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I just received the news that Francis Seow, former Solicitor-General, Law Society president and ISA detainee, has passed away. He was 88, and lived as an exile since 1988.
In his memory, I would like to share the following video interview in which he describes his views on Singapore and the Lee Kuan Yew government.
Rest in peace Mr Francis Seow, and my deepest condolences to those who hold him dear.
One of the things that has disturbed me in the post-election discussions is the lack of acknowledgement of the role that fear still plays in Singaporean politics. Many, even opposition supporters, have come out and attacked those who say that fear was an issue in the 2015 election.
My feeling is that fear is something that permeates the entire political system in Singapore, both at a conscious and subconscious level.
At the most extreme there is the fear that one’s ballot is not secret. Anyone who is educated and knows people who scrutineer elections or who reads reliable independent sources, knows that despite many fears, one’s individual ballot is anonymous. It seems unlikely in the extreme, and completely technically unfeasible for the government to track down how even just one citizen voted. For evidence and arguments that your vote is secret see, for example:
While one’s ballot may be secret, unfortunately the fear that is not is a pervasive amongst the population of Singapore. My personal experience of this came the day before the election, when in my local Cheers I asked the attendant who I know very well, how she was planning to vote in the election. This woman was, to me, the epitome of the difficulties faced by the Singaporean working class: she worked two minimum wage jobs (an office assistant daytime weekdays, and Cheers in the evenings) yet she clearly could not afford basic dental treatment as many, possibly most, of her teeth seemed to be missing. When I asked her how she would vote, she said “Well my ballot isn’t secret, so I guess I will vote for the PAP.” We discussed it, and I ended up showing her Maruah’s video about ballot secrecy ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=2&v=S9SfvJn2uGM ) . She was impressed with the celebrities on the video reassuring her, and she said “OK. My ballot is secret. I will vote for who I want.”
While this story has a happy ending, the message of the story for me was that fear of being ‘fixed’ for how one votes is still a pervasive part of the consciousness of Singaporeans.
I am also a JC teacher, and in class during the week of the elections we had a discussion about the elections. An international student raised the issue of gerrymandering, and asked why Singaporeans – meaning the other students in class – don’t challenge the government’s gerrymandering and campaign for an independent electoral authority. The locals in the class – the vast majority – fell silent, and then slowly fumbled together an answer: we focus on other issues because if you challenge the government you risk getting ‘fixed’. That was the local student’s consensus. The international student’s response was “Well that is a practical reason, but it isn’t an ethical reason. You should do what is right.” The class fell silent.
The last story I want to share is of actual candidates in the Singaporean elections. I know people involved with several opposition parties, and the stories I hear from them is that in the hours and days just before nominations close one of their biggest problems is candidates pulling out at the last minute. The reason given is almost always the same: it is not just a personal fear of being fixed, but a pressure from family members and close friends who fear that the candidate will compromise the future of themselves or their extended family. This was express eloquently in the maiden speech of He Ting Ru, Workers Party candidate in the 2015 election. She said that one of the biggest challenges she faced in her decision to run was the fact that her friends and family had worried about her getting ‘fixed’ – again her words:
“When I decided to run for Member of Parliament, many of my friends and family were extremely worried. They asked me about the impact it will have on my family, my career, whether I will get ‘fixed’.” http://www.wp.sg/he-ting-rus-rally-speech-jalan-besar-rally-3-sep/
For me, these three stories – of voters, of students, of candidates – and their fear of being fixed, tells you a lot about the deeply constrained choice that Singaporean’s made in 2015. Fear shaped who they voted for, fear shaped the fact that they did not speak up against many of the systematic injustices of the system, and fear has meant that many good people are too scared to run as candidates, constraining the choices that people have at the ballot box. The fear of being fixed is a very real part of Singaporean political life.
About the writer: None. The guest writer would like to remain anonymous due to the climate of fear (seriously!).
Singapore Democratic Party’s rallies became more interesting in this general election, and that was largely due to the fact that Dr Chee Soon Juan has made a return to the arena of electoral politics after being barred from contesting in, or speaking at any election rallies for the past 15 years. People were curious, and they came from different parts of Singapore just to hear him speak. He delivered well enough. His charisma, confidence, intelligence, and sense of humour draw the crowd into his speeches. What is most surprising to most I have spoken to however, is how ideological and rational he can be at the same time.
“Is this really the man they call a psychopath?” asked a friend of mine who has never been into anything political, after he attended SDP’s lunchtime rally on Monday, and who in the last elections voted for the People’s Action Party (PAP) because he couldn’t care less. “We need someone like that in Parliament to wake the PAP MPs up from their comfortable slumber. I actually don’t care if he can run the country or a town council but if he is in Parliament, I think he will be a voice for Singaporeans,” he added.
Working on the ground as a volunteer for The Online Citizen, I interviewed some who attended the rallies, and their impression of the man who was once labelled “a cheat, a liar, and a psychopath” has greatly changed. One of the attendees, a man who I spoke to at SDP’s third rally, went all the way to Commonwealth from Toa Payoh just to see Dr Chee in person. He said “Now you have social media, they cannot anyhow call him anything they want anymore.” He also remarked that Dr Chee sounded ideological and rational at the same time, and it will be great having him in Parliament to question flawed policies.
“They have matured as a party, and their alternative policies sound very matured and rational. They really put a lot of thought in their speeches and proposals. They do think about people who are not well to do. Things are getting more expensive now and we struggle to live. It is good to have someone understand this,” said another.
Interestingly, such views are also being shared on Facebook, especially in response to character assassination by PAP candidates Lawrence Wong, and Sim Ann.
“They have no substance in their offer to people, so they have to attack SDP and Chee Soon Juan. Comeon lah, there is the Internet now, and people do not believe in what is published on the Straits Times anymore,” said *Sheila, a friend’s friend, on her Facebook status.
“Thank you Vivian Balakrishnan for making me curious about SDP’s alternative policies. If he did not mention it right, I will never know that there is actually an opposition party out there that has been developing policies even though they are not in government. Wow I am impressed even if the policies are not perfect!” declared *Fahmi, a former classmate of mine. Fahmi was previously from Young PAP, but had resigned due to some personal reasons.
In a discussion with some friends, there was a general consensus that Dr Chee is a changed man. I beg to differ. He is not a changed man, but society has changed. The Internet has widened our perspectives, and we now have access to information that has made the content of the mainstream media seem whitewashed and censored to the benefit of the ruling party. Social media has played a big role in this general election, and the ground has somewhat shifted thanks to the victory of the Workers’ Party (WP) in the last general election. Although many are still apprehensive about voting against the PAP, there is a growing group in the electorate who are open to the idea of giving their vote to parties who are contesting against the PAP. Will we see more colours besides white and specks of blue in Parliament after 11 September?
Well, let the people decide.
*Names have been changed, as requested.
On Sunday, 6 September, Mr Goh Chok Tong reportedly said that if the opposition loses the election, they can still participate in Parliament, thanks to the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Scheme (NCMP).
“Let’s say they lose the election – they don’t have to run the town council. Their voice can still be as strong as before in Parliament. So in fact…they are more free to write more great speeches, to make more great rhetoric in parliament,” he said.
For a layperson, this sounds like a good deal. However, does this reflect the reality?
The NCMP in short, is the “best loser” of an election. Before Parliament dissolved on 25 August, three of the “best losers” from the last general elections, Yee Jenn Jong and Gerald Giam from the Workers’ Party, and Lina Chiam from Singapore People’s Party, were granted the seats as NCMPs.
Like an elected Member of Parliament (MP), the NCMP is allowed to pose Parliamentary questions, and engage in Parliamentary debates to present their views.
However while an elected MP is allowed to vote on all matters, the NCMP can vote on matters except for anything regarding amendments to the Constitution, Supply or Supplementary Bills, Money Bills, motions of no confidence in the Government, or removing the President from office.
Therefore, the NCMP do not have the same rights as an elected MP in the Parliament.
So in view of what is stated on the Constitution of Singapore regarding the power of an NCMP (see below), Mr Goh’s simplistic description of the power that an NCMP holds, is seriously misleading.
I wrote the following to Today on 4 August 2015, in response to two letters regarding unequal benefits for single and unwed mothers that were published on Today. Since my letter was not selected for publication, I am posting it here instead. Interestingly, the writer of the second letter responded to his critics with this letter, published on 6 August 2015, saying that his letter was “perhaps satire, but in bad form”, and he apologised for it.
While I respect everyone’s right to hold and express opinions, I am appalled by the attitude expressed in the letters, “Unwed mums did make choices that led to their situation” (Aug 1) and “Unequal benefits for single unwed mums a matter of deterrence” (Aug 3).
Both letters contain statements that not only support the continued institutionalised discrimination of women based on their marital status, but call upon society to blame women for not falling into line with the status quo. The writers have also failed to see the need for social inclusion or the need for all children to be treated with equity, and have patronisingly insisted that marriage is the only way one can legitimately have children, or engage in sexual activities.
First of all, the role of men seemed to be lacking in their arguments. They seem to have excused the men who have found it right to pack up and leave the women whose children they have fathered, and instead blamed women for finding the courage to take up the responsibility to bring up their children single-handedly.
Secondly, not all unwed mothers are single. Although it is still not very common in our society, there are couples who choose not to go down the path of marriage, but are still committed to one another as well as in their roles as parents. Besides that, there are some same-sex couples who may choose to have children, but due to the fact the same-sex marriage is currently illegal in Singapore, they are seen as single and unwed parents. Does the society then punish children from these non-conventional family units, because some hold contemptuous views against the decisions made by their parents?
In addition, what about women who have made the decision to adopt? It is legal for single and unwed women to adopt, so why should they not be included in the incentives provided by the system?
We should not dictate what women can or cannot do with their bodies and lives, or insist that marriage is the only option for every single member of society who wants to have children or even just sex. We should also reflect upon the way our system seems to hold those who do not fall into line with the status quo hostage through institutionalised discrimination, while at the same time demanding them to contribute to the country’s economy through holding down jobs and paying taxes.
Finally, premarital sex and having children out of wedlock are not crimes, nor are they immoral. The “threat of inequality” as a deterrent to prevent unwed women from engaging in premarital sex and having children, is grossly authoritarian, sexist since men are rarely held to the same standards, and the imposition of patriarchal values on women who deserve the freedom to choose what they do with their bodies, their sexualities, and their reproductive lives. We should become a more inclusive society that favours equal opportunities and incentives, over discrimination.
Screenshots of the letters, for archival purposes:
Filed under: Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign
Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign and We Believe in Second Chances interviewed the sister and cousin of death-row inmate Kho Jabing when they were here in May 2015, after we managed to raise some funds to cover their travel expenses. The trip marks the first time Jabing’s mother, sister, and cousins have seen him since he came to Singapore in 2006, as they have not been able to afford it due to their poverty.
Jabing, from Sarawak, came to Singapore as a migrant worker in 2006. Like all migrant workers, he earned a meagre salary, and according to what I have understood, he was not able to buy a ticket home after 2 years of working here.
One night while he was out with friends, they hatched a plan to rob as they were desperate for money. After an unsuccessful attempt, they decided to head to Geylang to scout for…
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Fact: I have never said that crimes should go unpunished. However I am of the opinion that we need to peel the layers and discover the roots of these crimes, as heinous as they may be, and find a more holistic solution that will heal the society and victims, reform the perpetrators, and give us better knowledge on how to prevent such crimes from happening. Calling for blood and thinking that it is justice, is in my opinion not only a simplistic view which doesn’t help to solve any problems, but also a very contradictory position to have.
Indeed, murder and terrorism are heinous crimes against humanity. However some of those who are vehemently against these crimes, have spoken in favour of the most premeditated form of murder in which every single procedure is carefully timed and measured with the intention to kill, i. e., capital punishment. That sounds similarly heinous in itself, and I personally hold the principles behind “an eye for an eye” with utter contempt.
How about applying Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory (of human development), as one of the ways to identify possible causes of crimes instead? Crimes, do not simply occur overnight. Alienation, harsh circumstances in the early years, abuse, trauma, discrimination, and extreme moments of desperation, along with low resiliency and the inability to seek for adequate options or in reality, the lack of options in itself, are some (note: I said, “some”) of the reasons that lead to crimes. It may be really easy for many of us to say that “Person A should have know better than to do this,” or “Perseverance is a value that Person B should embrace, instead of resorting to this”, but let’s remind ourselves that our lived experiences, realities, and challenges, might be entirely different from the ones whose crime we have condemned.
Of course, no one is obligated to agree with me. All I ask for is for everyone to reflect on, and question their personal stance once in awhile, before sending me death threats, spreading untruths, or send me emails with sexist remarks everytime I release a statement against State murder. Not that they actually bother me in the way that they were intended to, but I just feel that the time that was spent typing a death threat could have been spent on cognitively enriching activities such as reflecting, deconstructing (of personal thoughts), and further reading.
Urm… perhaps before hitting “send”, a grammar or spell-check might make your messages a little less hilarious.
“I wish you die by some thugs chop you into numarous peaces you uneducated bitch?!?!?!”
I nearly replied with an edited version.