Monday, June 30, 2008

Malaysia Probes Allegation on Malaysian Link to Bomb Attack in Sri Lanka

Seelan Palay: More absurdity from the Malaysian Government. The article states that the LTTE was waiting for instructions from Malaysia before carrying out tasks - that doesn't even make strategic sense! Seems like another attempt to frame and drag HINDRAF down.


KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 (Bernama)The Home Ministry has begun investigations into an allegation that some Malaysians planned to give instructions to a group of Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger terrorists to launch a bomb attack in Colombo.This followed the arrest of six members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ellam (LTTE) on Saturday in Wattala, Sri Lanka, with the seizure of 2.7kg of high-powered C4 explosives.


According to a news report in the Sri Lankan online daily, ‘The Mirror’, the suspects under interrogation by (Sri Lankan government troops), said they were waiting for instructions from some Malaysians - via the telephone - to launch the attack.


Commenting on the news report, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said the government would investigate the matter thoroughly, and take severe action against any Malaysian with links to the LTTE.


“There have always been allegations that some Malaysians are involved with the LTTE,” he said.


Source: Raajarox.com

Upbeat and ready to continue speaking up for Singapore

Sunday, 29 June 2008
Source: Singapore Democrats

















Far from being downcast the 18 activists who have been charged with taking part in an assembly and procession without a permit showed they were made of sterner stuff.

The group met on Friday to discuss events surrounding the charge and their attendance at the Subordinate Courts on 11 Jul at 9 am. Their upbeat mood suggested that they were keen and ready to continue speaking up for Singaporeans in the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign.

The activists are charged for conducting a protest outside Parliament House on 15 Mar 08 against the plethora of hikes introduced by the PAP Government such as the GST, transport fares, education fees, ERP rates, gas and electricity tariffs, medical costs and so on.

These increases have exacerbated the already dire economic situation of many Singaporeans. The working poor have been the hardest hit.

The activists were determined to rally support from the people to fight back the Government's punitive measures. One of those charged, Jaslyn Go, told everyone that "public support is our best weapon against them. Let's stand united against them."

Chee Soon Juan duly noted that Jaslyn showed the kind of leadership that Singapore needed.

Lawyer Chia Ti Lik jumped in: "Sometimes, I think the women folk outdo us in such things. The ladies in our midst who do so much to inspire us with their tower of strength."

Ti Lik was, of course, referring to Jaslyn, Chee Siok Chin, and Suraya Binte Akbar who had played leading roles in the campaign for political reform in Singapore. This is despite the fact that some of them are mothers of young children.

Pointing to the PAP's strategy in dealing with the reform campaign, Chong Kai Xiong noted that when provoked, it seems that Lee Kuan Yew will make nasty and irrational moves at the expense of his regime.

Agreeing, Ti Lik added that pro-democracy advocates needed to be bold and daring at this time: "This is a test of our wit and courage at this point of time."

Underscoring Ti Lik's point, Sylvester Lim said: "They just sent me the love letter. My wife told them she was expecting it and they were surprised that we were not intimidated."

"Let them know that intimidation doesn't work on us any more," Sylvester continued, "because we are no longer afraid and it is our right to speak out as citizens."

"I am ready to go to jail for this cause," Jeffrey George weighed in. "Everyone must remember that what we did was not wrong and we did not do it for our own gain."

Indeed the protest was to speak up for Singaporeans affected by the price hikes initiated by the Government. This has driven thousands of Singaporeans into desperation, many unable to even afford meals. The level of homelessness in Singapore is unprecedented.

But unlike in other democratic societies, citizens here have no avenue to protest against government action and exploitative policies.

Muhammad Jufri had one concern though: "We just need to make arrangements so that we don't go to prison together. Someone needs to take care of our children. But I'm proud of what I did."

Jufri is, or course, referring to his wife and mother of three young children, Suraya, who has also been charged. She also indicated that she was at peace with what she was doing. "The policeman who handed me the letter seemed nervous," she told the group, "his hands were trembling."

The group reiterated their views that they tak boleh tahan the high cost of living. The youngest of the group, 20-year-old Shafi'ie made only one short comment: "I have no problem." Everyone applauded.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Saturday, June 28, 2008

TBT activists charged for Parliament House protest

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Singapore Democrats


The group of activists who protested outside the Parliament House on 15 Mar this year has been charged with two offences: participating in an assembly as well as a procession without a permit in a public place.

The 18 protesters were part of the Tak Boleh Tahan! campaign protesting against the crushing high cost of living in Singapore that has left many Singaporeans in financial misery and added to the growing number of homeless.


Those charged under the Miscellaneous Offences Act are Mr Gandhi Ambalam, Mr Chong Kai Xiong, Mr Chia Ti Lik, Ms Chee Siok Chin, Mr Ng E-jay, Ms Go Hui Leng, Mr Muhammad Shafi'ie, Mr Govinda Rajan, Dr Chee Soon Juan, Mr Jeffrey George, Mr Carl Lang, Mr Sylvester Lim, Mr Muhammad Jufri, Ms Suraya Bte Akbar, Mr John Tan, Mr Seelan Palay, Mr Mohamed Jufrie, Mr Yap Keng Ho and Mr Francis Yong.


Full report at yoursdp.org

Friday, June 27, 2008

ERP increase - Tak Boleh Tahan!

Source: yoursdp.org
Thursday, 26 June 2008

Activists protested against the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) by unfurling a Tak Boleh Tahan! banner underneath the ERP gantry at Bras Basah.

The Government recently put up several more gantries along Fullerton Road, Eu Tong Sen Street, New Bridge Road and South Bridge Road. Gantries have also been erected outside the city centre, for example at Toa Payoh Lorong 6.

In addition the rates for the ERP have been steadily increasing over the past few years. ERP charges have also been implemented on Saturdays as well as in the evenings along the expressway to charge motorists on their way home.

The ERP does not serve the intended purpose of controlling traffic and reducing congestion in a meaningful way. But it has been a windfall for the Government in terms of revenue collection.

Read rest of article here.

5 years may be all it takes to SAVE Singapore

Source: sgpolitics.net
Written by Ng E-Jay
26 June 2008

Once again, MM Lee Kuan Yew has unleashed his old, tired brand of propaganda. He told around 650 participants of a dinner forum at the Shangri-La Hotel on Wednesday that one freak election result is all it will take to wipe out Singapore’s success. This is an old refrain that he has used repeatedly before.

MM Lee warned that a freak result could happen if voters became bored and decided to give the “vociferous opposition” a chance — out of “light-heartedness, fickleness or sheer madness”.

I find it quite amazing that MM Lee would acknowledge the existence of a “vociferous” opposition when PAP’s Organizing Secretary (Special Duties) Dr Ng Eng Han had lashed out at the Worker’s Party in the latest edition of Petir (PAP’s official magazine) for being silent on important issues.

Perhaps MM Lee was referring to parties like the SDP. I shall refrain from speculating further.

But to be very sure, MM Lee is not pulling his punches on this one. He has castigated opposition supporters as people who vote out of “light-heartedness, fickleness, or sheer madness”.

This is a very serious charge in a supposedly democratic country, or a country is touted by the authorities to be democratic. Is MM Lee suggesting that only PAP supporters are sane, rational people?

MM Lee also said, “In five years, you can ruin this place and it’s very difficult to pick up the pieces.” So he clearly is advancing the opinion that opposition parties are incompetent parties that would wreck havoc if they came into power.

But wasn’t PAP playing the role of an opposition party too before it came into power in 1959?

I don’t see how MM Lee’s brand of self-serving logic that does not extend beyond the tip of his nose could possibly make sense to the majority of thinking voters out there.

Many of my readers should already know that MM Lee is merely engaging in bland and worn out scare tactics in expressing the danger that voters plumping for more opposition MPs might end up with an unintended change of government. So I will not belabour the point, but will only state unequivocally that given the current state of affairs in Singapore, an opposition party might well run the place better than the PAP.

After all, wasn’t the PAP itself an untested party before its electoral victory in 1959?

MM Lee also said, “When you’re Singapore and your existence depends on performance — extraordinary performance, better than your competitors — when that performance disappears because the system on which it’s been based becomes eroded, then you’ve lost everything.”

What extraordinary performance is he referring to? Escape by Mas Selamat Kastari and the multitude of serious security lapses committed by the MHA?

MM Lee could not have been referring to the fact that octogenarians are collecting drink cans from hawker centres just to make a meager living while foreigners are taking jobs meant for Singaporeans, or that fact that schemes like CPF Life have to be implemented because after 43 years of independence, the CPF system has failed to secure Singaporeans a decent retirement, despite that fact that Singapore is touted as an Asian economic miracle.

To top the icing on the cake, MM Lee also said that the problem with popular democracy is that during elections, candidates are not judged on how well they can govern, but on their persuasive power.

But surely a political party that is not yet the ruling party would not have had the chance to showcase its ability to govern and perform administrative functions. How will they convince the electorate to vote for them, except through persuasion and debate? Wasn’t that how the PAP itself came into power in 1959?

Going by MM Lee’s argument, the incumbent party should be permanently locked in. What then would happen if one day, the incumbent became corrupt or incompetent? How would the electorate vote them out, if they were expected to judge parties based on their administrative competence, something which no opposition party would have had a chance to display?

MM Lee said that the elements a country needs to have in order to succeed are a government that the people have confidence in and trust, as well as able leaders who are aboveboard.

Sadly, we are having less and less of those.

MM Lee said that 5 years is all it takes to ruin Singapore, if an unexpected change of government occurs.

I say that 5 years of political plurality might be all it takes to put Singapore back on the right track.

sgpolitics.net

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Straits Times: WP leader now regrets voting for PAP candidate

Seelan Palay: I do hope he changed his heart more out of personal conviction than peer criticism. Perhaps I won't have to go to JB to eat roti canai during voting season after all.

Friday, 13 June 2008 — WPSN

Yaw Shin Leong says change of heart partly prompted by criticism against him


BY SUE-ANN CHIA


ONLINE STORM: Workers’ Party organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong (above) had voted for Dr Teo Ho Pin in the Bukit Panjang ward.


WORKERS’ Party (WP) leader Yaw Shin Leong, who won praise and criticism alike for disclosing that he had voted for the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the 2006 General Election, now regrets the decision.


The 32-year-old businessman said his change of heart came after “introspection and contemplation” as he prepared to mark eight years of activism with the WP on June 24.


“I have woken up from this matrix-like slumber. Voting for a candidate from the ruling regime based on my shallow personal liking and consideration had contravened the very ideals which I had originally entered opposition politics for,” he said in the latest posting on his blog.


“It also contradicted our efforts in urging voters to value the choice provided by opposition candidates.”


The Bukit Panjang resident said he would not vote for his MP, Dr Teo Ho Pin, at the next election, and urged Singaporeans to “vote in solidarity to deny the PAP”.


Mr Yaw, the WP’s organising secretary, was caught in the eye of an online storm last month after saying that he had voted for Dr Teo over the Singapore Democratic Party’s Mr Ling How Doong.


Dr Teo was the better candidate, he had said, adding: “There is nothing inherently wrong for me to vote for an MP, regardless of his/her partisan background, whom in my opinion is the better man who can better serve the interests of Singapore and my community.”


That disclosure sparked criticism from opposition supporters who attacked him for voting for the “other side”, and for sending conflicting signals.


He was, after all, head of the six-man WP team which stood against a PAP team led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Ang Mo Kio GRC.


But others praised him for his political maturity.


Mr Yaw said, when contacted on Wednesday, that his change of heart was also prompted by the criticism he faced.


Friends scolded him for letting them down. And strangers called or told him during his walkabouts that he had disappointed them.


“I realised I had sent a confusing message to supporters,” he told The Straits Times. “Being an opposition member, I must put the need for pluralism as a higher priority than voting for a better municipal MP.”


While party leaders did not rap him, WP chief and Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang did tell Mr Yaw that in voting for the better candidate, he had fallen into “the propaganda trap of the PAP”.


Mr Yaw said in his blog that the main consideration for many who voted for the WP was “the need to have a balanced political system and a voice in Parliament…”


And he accepted criticism that had Ang Mo Kio voters adopted his “better candidate” argument, “my team would not even come close to securing 33.86 per cent of the votes”.


Despite what he said in his blog, Mr Yaw told The Straits Times that he did not want Singaporeans to vote for the opposition at all cost too.


He said: “I encourage Singaporeans to vote with their conscience. If they really feel that the opposition candidates are not deserving, don’t support them.”


Political observer Eugene Tan said Mr Yaw’s latest post showed he had decided to put on the hat of an opposition politician instead of being just a “responsible voter”.


sueann@sph.com.sg

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Campaign the Singapore Government to Stop Producing Cluster Bombs



Campaign the Singapore Government to Stop Producing Cluster Bombs


The Singapore government, through its government linked company, Singapore Technologies Kinetics Ltd (ST Kinetics), manufactures, stockpiles and publicly advertises two types of cluster ammunitions for sale (Cluster Munition Coalition 2008) .

They are the '155mm DPICM artillery projectiles (containing 63 or 49 grenades) equipped with electro- mechanical self-destruct fuzes with an advertised dud rate of 3 percent' and 'a 120mm mortar bomb which delivers 25 DPICM grenades' (Singapore Technologies Engineering n.d., cited in Cluster Munition Coalition, 2008 ).

As world governmental representatives converged in Dublin on the 19th May to seek an agreement on banning cluster bombs, the absence of major producers such as United States, China and Russia have seriously undermined these efforts (Gergely 2008) . The U.N. Development Programme claimed that 'cluster munitions have caused more than 13,000 confirmed injuries and deaths around the world, the vast majority of them in Laos, Vietnam and Afghanistan' (Gergely 2008).

In a brief online scan of Singapore's two major newspapers, TODAY and Straits Times, dating 16 to 20 May, both well- read media in the country, have remained silent over this issue. The online blogosophere has also been muted on Singapore's role in posessing such bombs.

Singapore has also not attended the international conferences held in Oslo, Lima, Vienna, and Wellington which seeks to prohibit the use of cluster bombs. As of April 2008, Singapore remains not having subscribed to the Wellington Declaration which 'affirms the country's "objective of concluding the negotiation of such an instrument prohibiting cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians'. The declaration is a prerequisite to full participation in the conference in Dublin (Cluster Munition Coalition 2008).

Cluster munitions can cause excessive harm to civilians even when the conflict has been over for it 'can remain a threat for decades'. It is primarily a weapon which contains 'multiple explosive submunitions' which are 'dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground and designed to break open in midair, releasing the submunitions and saturating an area that can be the size of several football fields. Anybody within that area, be they military or civilian, is very likely to be killed or seriously injured'. Those that are not exploded, and most of them don't, 'are left on the ground and, like landmines, remain a fatal threat'. As such, people are prevented from using 'their land and access schools and hospitals'. Cluster munitions have been used since the Second World War and most recently in Lebanon in 2006 (Cluster Munition Coalition Ireland 2008).

Given that the world-wide trend is towards banning cluster bombs; and that the Singapore government has remained steadfastedly committed to manufacturing and selling such munitions, Singaporeans should be duly concerned about these weapons being used against innocent civilians.

What then, can Singaporeans do, given that the media has not reported on this issue?

They can:

  1. Act as citizen journalists by highlighting this issue in their website or blog.
  2. Sign and forward the petition which is to campaign on the ban at Dublin at http://www.stopclusterbombs.ie/petition.
  3. Execute a nation-wide campaign to pressurise the government into entering into negotitions with the aim to ban cluster bombs.
  4. Write to their MPs and urge them to field questions about this issue during Question Time in Parliament; or to the Opposition, appealing them to take up this cause.
  5. Tell everyone you know about Singapore's involvement as a producer of cluster munitions and its detrimental effects.

Rush For Land May Destroy Our Last Village


Commentary is followed by Reuters article and PDF of a study.

Seelan Palay: I am in total disagreement to the removal of Kampung Buangkok. I have visited the village and it is a beautiful and peaceful place - one that is deserving of being preserved as a form of living history, and as an example of alternative ways of living in/with nature.

I urge all Singaporeans to visit Kampung Buangkok and decide for yourselves, whether a few more housing blocks is justification enough to destroy the only village left in our little island.

I spent the first 4 years of my life growing up in a kampung-like house. It was a large, one-story house made out of concrete and most of my extended family stayed there together.

It was atop a hill of sorts and surrounded by trees (some with fruits that we sometimes ate). One would have to walk up a road to get to it.

I have fond memories of the place. One of the most vivid accounts was when my cousin was being chased by my uncle who was trying to strip him of his towel as he came out the shower. My cousin ran out the house and up the road to escape, but his towel fell off anyway! He was running back naked to get it but lucky there was no one around other than our family to laugh at him. Come to think of it, I can't recall us having any neighbors.

I remember touching running water from a tiny little stream and warm earth beneath my mostly bare feet.

Trying to psycho-analyze myself, perhaps those days left a lasting impression on my mind and affect how I view the world around me today. Some would say, "You only know the value of something till you've lost it yourself". Today, my childhood home is a golfing range.

For a long time, the people of Temasek ('Sea Town' in Javanese and previous name of Singapura) lived in self-sufficient villages.

If they were happy, is there any reason to say that their way of life was wrong? Is existence measured only by so-called "progress"?

Seen in that light, how can people who reside in other kinds of structures impose their way of life onto a few people who believe otherwise?

Funny thing I notice is that when people from "First World" countries want to go on vacations to really unwind, chances are they would end up on another 'Sea Town' called a beach resort.

More photographs here. Reuters article and case study below.


Rush For Land To Sweep Away Last Singapore Village
By Melanie Lee


SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Chillis and limes grow in a lush garden between colorful cement houses with leaking metal roofs in Kampong Buangkok, a village with no roads or computers.

The sight would be nothing out of the ordinary in much of southeast Asia. But Singapore’s last village, nestled in a forest clearing, is an oddity in the sophisticated city-state where skyscrapers and high-speed Internet are the norm.

Simple kampongs — the Malay word for village — were synonymous with disease and poor sanitation when they went out of style as Singapore introduced government housing in the 1960s.

Mass relocations to tower block Housing Development Board (HDB) flats saw the number of kampongs dwindle. Once home to 40 families, sole survivor Kampong Buangkok now houses only 28, who fiercely guard community bonds among arching banana trees.

“I know all my neighbors, we meet every day, doors open. It’s not like the HDB flats, where you can live and not know anyone,” said Ramlah binte Kamsah, a secretary in her mid-forties who has lived in the kampong for 40 years.

The village in northeast Singapore, the size of three football fields, has few cars.

“They always ask me if I want to build a road here, but I tell them — no road. Real kampongs don’t have roads,” said Sng Mui Hong, owner of the land of Kampong Buangkok, gesturing to the dirt path which runs through the village.

Sng, who is single and in her fifties, inherited the piece of land from her father. While the booming economy and an influx of foreigners has led to a red hot property market, her rates are as low as $6.50 ($4.45) a month — prices maintained for 30 years.

“If you increase the rent and the prices outside go up, how will the people in here cope?” said Sng, who added that most kampong dwellers are poor and shun Singapore’s glitzy malls.

Hitting Heritage


Built 60 years ago on low-lying land, the kampong has weathered many floods.

But the biggest danger it faces is not a natural disaster, but Singapore’s voracious appetite for land.

In Singapore, history and heritage are often found at the receiving end of a wrecking ball.

The space-starved island, about one third the size of Greater London, has one of the world’s highest population densities. For decades it has reclaimed land from the sea and razed landmarks to make space for development.

“Of course we want to preserve the kampong — sentimental fools like us. These are the last traces of old Singapore, everything old has been torn down,” said Victor, 51, a blogger who writes about life in old Singapore.

However, a government plan aims to turn the kampong into schools and housing.

“Given the need to optimize the use of land in land scarce Singapore, it may not be viable to retain the kampong in its current state,” said a spokeswoman from the government redevelopment agency.

Sng has made it clear to private developers that she does not intend to sell her land. But the reality is she would have to sell the land to the government if required, based on the state’s laws. Some villagers fear they may only have a year left.

Tan Choon Kuan, 75, comes to the kampong every Sunday with his family to paint. His grandson Nicholas Goh, 17, said the kampong is a “refreshing change from urban Singapore,” as they sat next to half-painted canvasses and smoking mosquito coils.

“I can’t do much about the government plans to redevelop the land. But by painting these scenes, I preserve it for the future generations,” Tan said, dabbing brush strokes on a leafy picture.

Students' Case Study on Kampung Buangkok


Caroline Ong Shu Xian, Rebecca Heng Zer Lyn & Ho Qi Xin, 2006. Conserving Kampong Heritage in Urban Singapore: A Case Study of Kampong Buangkok - PDF of report.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mahathir under fire from exiled Hindraf leader

Ahti Veeranggan | Jun 21, 08 7:12pm

Dr Mahathir Mohamad came under fire today for suggesting that the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) was made up of Tamil racists.

p waytha moorthyExiled Hindraf leader P Waytha Moorthy slammed the former premier's racist attack as "typical of Mahathir trying to erase all his wrongdoings during his 22-year dictactor-like rule as the country's fourth prime minister."

All Malaysians, he said, know that Mahathir was single handedly responsible for wiping out the impartiality of the legislative, judiciary and executive powers through widespread abuse or power, corruption, nepotism and cronyism as well as destroying racial harmony in multi racial Malaysia.

"We are disappointed but not surprised by Mahathir's remarks. He is bent to safeguard his personal agenda rather than Malaysian interests", Waytha Moorthy added.

In a blog post this week, Mahathir chided MIC president Samy Vellu for campaigning alongside DAP chairperson Karpal Singh and former UN special rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy in calling him (Mahathir) a racist.

mahathir hulu langat 120408 press conferenceHe criticised Samy Vellu for requesting the government to release the five Hindraf leaders detained under the Internal Security Act despite the fact that Hindraf represented Tamil racists, whose motives were akin to Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and were seeking their former British colonial masters to protect them and did not believe in Malaysian institutions.

"Hindraf speaks not just of Indians but of Tamils as a separate race. Hindraf and its apologists are racist to the core," Mahathir wrote.

"His racial sling shots hurled at others will not undo the damage he had done to the country, nor will it address his failures as premier to provide equal and fair education, business, economic and religious opportunities to all, especially Malaysian Indians," said Waytha Moorthy in his online posting to his Makkal Sakti supporters, as Hindraf is popularly known now.


Indians conveniently ignored

Pointing out that Hindraf represents the oppressed and suppressed Malaysians of Indian origin, so systematically marginalised over the years, he stressed that the struggle for equality and fairness goes beyond race, religion, creed and skin colour.

The administrations under both Mahathir and current Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Waytha Moorthy said, have conveniently ignored and swept under the carpet the plight and grievances of Indian Malaysians raised by Hindraf over the years.

"However, Mahathir will continue with his usual antics to divert attention from his wrongdoings which are all being uncovered now," said the exiled Hindraf chairperson.

hindraff isa detainees 141207Waytha Moothy's brother Uthayakumar, Kota Alam Shah state rep M Manoharan, R Kenghadharan, V Ganabatirau and T Vasantha Kumar are being detained in Kamunting Detention Centre, Taiping since last Dec13 last after organising a mammoth rally in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 25 against perceived marginalisation and discrimination of Malaysians of Indian origin.

MIC deputy president G Palanivel has rebuked Mahathir's wrong perception on Hindraf and reminded the former premier "to remember his own roots" before making such statements, obviously referring to the former premier's forefathers, who are from South India.

It is an open secret that Mahathir's father, a school teacher, migrated to Malaysia from the southern Indian state of Kerala and subsequently married a Malay woman.

Waytha Moorthy likened Mahathir's continuous political and racial bickering as 'a broken record' failing to seek solutions on the grievances of the oppressed and suppressed Indian Malaysians.

Hindraf's goal, he pointed out, was to defend and protect Indian Malaysians in their quest for equal and fair participation in the educational, religious and economic spheres, and to set themselves free from the current oppressive system practiced by the ruling administration that clearly defied basic human right and freedom.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bloggers hold public forum on Internet freedom and regulation

Source: sgpolitics.net

Adapted and Modified from a Straits Times Article dated 22 June 2008.

The group of 13 bloggers who submitted a paper to the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts entitled “Proposals for Internet freedom in Singapore” earlier this year held a public forum on Saturday 21 June to present their views. The forum was organised by the Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.


The paper submitted to the Ministry proposes ways of addressing the defects in current laws and regulations with respect to 3 main areas: (a) political expression, (b) racial/religious hate speech and (c) sex & violence.


The bloggers want, amongst other things, a guarantee of freedom to use the Internet to discuss political issues and promote political views.


The bloggers also propose setting up an Internet Content Consultative Committee (IC3) comprising one-third independent content providers, one-third persons familiar with rapidly evolving digital technologies, and one-third regular consumers of Internet content (i.e. regular surfers). The IC3 would issue recommendations whenever controversies arise regarding digital content, for example offering its view when conflicts arise between the state and content providers alleged to have behaved irresponsibly.


This particular issue on who should compose the IC3 attracted a lot of attention at the forum on Saturday.


A prevailing view among the discussion panellists was that the Government should not have a hand in it.


“There is merit in civil society doing it on its own … There’s no need to depend on the Government to regulate social values,” said media academic Cherian George.


A member of the audience, Mr Cheong Yip Seng, chairman of the government-appointed Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society, wanted to know if members’ views would carry enough weight.


Mr Arun Mahizhnan, deputy director of the Institute of Policy Studies, who is not part of the group of bloggers, believed civil society can do the job on its own. Citing the Nature Society (Singapore) as a successful example that was not government-appointed, he said it has earned the moral authority to speak on environmental issues over time.


But Mr Alex Au, who writes the Yawning Bread blog, had a different take. He reckoned that in Singapore, the Government - which tends to initiate things - could take the first step in appointing members to this consultative body. (SG POLITICS EDITOR’S COMMENT: Of course, I disagree wholeheartedly with Alex Au. If the Government was allowed to appoint the initial members of this consultative body, it would practically be a blank check for them to later co-opt the entire group into their fold.)


Yesterday’s forum also discussed the bloggers’ proposal to scrap laws against offending racial and religious feelings, or promoting hatred against a racial or religious group. They had argued that such acts would not immediately threaten the community, compared to acts that incite violence on racial and religious grounds.


But there was a dissenting voice among the bloggers. Graduate student Ng E-Jay, who blogs on sgpolitics.net, is against repealing the laws. He said, “It’s a bit too optimistic to think that such hate speech targeted at race and religion would spread slowly.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gurkhas hurt in Singapore scuffle


Reuters - Saturday, June 21

SINGAPORE, June 20 - A group of Nepalese Gurkhas in a contingent attached to Singapore's police "scuffled" last week in a dispute over wages, a rare display of indiscipline in a force renowned for its bravery and devotion to duty.


Singapore police said in a statement that the group, off-duty at the time, were involved "in an incident of disorderly and boisterous behaviour" at their special compound on June 13.


The incident followed a discussion by a larger number of officers on the issue of their salary scale, the statement said.


Eight people were injured and had to be treated, but no one was seriously hurt, the police said. No further details were given.


A contingent of Gurkhas, known for their bravery and discipline, serves in Singapore to guard some of its most sensitive facilities such as the airport and embassies.


"Apart from the group which misconducted themselves, the rest were not involved in any acts of indiscipline," the police said. Many young Nepalese men aspire to become Gurkhas because they view it as a way out of poverty.


The online encyclopedia Wikipedia says around 370 are selected annually from 20,000 applicants, with 140 chosen for the Singapore police force and the rest for the British Army.


It says around 2,000 currently serve in Singapore, many accompanied by their families.


The police said they are investigating the matter as an internal one.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

JBJ’s Reform Party registration is approved

The Reform Party, veteran politician J.B. Jeyaretnam’s comeback political party, has had its registration approved.

On Tuesday 17 June, two months after the 82-year-old had applied to register the party, he received word that the application was approved.


The Reform Party starts with 10 committee members, who includes former members of other opposition political parties.


Its first order of business will be an inauguration dinner, set for July 11.


Mr Jeyaretnam only returned to the political fray last year, after being discharged as a bankrupt.


He became bankrupt in 2001 after failing to pay some $600,000 in lost defamation suits.


He discharged himself from bankruptcy last year and restarted his law practice. He also intends to contest the next general election, due in 2011.


Apart from Mr Jeyaretnam, other members of the new party include Mr Ng Teck Siong, 68; Mr Teo Kian Chye, 49; and Mr Gopal Prabhakaran, 55.


All are former WP members. Another member, Mr Edmund Ng, 35, was formerly with the National Solidarity Party.


If any supporters wish to attend their inauguration dinner on the 11th July, 2008, Please contact: Ng Teck Siong on H/p No. 91179350 or Amy Lui H/p No. 98476900.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Give S’poreans more information - Seelan Palay

Andrew Loh from The Online Citizen recently interviewed me for their Human Rights focus week. Below is the introduction to their article. Click here for the actual interview.

Give S’poreans more information - Seelan Palay

18 June 2008

‘The only boundaries that we have for self-expression are only the ones we set for ourselves,’ says artist and activist Seelan Palay.


Andrew Loh

‘The police asked me for a permit, warned me and told me to disperse. But I am only fasting, why should I need a permit? They said it was under some public entertainment licensing law, and I said I was not here to entertain anyone.’ (TODAY)

While Singaporeans were celebrating the arrival of New Year’s Day 2008, one other Singaporean was just beginning a five day fast in support for five Malaysians who had earlier been arrested and detained in
Malaysia.

Artist and activist Seelan Palay camped himself outside the Malaysian High Commission building in
Singapore from 31 December 2007 to 5 January 2008. He was calling for a fair trial for the so-called Hindraf 5.

I met Palay over lunch in a restaurant in Woodlands to try and get some insight into the man behind the public persona. During our conversation, we spoke about activism, the SDP’s Dr Chee Soon Juan, and why he is also an animals’ rights volunteer.

A vegetarian for seven years, supporter for the Vegetarian Society of Singapore and Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES), Palay’s activism is borne out of a personal conviction and goal to, as he put it, address his personal life philosophy, rather than any lofty political agenda.

Although just 24 years old, he’s been an activist for seven years.

Below is the transcript of our conversation.

Why are you involved in activism?

I believe that humans are generally not born evil and with ill intention. The conditions that lead to them becoming bad or irresponsible with their bodies or their freedom or their minds are a mix of conditioning and experience. No child is generally evil too. No such thing.

I believe that humans should be free, to interact in an honest way and openly express how they feel and their ideas. [This is because] I feel that when they suppress these kinds of emotions and ideas that’s when it leads to an implosion. Other than your mental health being affected and your emotional health, as a being, as a [social] animal, you won’t be very happy or as happy as you can be.

When I get involved in these kinds of civil actions, I am just blessing that idea, that lifelong philosophy that I already have. I’m just being natural. They create laws to stop us from assembling and speaking but as [social] animals we can assemble and speak whenever we want. If we were in the forests of Papua New Guinea, we would be just a tribe and we would be able to assemble and speak whenever we want.

Any laws that are put in place are usually in accordance with the interest of a certain group of people. In the Singapore case, I think these laws restricting the freedom of speech and assembly are to propagate the interest of a certain group of people who wants to stay in power or a certain man and his family who want to stay in power. I’m just addressing the philosophy I have with all the actions that I do. In fact, I’m not trying to be a role model. I’m not trying to set an example and I’m most definitely not interested in leadership. That is why when people ask me why haven’t I joined a political party, and the Workers’ Party asked me before, I said no. The SDP never even asked me, which is good of them [because] they understand where I’m coming from.

Like I said, the goal is to address my life philosophy.

Do you see civil society as complementary to mainstream politics? Or do you see them as mutually exclusive or even contradictory?

To begin with, not many people come out and express themselves freely. So, for now, I’d say that Singapore is in a stage of infancy when it comes to activism and organizing and things to do with protesting, public civil action. This is a new infancy because we already had all that when people like the Barisan Socialis were trying to get [Singaporeans] together. All that died down after the PAP came into power and Lee Kuan Yew put them all in jail.

I personally don’t care if it’s complementary, contradictory or separate from [mainstream politics]. I just do what I think is a worthy cause and I let everything else just fall in place. I’m very fluid like that. People ask me what’s my plans and these kinds of things. My plan is to make art! I am an artist. Everything else is just me expressing myself.

If I align myself with the Anti-Death Penalty community it is because I care about the Anti-Death Penalty [cause]. If I’m with ACRES it’s because I care about animals. If I align myself with certain things the SDP does, it’s because I think the issues they are trying to bring up are important. They don’t treat me like I’m younger than them. They don’t treat me like an outsider. They just treat me as a friend. They are freedom-loving individuals like me. They’re very individualistic in that sense. None of them has that party agenda thing going on. And I like that. I like those kinds of people. I’ve friends in animal rights who are like that. I’ve friends who are vegetarians who are like that. I’ve friends who are artists who are like that. And these are politicians who are like that and that’s why I take them as my friends.

How much do you think being an artist has informed your activism? Do you feel restricted in some ways so much so that you have to fight for the freedom you seek?

No, I don’t think so. So far, with all my artwork, I don’t bother sending it to the MDA. I basically don’t care what the laws for art in Singapore are. The only boundaries that we have for self-expression are only the ones we set for ourselves. So I don’t set any [boundaries] for myself because I think that’s only going to restrict that creative process for me.

Don’t talk to me about ‘freedom comes with responsibility’ blah blah blah. I know myself. I know how to take care of what I do. I’m not going to say any racist thing or religious-damaging thing.

Political civil activism is just me being me in another place, another setting.

Do you see human rights taking precedence over everything else including economic development, as far as governance is concerned? Do you think that governments should put human rights above everything else?

Yes, why not? The very fact that you have an economy is because you have humans working there. Even if you run a slaughterhouse, you still need humans to kill the pigs and transport them and buy them to make a business for that. So, a nation’s economy is basically run by humans and if you don’t respect the humans who are in there and keep them happy, even from an economic perspective, not that I care about it, a happy worker will be a good worker. So yes, I would say it should take precedence.

Singapore is not known for promoting human rights. What do you think is missing that we need to put in place?

First of all, I think there needs to be more in our history textbooks than what I studied. There has to be more about the ‘other side’, especially people like Lim Chin Siong and so on, who were doing other things. There should even be everything about the ISA and Zahari and everything. They should all be in there. But which part of education? History.

Students in school will then grow up with two sides of history, and not [just] one side.

And we could have a more independent media. I do not know if it’s just me but the TODAY newspaper is more to my liking. I don’t know if anyone agrees but I think TODAY has been [fairer] and are [publishing] more interesting things. What’s more, you don’t have to pay for it. You don’t have to pay for better information!

My thoughts lie in education, the media, information. Lets not talk about human rights workshop and all that because people do not even have enough information. When they have enough information they can make a judgement. When you don’t have information and are fed someone else’s judgements, that’s absurd to me. The first step is therefore to have more information.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, when he took over as PM in 2004, he made a big speech during his inauguration, and in his first National Day Rally speech, he urged people to speak up and that the government was going to open up space, including political space. Do you think he has done that and what do you think he should do or can do further as far as allowing activists more space? Or do you see that it’s impossible for him to do anything about it?

I’m not going to talk about him but let me talk about the governing body in general. I don’t know much about him and I don’t hear much about his personal viewpoints and stuff. So I don’t want to say things about him. I don’t know him. I don’t know my prime minister!

Recently there was a comment or something by Wong Kan Seng who said that the government will look at opening up Speakers Corner for protests and demonstrations. For him to even say that, I believe, is solely because Dr Chee and activists and some other people, including the two or three girls who protested outside the US embassy against the Iraq war, are all pushing for something. They want to demonstrate their opinions. If they weren’t doing these the past few years, I don’t think he would have made such a comment. It is a direct result of what they’re doing.

Perhaps that’s what [the government] can do now – open up Speakers Corner for demonstration. That could be the first step they can take. You have said it, now why don’t you prove it? But that brings up other questions: Does that mean we can have placards? Does that mean we can have banners? Does that mean we can punch our fists in the air? Does that mean we can use amplification? Yes or no? We don’t have all these answers.

What do you think is holding the government back from allowing all these? What do you think they’re most afraid of?

Well, for one, if the content of these demonstrations and the information that [they] relay, the emotions that will be stirred, are not legitimate and have not the capability to change people’s mindsets or at least open them up to another view of how to look at Singapore.. if these were not important, why should they quell it? Why should they send so many police officers to quell a simple demonstration done with a piece of cardboard and a piece of paper? Why are they afraid of this? I would ask the question back at them: Why are you afraid? I think you’re afraid because you think it is legitimate.

The government is afraid that there will be riots and chaos and destruction of property, like in the 60s.

How many people have been demonstrating in Malaysia, over the decades? How many people have been demonstrating in Taiwan, in Hong Kong, Indonesia? But especially I’d like to cite Malaysia. They also have this party since independence and have done equally absurd things [as Singapore] but in a different way. I’d like to ask back: How do you know for sure what these [demonstrations] will amount to? Has a single demonstration which we local activists and some politicians have been engaged in led to any mishaps? So far, no.

And even if one day one incident happens either because the demonstration was sabotaged by somebody from the outside, or somebody inside didn’t keep check of his emotions, or the authority sabotaged it, even if one such incident happens, does that change your entire philosophical view that freedom of speech and assembly actually helps a nation express its views and opinions to the people that are supposed to be serving it? That’s a question people have to ask themselves then. I’ve asked myself the question and I know the answer.

In terms of activism past and present, how do you see it? Is there an improvement, an expansion? As an activist yourself, how important do you think the Internet is in this?

As for improvement, I personally feel there are more younger people in their 20s and 30s who are coming forward, being public with their opinions. People are getting fed-up. People are getting fed-up because they can see the first page of the Straits Times showing a picture of a protest in Manila or Kuala Lumpur and the second page will show somebody going to jail for trying to exercise freedom of speech and assembly. That’s why people are getting pissed off. [Demonstrations] are happening all over the world, every single day! It’s almost like performance art. It’s just people being themselves, being human.

I think yes, the Internet here in Singapore has been helping a lot in the sense that, because the media has been rated, and I don’t need to even use the word ‘controlled’, one hundred and forty something by Reporters Without Borders, so obviously the Internet will serve as a tool for citizen journalism. Like I have my own blog, Singapore Indian Voice, and sites like yours, The Online Citizen, Sgpolitics and so on. So that’s where Singaporeans who are frustrated or curious or are skeptical of the government and its practice can go and voice out and read things and share. That’s become an interesting space. And with videos it’s become even more interesting because now you see moving images and sound.

For example, in 1997, when they introduced the Films Act because of the SDP’s political film, I thought to myself: Why did they introduce the Film Acts? Did the SDP have the money to get that film shown in the cinemas? There were only video cassettes at that time, video tapes, VHS tapes. How were they going to distribute it? If they’d just let it go, it would have just [gone] to some of their supporters such as myself.

So, most probably the government knows that films are captivating. It’s easier to get your message across in a more interesting way than an article which not everyone wants to read. But yea, upon hearing this or reading this, the government will make it a point to come after broadcasting and let them do that. Come and show me how authoritarian you really are.

As for the film One Nation Under Lee, has there been any further development? The police said they were investigating it. Did they call you up for an interview?

No, nothing at all. None.

Your 400 frowns campaign, the police confiscated your computer. Have they returned it to you?

Yes, they did – after 8 months. Soon after that it kind of broke down and I’m not using it anymore.

How do you think you can encourage more Singaporean to take part, what with political apathy and all. Can Singaporeans be encouraged to come forward and if so, how would you do it?

I’ll just quote a song from this political artist that I know. The lyrics to the song is: ‘Human liberation, animal liberation, earth liberation, it all begins with education.’ That’s what I think is most important. We just have to get alternative information and more information out for people to access freely without fear. So that’s the first thing.

I’m not on a campaign to convert people to come in and join us. If they’ve reached the point of self-realisation where they feel… they’re just going to do it, fine. Do that. Some of the people I saw who went for the vigils for Dr Chee and Ms Chee, they came because they were fed up. So they did their own reading before they decided to [join in]. The only way to have less apathy is to have more information. So, we don’t have to be apathetic and not have an opinion. You can finally look at both sides and that which is in-between, and decide whether you want to be here or there. That’s all I’m asking for. If you really believe in right-wing kind of propaganda, then tell me you are. Show me your conviction.

That’s the thing I wish Singaporeans would do – decide. Don’t tell me you don’t have an opinion. Don’t constantly bicker and complain to me about CPF or things like that and that’s what is bothering you so much and when I ask you about it, about your political views, you tell me no, I don’t have any.

So, it’s about putting information out there and letting people make their own choices.

Yes. Malaysia is getting there because there are some newspapers which are doing good work and they have activists who can really get on the ground and do things fast and well. So in Singapore we just have to increase the [availability] of information.

What’s your opinion about this ASEAN Human Rights mechanism that they’re working on? Do you think for Singapore it will help bring awareness to human rights issues to the public or do you think the governments will water the document down so much so that it will become a useless set of document?

I hope that the Singapore government will not spoil the initiative for the rest of the region. Certain things such as women’s rights, children’s rights which are also very important, will probably benefit from this but as for civil and political rights, freedom of speech and assembly, because they have a higher chance of being contradictory to the view of the government, I don’t know whether this will cause them to have less benefit from such a mechanism [or body].

Is your commitment a long term one, for the rest of your life?

If I leave working for the cause of human rights or civil and political rights, it will most probably be because I have decided to put more time into [animal rights] or that the animal rights’ cause is in more need. I may devote more time to that but still keep updated about politics. That might be the only reason [why I’d leave].

Right now, I think ACRES has come a long way. [They’ve established] Singapore’s first wildlife rescue centre. A lot of the exotic animals, they don’t come from Singapore but they are [trafficked] through Singapore. A lot of them die in the process. They were also just reported on the front page of the Straits Times. [But if they need me] I will go and help out.

You were a member of SG Human Rights. Recently they announced that the group is disbanding. It gave you a platform for your activism. And as a group, it garnered more publicity for your activities than you would if you were an individual. Do you see the closure of SG Human Rights as a handicap or obstacle for your cause or activism now?

No, I don’t see it as an obstacle. SG Human Rights did a lot of important work for its short existence. Most of my years in activism have not been under any banner at all, at least not for civil or political rights. The nine of us who got together, we’re ok. We’re still friends and we can still do our things together.

But that doesn’t mean a banner cannot be beneficial or that we are ruling out that possibility in the future. Maybe something else will pop up. We’re all spontaneous.

If anyone says that he wants to follow me, I will distance myself most from that person. I don’t want anyone to follow me. If you want to be together, then join me, arm to arm, left and right. Let us be on a level plain. No leaders, no followers. I don’t believe in that.

Who is your inspiration? Who is your hero?

No one. I think even when I began formulating my ideas about freedom of assembly and civil disobedience, things like that, I was reading books on various people, such as Mahatma Gandhi. Even then I didn’t look up to them, in a sense. I read the books and thought, well I am learning something from this. They’re human beings just like me. Anybody can do [what they did]. All you have to do is to be human and know what your ideas are. So, when I first got to know Dr Chee and when I started reading about what he had been doing, how we want to address these freedom of speech and assembly [issues], I decided to meet him and I spoke to him and I never looked up to him. Even now, in police investigations when they ask me who is Dr Chee to me, I tell them he’s my friend.

When we look up to someone, we think that there is a distance between us, that we are at a lower platform and they are on a higher platform, for whatever reasons. We are all on a level plain, we’re all human beings. When we sit at the same table, our feet are on the ground. Yours are not elevated in the air. All that is different is the mindset. So, all you have to do to get to that point where you think: This person is realizing, how do I get to that point? It’s just in the mind.

How much has your personal religious or spiritual beliefs informed or affected your activism? Acitivists, to a certain extent, because they are fighting for certain causes, they see some inherent unfairness in say some government policies, for example. Do you see activists as possessing a natural sense of fairness?

It might mostly come from being informed and having that fire in your chest and those ideas in your mind. Sometimes spirituality or religion [back them up]. Like, whatever they do to me, it’s ok. I have my religious beliefs, I’ve been through this [before], less fear. Especially in things like detention.

For myself, religion or spirituality does not [influence] anything that I do [as an activist].

So your involvement is more about having read up on the issues

I started seeing things around me, observing people’s behaviour. Like, Hinduism has a long history of vegetarianism. But that idea did not translate to me through religion. I had to find out about animal rights and then watch videos of animals being slaughtered and I knew at that moment that never again would I eat meat. So for me it’s been a very experienced-based thing.

Dr Chee is a very controversial figure, at least for the general public. You’ve been working with him, you probably know him better than most other people. What is your opinion of Dr Chee?

Well, if he’s the one who took the first step, that says something about his convictions already, doesn’t it?

People see him as a politican. And naturally, as a political figure, you have political considerations. Which means that you have to manoeuvre and have ulterior motives and such like. Do you see Dr Chee as a genuine person who’s fighting for certain rights for the people?

Some people think that people who are with him are brainwashed by him or his ideology or whatever. I don’t easily build this kind of bond with people. If one day, by some freak result, according to Lee Kuan Yew, and the army is called in, if by some freak results, he gets voted into power – or any party for that matter, even the Workers’ Party – if any party does the same thing as the PAP does, I will be at the front opposing them.

But for now, all the conversations that I’ve had with Dr Chee, casual and otherwise, have given me the feel that he’s a trustworthy friend. And we believe in certain things, we have similar beliefs in certain things.

People think that he has ulterior motives and all. Come on, it’s the Singapore Democratic Party. Even if Lee Kuan Yew closes the whole party down, nobody is ever going to think that even if he starts a human rights NGO tomorrow and have no political leaning at all and all he’s trying to do is to help poor people or something or since he’s a Christian and he starts some welfare thing or something, nobody is going to say that he [doesn’t have] ulterior motives. They’ll come up with something. They’ll say he’s trying to get the Christians population… like what they did with the Marxists in the 80s. They called them Catholic Marxists or [whatever]. They’ll come up with something.

For example, the Anti-Death Penalty vigil. Let me ask you: How much political mileage can he gain from that? Quite frankly, in Singapore, even those who are more politicized, will tell you that they agree with the death penalty. They think everybody deserves it.

So what political mileage is there [for Dr Chee]? I’ve had conversations with him and it may come out of some spiritual convictions and that’s about it.

So, if you want to talk about ulterior motives, anybody can have ulterior motives. But as a friend, I don’t buy into people’s opinions because I know him longer. I make my own judgement.

Dr Chee’s actions helped me realize the truth inside me and it helped me address the truth inside me. If Dr Chee and Gandhi [Ambalam] and the rest had not made these actions, people like me wouldn’t have come forward. We learned from his experience.

—————-

A list of Seelan Palay’s more recent activism:

400 Frowns Campaign (Link)

IMF leaflets (link)

Anti-Death Penalty Campaign (Link)

Save Shanmugam (Link)

Hindraf (5 day protest outside Malaysian High Commission) (Link)

Protest on World Press Freedom Day (Link)

One Nation Under Lee (Link) (Reuters report)

SDP’s Tak Boleh Tahan protest (Link)


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Disobedience for Justice

A good response to a recent article by the Straits Times that stated Civil Disobedience has no place in Singapore.

Disobedience for Justice
by Benjamin Cheah

I managed to read Sue-Ann Chia's article in today's Straits Times, titled 'What place does civil disobedience have in Singapore?' In it, she attempts to argue that civil disobedience has no place in Singapore. I use 'attempt', because all I see are fragments of arguments.

Civil disobedience is the act of peacefully disobeying a specific law, in the hopes that it would be amended or abolished, and so benefit the people in the name of justice. Justice, in this case, means equal treatment to all people, regardless of personal factors that are irrelevant and/or out of their control. By doing so, the innnocent would be protected, the guilty punished in proportion to his crime, the future criminal deterred, and the good rewarded.

Chia said that she is 'not advocating civil disobedience'. She argues there is no need for civil disobedience because a new government could be voted in. In addition, civil disobedience could mark the start of a slippery slope towards anarchy. Finally, civil disobedients in Singapore do not have much support amongst Singaporeans. These three 'arguments' fail to demonstrate that civil disobedience has no place in Singapore, not because of their incoherence, but also because they are fundamentally flawed.

Chia's overarching argument is that civil disobedience 'defeat(s) the purpose of having democratic elections. This argument presupposes that there are, in fact, democratic elections . This is hardly the case.

'Democratic elections' presupposes that elections are free and fair, with no political parties receiving inherent advantages or disadvantages. With respect to Singapore, the existence of Group Representative Constituencies distort democracy, by enforcing homogenisation at the expense of minorities, as Yawning Bread has shown. Goh Chok Tong himself has admitted that GRCs were established primarily to allow junior Members of Parliament or candidates to be assisted by senior ones -- in other words, to let junior candidates piggyback on the success of their seniors. In doing so, the People's Action Party puts more MPs on its bench than the opposition parties, because the Opposition is smaller, and possesses fewer skilled and popular candidates and less resources, and so is forced to fight an uphill battle in every GRC. The media plays up coverage of PAP events, and relatively little attention to Opposition rallies. Simply counting the number of articles and estimating the length of each article covering each party will reveal the media's lopsidedness. This, in of itself, throws the concept of democratic elections in Singapore into question. I will state that elections in Singapore are not democratic, in the spirit of the word.

Even if the issue does not cover Singapore, and assuming that elections in Singapore were democratic, what about non-democratic countries? The fall of communism in Poland and East Germany, and later the whole of the Union of Societ Socialist Republics, was not brought about by peaceful democratic elections. As History students will tell you, there was a confluence of factors, most notably peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Eastern Europe. The protests mobilised the former Soviet citizens into taking action against the regime, by giving them a chance to participate directly in politics for the first time in generations. The dictatorial communist governments were felled by civil disobedients, not the ballot box, because elections, had they existed, were rigged to favour the Communist Party. Chia has failed to consider this case, weakening her argument.

Because elections in Singapore are not democratic, and that not every country is democratic, the underlying assumption underpinning Chia's argument has fallen, and with it, her entire case. We cannot simply re-elect another government if we so happen to disagree with some of the laws it chooses to enforce, because the system tilts the odds in the government's favour. Coupled with opposition parties that are too small to possess real power in Singapore's political arena in the near future, and the fate of every foreseeable election is sealed. Consequently, the unjust law remains on the books in the indefinite future.

Even assuming that democratic elections exist in Singapore, Chia's argument still falls. The assumption that underpins her argument is composed of two sub-beliefs: the new government would be perfectly willing to change the law, and that the issue at hand can wait until polling day.

The law in question could be a political hot potato, perhaps something along the scale of Singapore's Section 377A, in which case the new government would not touch it of its own accord, lest it loses votes. Chia believes that, just because the government refuses to change an unjust law, the opposition would naturally call for its change in order to win public suppoer. That is not true. The Worker's Party, for instance, has remained ambivalent on Section 377A even during the height of the debate on it. If the Opposition refuses to change the law, even if it means a chance of being voted into power, than argument by election will fail.

That is even assuming that the issue can wait until the next election, because a law or ruling could well harm the country for a long period of time. Consider, for example, the American war in Iraq: if the war were unjustified, it would make more sense to stop the killing now, instead of waiting for a thousand, or even a hundred, casualties between now and voting day. When time is of the essence, then people have to act decisively, without undue delay. Civil disobedience is the ultimate impetus against a slow-moving or unmoving government, because it reminds the government that is representative of the people, and draws its power from the people. Should the democratic government lose the support of its people, as broadcast through civil disobedience, then it will not be the government in the future. It is this impetus that prods bureaucrats and politicians into action.

Chia highlights the argument that civil disobedience is the start of a slippery slope towards anarchy. But this is a very poor understanding of 'anarchy' and 'civil disobedience'.

The whole notion of civil disobedience is to peacefully disobey a law to make a statement, in order to effect a change in law and so better align the current legal system with the principles of justice. It is, in effect, the people talking to the government with a loudhailer turned to the highest volume. Anarchy, on the other hand, means an absence of government. Civil disobedience is based on respect for the ruling power, so much so that civil disobedients would not resist arrest, capture, or punishment. Anarchy, however, views all governments as essentially harmful, as they take away human freedom. It is that respect that bars civil disobedience from degenerating into anarchy. It is not impossible to embody, as Martin Luther King and Gandi have demonstrated. Dr. Chee Soon Juan and his fellow demonstrators, in fact, have never resisted arrest when the police showed up. Anarchists would prefer to resist arrest, because the police is viewed as an extension of the State, and thus as something to be resisted and eventually destroyed. It is this divergence of ideology, demarcated by the notion of respect, that stops civil disobedience from becoming a slippery slope towards anarchy.

If anything else, civil disobedience is designed to promote the cause of justice. Wong Kan Seng has disingenuously said that civil disobedience 'does violence to the rule of law'. But that is because the rule of law has failed, and the existing system refuses to change it. From its perspective, there is no point in expending time and resources to change a law that people do not pay attention to, because it would merely divert attention from other issues, or could help ensure that the system stays in power. Consider the example that Chia has raised: the black civil rights movement. Following the election of 1876, a series of laws were passed, suppressing the rights of African Americans. Collectively known as the Jim Crow laws, they legalised racial discrimination, exploited minority races, and disenfranchised most African Americans. The system was henceforth maintained by white voters and white Presidents, with the latter needing the former to either enter or remain in office, even if they were racists. Blacks and other minority races had no legal means of combating such an entrenched system; they had to act against the law in the name of justice. Civil disobedience thus provides a powerful avenue to mobilise a disenfrancished population, and to channel them into taking constructive action.

The essentials of Chia's second argument is that civil disobedience undermines the rule of law. But the law must adhere to the principles of natural justice. When the law fails, it must die. For it to live on is a smear on the justice system, for the principles of natural justice are not upheld. When the government refuses to admit justice into the legal system of its own accord, it is the perogative of the people to embody the sword of justice, and cut down anything that hinders the progression and execution of justice. If it entails violence against the law, then so be it: laws can be re-written, but justice cannot.

Chia's last argument is painfully ludicrous. She states that civil disobedients must be 'good judges' of the 'right circumstances' and 'causes (that) will take off'. In Singapore, Chee Soon Juan and the Singapore Democratic Party, the most prominent civil disobedients in Singapore, have failed to accurately judge the proper conditions for the use of civil disobedience. Therefore, it is implied, civil disobedience has no place here.

Civil disobedience is a controversial, high-stakes political tactic with its time and place. Just because the Chees and the SDP have failed to show adequate judgment, in Chia's opinion, does not show that civil disobedience has no place in Singapore. It simply means that the conditions do not yet exist, so anyone seriously considering civil disobedience must first realise these conditions -- if at all possible. Just because civil disobedience may have no place now does not show that it will never have a place in Singapore.

The principle behind civil disobedience is that breaking the law in a peaceful, physically non-violent way would eventually lead to a great deal of social good. This good is expressed in the modification of the existing system, so that it would treat people more fairly, no longer act against the people's conscience, or otherwise rectify an existing wrong. The case against civil disobedience must demonstrate that civil disobedience will do more harm than good.

Chia's contribution to this: civil disobedience violates the principle of democratic elections, and could lead to anarchy. But as I have already mentioned, when the electoral system has failed, when the Opposition refuses to change the law even if it were the next government, or if the issue is time-sensitive, there exists a case for civil disobedience, either to minimise and prevent existing and future harm, or to right a wrong. Furthermore, the principle of respect stands between civil disobedience and the slippery slope to anarchy, reducing the ability for civil disobedience to do more harm than necessary. Therefore, Chia has failed to make the case against civil disobedience.

When justice is insulted by the law, civil disobedience is a powerful tool to erase that smear, as it provides an impetus for governments to act and gives an avenue for frustrated and repressed citizens to act. In my opinion, it should not be used when legal ways are sufficient, such as a letter-writing or petition campaign, because of the higher costs a civil disobedience campaign entails. To draw an analogy, it is akin to using a machete to cut a loaf of bread. You can do that, but why bother when a bread knife is at hand? On the other hand, if you need to hack through a thick jungle, a machete is infinitely superior to a bread knife. Like every tool, civil disobedience has a time and place. If one wishes to discard it, one must prove that it is harmful, outdated, or otherwise inefficient. It should not be discarded on faulty arguments alone.