was Finance Minister, he saved a lot of lives of people who are at their wits end facing bankruptcy. He set up a task force to work with all creditor banks in Singapore, and established our Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS).

    Mr Tharman saved the future of my son and he also saved my life. Singapore is blessed to have such a son in Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam – may God bless him.

    @ you know why?:
    Certain (read: a few!) Indian PAP ministers & MPs were genuinely really concerned for their constituents. I had experienced during times of crisis like you; was given assistance from a certain Indian PAP MP (he’s out of politics now). The Minority Indian PAP politicians are more caring & willing to take the time to hear you out compared to the Majority Chinese ones. The Chinese PAP politicians especially those who were Ministers tend to be very callous & very impatient listening to our problems & concerns (like they didn’t care). The Chinese PAP leaders tend to ‘look down’ on their own kind who are down & out; have this ‘we don’t owe you a living attitude’ type of mentality. It is not surprising that in the history books that the Chinese have had a long history of foreign domination [Mongols; Manchus; Western & Japanese domination post-Qing dynasty]. The Chinese race (which I ironically find) are very selfish; self-centred & only ‘care about ownself’ to the detriment of others & to the greater good of society. And S’pore is following the footsteps of Ancient China & the dynastic rule.

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  • oxygen:

    @ Perception is your reality

    POPULARITY CAN BE ASSESSED by polls but it DOES NOT QUANTIFY to precision of numeric certainty or stability of that measure over time.

    Perception is your reality: The author is blinded by perception, his perception.

    He claims how popular Tharman is. Yes, popular but can author quantify it? How many support that man, how many support CCS ? How many support LHL? How many support TCH or K Shanmugam? No one can quantify it

    Popularity is more of an ASSESSED STATURE of public perception which this article writer professes of his awareness. It is CORRECT.

    You can see how often when Tharman spoke on election campaign for his party of bias preference, very few in cyberspace denounced his stance. Tharman does NOT speak nonsense in and out of the political zoo either on the domestic stage or international forum. He commands respect of others – even if disagreeing. Very politicians are like that or capable of this degree of public deference and receiving of this respect.

    Tharman is not given to rhetorical f*rting. That is why, I strongly believe, that he can move the ground to work together with him in crisis management change. LEE-jiapore needs him now more than ever. But for reason/s he best knows of himself and politics background, he won’t step up on to the ROTATIONAL emperor’s throne. Nobody cares of his minority background in voting.

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  • jaywalker:

    He is neither clone or clown like his colleagues. I am for him vs all the other idiots.

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  • Undebunkable man:

    oxygen:
    @ Perception is your reality

    POPULARITY CAN BE ASSESSED by polls but it DOES NOT QUANTIFY to precision of numeric certainty or stability of that measure over time.

    Popularity is more of an ASSESSED STATURE of public perception which this article writer professes of his awareness. It is CORRECT.

    You can see how often when Tharman spoke on election campaign for his party of bias preference, very few in cyberspace denounced his stance. Tharman does NOT speak nonsense in and out of the political zoo either on the domestic stage or international forum. He commands respect of others – even if disagreeing. Very politicians are like that or capable of this degree of public deference and receiving of this respect.

    Tharman is not given to rhetorical f*rting. That is why, I strongly believe, that he can move the ground to work together with him in crisis management change. LEE-jiapore needs him now more than ever. But for reason/s he best knows of himself and politics background, he won’t step up on to the ROTATIONAL emperor’s throne. Nobody cares of his minority background in voting.

    In the last 2 GE, the social media also gave people the PERCEPTION THAT. PAP will lose more seats than before.
    The reality showed WP lost badly and PAP Won exceeding perceptions and expectations.

    Explain that.

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  • oxygen:

    @ Undebunkable man

    HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU SEEN ON THE STREET a walking couple that looks very different? People choose partners who looks like themselves in the mirror – subconsciously though. DO THEY VOTE ALONG THE SAME LINE at the the polling booth? I am less certain of that!!

    Voting at the polling booth has got entirely different motivational factors – greed falling for election lolly, fear of unknown and unfamiliar, even downright naivety and irrationality.

    Tell me how come Nigel Farage changed his mind now on Brexit and Boris Johnson even talked stupidly rubbish of a second Brexit ballot? I can’t explain this, can you??

    Trump won the election – suspected with Russian facebook help. All this handpicked lieutenants from Press Secretary to Chief of Staff to Defense Secretary to XYZ all got sacked within a few days to a few months. He cut tax for the rich (Trump calls the rich as his draining the swamp ironically) and attempted to ditch Obamacare (for the poor) and his vote base are the poorest.How do you explain this contradiction of the poor voting for him and then got screwed. Opinion polls favoured Hillary Clinton.

    PAST TENSE left for TERN SUA, a lot of sympathy vote. Many dumb voters fell for PAPpys propaganda of “founding father” who allegedly “transform LEE-jiapore from fishing village into the First World – ALL RUBBISH.

    And you forgot NSP imploded on polling eve, I suspect that did a lot of damage – VOTERS WONDERS that if oppies can’t govern themselves (like NSP), how can they govern the country?

    And of course, all those rubbish of AHPETC municipal accounting FAKE NEWS – 70% daft peasants are too stupid to even begin to discover they are stupid to impossibility. How can this be true – if no one is criminally indicted of offence?

    I can go on illuminating PAPpys 1% truth, 99% lies, fantasy and propaganda elsewhere but won’t bother for here and now.

    Undebunkable man: In the last 2 GE, the social media also gave people the PERCEPTION THAT. PAP will lose more seats than before.
    The reality showed WP lost badly and PAP Won exceeding perceptions and expectations.

    Explain that.

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