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THE ART OF POLITICAL

MISDIRECTION
"The central secret of conjuring...is a manipulation of interest." (Henry Hay,
The Amateur Magicians Handbook, pg. 2, 1972).

Amidst the calls on social media for the Peoples Action Party (PAP) to
commit harakiri for their own failures, for the men in white to to step down
as the countrys leaders and from the masses to vote them out, is an
insidious political strategy that is often overlookedpolitical misdirection.
It is designed to contain the flow of dissent and resent that has been
percolating for some time, and the saddest part is that we are falling into that
trap laid by the men in white.
Political misdirection is no different from the street magic acts that we see
performed on television. At its core, is an effort to conceal, mislead and at
times confuse the audience. It is an art that involves the manipulation of
interest.1 and takes advantage of the limitations of the human mind in order
to give the wrong picture and memory. It is a form of deception where the
attention of the audience is focused on one thing in order to distract them
from another.2

Hay, 1972. The Amateur Magicians Handbook, pg. 2

Lantern, 2014. Obama AdministrationIllusionists; https://thelanternjournal.wordpress.com/


2014/03/21/art-of-distraction-misdirection-by-obama-administration-illusionists/

The entire political commentary scene in Singapore has degenerated to a


point where it boils down to a PAP versus opposition debate. The political
mudslingingthe dredging up of old dirt and the focus on failures is a game
that any political party worth its salt plays. This achieves three goals:

It places the opponents failures in the limelight, and puts them


on the defensive.

It shifts the focus away from the larger and more pertinent issues
at hand.

It conceals the most damaging issues from public scrutiny.

Let us apply this paradigm to the most recent, most publicised and most
commented upon issues:
AGOS REPORT AND AHPTECS LAPSES
At the very heart of this report, is an audit of expendituresof town
councils, statutory boards, government agencies et cetera.
The failures of AHPTEC, as reported by the mainstream media, included
overpayment of fees to the managing agents, a lack of transparency as the
managing agents were closely related to the opposition party members and
high arrears in the collection of conservancy fees. This put the opposition on
the defensive, at having to explain the red flags raised by the AuditorGenerals Office.
The timing for the report as well as the subsequent motions in parliament to
discuss these deficiencies came at a time when most Singaporeans were
obviously concerned with the the governments management of public
housing schemes and the lapses involving the award of public tenders, the
various other discrepancies raised by the AGO pertaining to various other
statutory boards and organs of state as well as the publicity surrounding
corrupt practices at various state-owned agencies.

THE CPF SAGA


Roy Ngerng is the political commentator whom has been impassioned to
speak about the GICs involvement in the use of monies derived from CPF
collections for investments in high risk instruments, the incongruent returns
from CPF savings vis the actual returns derived from the investment of CPF
monies and the the insufficiency of CPF as a retirement fund.
Roy was put through the kielbasa and sued by the Lee Hsien Loong in a
civil suit. While a majority of Singaporeans continue to be divided by the
entire Lee versus Ngerng issue, despite the apparent negative publicity for
the PAP that the suit attracts, sought to downplay various other pertinent
issues such as increases in the CPF minimum sums, the changes to CPF
minimum sum schemes, the lack of separation between the government and
the GIC in managing our nations reserves and investments and exorbitant
ministerial salaries.

THE US VERSUS THEM DEBATE


The resultant situation is one where this country and its commentators are
polarised into debating the merits of a PAP or opposition government,
gravitating away from sound debates on the merits of policies and
approaches that would actually benefit the constituents at large.
The downside to such a deterioration in public engagement is the
misdirection that takes place. This is not unlike the kind of misdirection that
we see performed as street magic. The entire idea behind this kind of
misdirection is to control your focus, perception and attention and have you
the constituent, the voter spend an inordinate amount of time and energy
on the issues that do not matter.
This is a lot like how Apollo Robbins, the American sleight-of-hand
entertainer, manages to distract his audiences attention in order to perform a
variety of misdirections that include stealing their watches, cellphones and

even managing to perform a wardrobe change3. He tells his subject to keep a


close hold of his watch, to pay attention to the contents of his pocket and
proceeds to remove his watch from his wrist, money from his pocket and
cellphone from his jacket.
If you have seen one of Apollos shows, you realise how similar his sleightof-hand misdirections4 are to the political shenanigans that take place on the
media, and how the deterioration in public debate is exactly the outcome
that a seasoned party like the PAP is expecting. It keeps everyone within
their own camps, within their own spaces and out of public view. It puts
everyone on their toes and paying attention elsewhere. It is a lot like the
stabbing pain from the ritual disembowelment that distracts the Warrior
seeking expiation from the impending sword and the inevitable decapitation
that follows.
The political scene has somewhat degenerated into an opposition bashing,
and government mudslinging competition where the everyone focuses on
the issue of whom has a better mandate to form the next government. This is
further exacerbated by announcements from the government to withhold
millions of dollars worth of grants from opposition wards.
The real issue is somewhat simpler, and is far removed from the whole
notion of a PAP versus opposition debate.

WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT


This is one of the issues that have been concealed by all the misdirection
that takes place amidst the mudslinging, maligning and bashing. While most
politicians are expected to articulate strategies based on what the will of
their constituents, there is a strange disconnect in that all the members of
parliament from the PAP vote on policies based on party lineson what the
PAP collectives deems as beneficial for Singapore.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZGY0wPAnus

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoUSO_Mj1TQ

There is a dangerous assumption arising from the us versus them attitude


at play here that disregards a very basic premisethat no one is perfect, and
that everyone makes mistakes. The most pertinent issue at hand when
considering this is that there needs to be (a) checks and balances ensuring
policies are fair, sound and represent the will of the electorates; (b) there be
a system that allows for amendments to cater for changing demands and
landscapes; and (c) there be a system for accountability and restitution
should there be a serious abuse of authority by any elected official. These
are the tools that have been laid by our founding fathers in the form of
statutes and further enshrined in the Constitution.
If we study the majority of complaints on the variety of issues today raised
by both proponents of the ruling party and the opposition, we find that there
is an implicit clamour for transparency and accountability. PAP ministers
often call on the Workers Party to fix inherent discrepancies in the manner
in which their Town Councils are managed, while supporters of the
opposition continue to point out the similar manner in which transparency is
lacking in the management of our reserves and CPF funds.
All this backbiting, mudslinging, maligning and heckling happened because
we allowed it to happen. We allowed, over a period of fifty years, the PAP to
appoint its own members to the board of directors of the Central Provident
Fund and our sovereign wealth fund, GIC. We basically allowed one
political party to make the major decisions involving the wealth of this
country, the retirement funds of its citizens and the future of our collective
existence without as much as a by your leave. We allowed them to tell us
that the information we require to make educated decisions regarding our
sovereign wealth would take several man decades to complete without even
questioning why they could not have it done sooner with more manpower
a similar approach which they have adopted in various industries through
the liberalisation and rapid influx of foreign talent.
Why did we allow our elected representatives to toe their party line when it
comes to making decisions crucial to our future as a nation? The answer is
simple enoughthe PAP as a political machinery thrives on dividing the
electorates along the traditional adversarial government-opposition division
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where the constituents are preoccupied with taking sides on matters which
they themselves have raised in what we would refer to as political
misdirection.
When the electorates are busy defending the opposition, when supporters
are occupied with taking sides, when debates on policies degrade into
mudslinging, we often forget to ask the one question that matters the most,
What do I want, and how will my government help me achieve it?.
When you manage to articulate what exactly you want, the reality becomes
simply apparent.

It is not about how much the minimum sum is, how much I have access to
when I retire, when I retire or how much the GIC makes directly, indirectly
or whether it does or does not invest in instruments derived from my CPF
savings.
It is simply about my having control over my retirement funds which I have
worked hard for, and being able to live my retirement the way I want.

It is not about how expensive or cheap HDB flats are, or whether or not the
subsidies are sufficient, how much the subsidies are, or whom pays for
suchsubsidies.
I elected the government to ensure I have a roof over my head, that it would
not cost too much to maintain and own; and I expect the government to
suffer a loss or break even while building my homefree from
encumbrances associated with levies, grants, subsidies, land costs which are
all the result of one government agency levying fees upon another agency in
a convoluted relationship full of legalese and political doublespeak. Iexpect
the purchase of my home to not put me through debt that would take many
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decades to pay off to the point of having to depend on a retirement fund that
pays peanuts compared to what my ministers are paid. I expect every penny
that I have earned in my lifetime to be made available to me, my heirs and
my brethren during my lifetime and after my death.

It is not about how much my ministers are paid, whether or not their salaries
should or should not match those of in the top tiers of private sector
industries, or whether ministers should rightfully be allowed to be directors
in various companies while in civil service.
It is about having emphatic ministers who share an affinity for my condition,
know the pains and angst I have gone through as a result of past policies,
and take equally great pains to correct them for my benefit. Itwould not hurt
if my elected representatives live a life of frugality either to put themselves
through the same policies they have instituted and prove to me that they
were indeed for our nations best interests, or even bettertake steps to
correct the obviously widening gap that exist between the rich and the poor.

It is about having a government that respects my existence enough to be


cognisant of the fact that we are empowered to decide for ourselves, that we
have the ability to decide as a collective, and all of usincluding the
government is entitled to make mistakes; but that does not grant our elected
representatives the right to motion and pass legislations, amendments and
policies contrary to the wishes of their constituents on account that they are
better informed to do so, and be paid to the tunes of millions of dollars a
year to contravene my wishes in the process and decide on my behalf,
without my saying so.

So please, stop distracting us with never-ending comparisons between the


PAP and the opposition, the foreigners and the citizens, the pros and cons of
policies for and against immigration, reserves, retirements funds et cetera
and start ensuring that the generations of pioneers that have voted for you
start to live a dignified life that should be well accorded to them and to some
extent, contributed to the millions in salaries that you enjoy today which you
are much underserving of as long as at least one of them is still out there,
collecting cartons, boxes, newspapers and scraps to feed themselves.

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