Monday, July 28, 2008
Written by Ng E-Jay, SG Politics
27 July 2008
Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s recent remarks on the role of the opposition in Singapore are certainly thought-provoking. But in my mind, they also raise many alarm bells which concern me deeply.
Goh Chok Tong was speaking about the role of the opposition at a National Day dinner in Hougang SMC on Saturday night (26 July). The following excerpts are taken from a CNA report entitled “SM Goh confident PAP will eventually win back Hougang” published online on the same night as well as a Straits Times article entitled “SM: Tweaks to system yes, but the core must remain” published on 27 July. My own comments follow each excerpt.
Goh Chok Tong said that Singapore’s political system must change to keep pace with an evolving society, yet there are certain things that must not change. “Whatever the refinements we may make to our political system down the road, some core principles must remain the same,” he said.
So what are those core principles that must remain constant? Goh Chok Tong said, “One, any changes must be fair to all parties and give them an equal chance to contest and win; two, they must not lead to democratic chaos and politics of division; and three, they must not put Singapore’s unity and harmony, growth and prosperity and long-term interests at risk.”
On the surface, Goh Chok Tong’s statement appears very reasonable. But let’s dig slightly deeper.
Firstly, is the current political system fair to the opposition? My answer is a firm NO. While the GRC system is ostensibly created to give minority candidates a level playing field, in reality it has put the opposition at a disadvantage because the opposition does not have the same kind of access to resources and manpower as the PAP. Over the years we have seen the GRCs get bigger and bigger, and now there are even monster 6-member GRCs. This is blatantly unfair for the opposition.
The Elections Department is still under the Prime Minister’s Office, and the PAP can redraw electoral boundaries at their own discretion. Electoral deposits have also increased to as high as $13,500 per candidate, which imposes a financial burden on opposition candidates who have to raise large amounts of funds just to contest in elections.
If the electoral system is to be made fair to all parties, then it must undergo serious reform.
Secondly, what does Goh Chok Tong mean when he says that political changes must not lead to chaos and politics of division? That to me is a very loaded statement.
Who defines what is chaos and politics of division? Is it the PAP themselves? If Singapore is to become a real democracy, then there must be open debate about political issues, and opposition parties must be free to contest and free to provide a robust challenge to the ruling party. Who decides what is fair debate, and what is divisive politics? It cannot be the ruling party that decides. It must be the people who decide through the ballot box as well as by speaking up individually.
It is high time that the PAP stops insinuating that free debate and competition has the tendency to degenerate into chaos and divisive politics.
More importantly, we should recognize that some amount of conflict will arise in an open society where people are free to debate on any issue, and this is not necessarily bad for the nation. If Singapore is to be a mature democracy, it must learn to handle such conflicts as they arise in a manner that does not involve repression or discrimination. The PAP must stop babysitting the nation if we are to grow up politically. More pertinently, the PAP must stop using babysitting as an excuse to further entrench its monopoly on political ideology.
Goh Chok Tong noted that the opposition parliamentarian for Hougang SMC since 1991, Low Thia Khiang, believes his job is just to ask questions and check the ruling party, but not to offer solutions to problems. The Senior Minister said this is a rather narrow view of the role of an opposition.
He also said, “Ideally, our political system should facilitate the emergence of a strong, effective government after every election and a responsible, constructive opposition. But no matter how you design it … there is no guarantee because it depends on whether good, honest and competent people come forward to stand for elections and the wisdom of the electorate when they cast their ballot.”
Again, this statement looks reasonable on the surface, but the question remains: Has the PAP been walking its talk?
There has been a gradual de-politicization of the electorate since Singapore’s independence, no thanks to the PAP’s repressive and authoritarian style of government that discourages free and unfettered dialogue about political issues and criticism of the PAP. To this day, the PAP Government is still winning defamation suits against political opponents, has a monopoly on the mainstream media which it uses to its advantage, and uses repressive laws that restrict the freedom of the people to assemble in public or speak freely. In this oppressive culture, the growth of the opposition is hampered, and people entering opposition politics sometimes have to pay a heavy price.
A responsible, constructive opposition is necessary if there is to be political plurality in Singapore. But the PAP’s definition of what is responsible and constuctive opposition is at odds with my own. The PAP’s notion of a constructive opposition is one that works within the system and always speaks with a moderate voice. This to me is not a constructive opposition, but a sham opposition.
A constructive opposition to me is one that dares to challenge the system where the system is flawed, and speak out vociferously against laws and rules that are manifestly unjust. An opposition that merely works within the system is one that will support the system rather than change it.
The sad reality is that the PAP Government has been slowly indoctrinating in the people its own notion of what constitutes a good opposition. But the PAP’s own idea of a good opposition is one that will merely provide token resistance to its policies, and further entrench its own power and preserve its political hegemony. Singapore needs political opposition that will challenge, not preserve, the PAP’s grip on power.
Goh Chok Tong also warned that democracy does not guarantee an effective Parliament. Citing Taiwan as an example to bolster his point, he said, “Taiwan’s democracy is more liberal than ours. But it has divided the society.”
My view is that Singapore has been economically successful, not because of the lack of liberal democracy, but in spite of it. There is no guarantee that state of affairs will last forever, and that is why liberal democracy has to be advanced in Singapore, so as to give Singapore citizens the right to self-determination and the ability to peacefully vote out an incompetent incumbent.
Democracy in itself will not bring economic success or cultural maturity to a nation. But we should stop attempting to pursue these at the expense of democracy, because it is unjustified in principle and increasing untenable in practice in the age of the Internet.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Artists and writers in different parts of the world reflect through various ways on Black July 1983, the state-sponsored pogrom against Tamils in Sri Lanka, marking its 25th year. Citing some of the aesthetic expressions, a play in English to be staged in Canada on Saturday is based on the post-pogrom phenomenon of refugee hearing. While an ongoing art exhibition in Colombo documents life after 1983 in the eyes of a Sinhala photographer, a novel that comes from Australia bases itself on the psychological scars of the pogrom.
'What if the Rain Fails,' a play written by R. Cheran, a poet and a University professor in Sociology, and directed by Dushy Gnanapragasam, will be staged in three shows on Saturday at Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, by Asylum Theatre Group in association with Canadian Tamil Congress. The central character of the play, K. Rasarathnam, is an actual survivor of Black July.
"As a child I walked down the main street of my home town Panadura, in southern Sri Lanka, with my mother. Then a day dawned in July 1983, which changed the familiar routine and the landscape completely. The landscape of main street, Panadura had changed. I met people who didn't have a place they called home. Most of them were Tamils. I have listened to their stories and to many other similar stories. I have documented their lives during the last 17 years," says Photographer Anoma Rajakaruna.
Anoma's photo exhibition is on display from July 18 to 24 in Colombo at the Alliance Francaise, Colombo. It will be organised at Alliance Francaise, Kandy, from August 8 to 14.
Dr. N.S. Nadesan, a veterinary surgeon in Melbourne, Australia, bases his novel on family life marred by bipolar depression as a result of Black July encounters. The novel, "unaiyea mayal ko'ndu," a first of its kind in Diaspora Tamil literature, delves into seldom touched intricacies of man-woman relationship against the backdrop of pursuing hangovers of a violence-affected society. It came out this May as a publication of Mithra Arts and Creations Private Limited, Chennai.
Image of her artist's statement
Thursday, July 24, 2008
By Anjana Pasricha
New Delhi, 22 July 2008
India's Congress-Party led coalition government has won a confidence vote, paving the way for it to go ahead with a civilian nuclear deal with the United States. But as Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the vote was interrupted by allegations that government supporters had bribed lawmakers to win the vote.
At the end of a raucous two-day debate, the government won the confidence vote Tuesday by a wider than expected margin. It got the support of 275 lawmakers - 19 more than the opposition, and many more than most had expected. Ten lawmakers abstained from voting.
The confidence vote was called after communist parties pulled back support from the government, saying they would not allow it to proceed with a civilian nuclear deal with Washington that would give India access to global nuclear commerce.
A happy Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he had won a convincing victory. He also indicated that he is now ready to press ahead with the nuclear deal.
"This will send a message to the world at large that India's head and heart is sound, that India is prepared to take its place in the comity of nations," said Manmohan Singh.
But the government's victory was marred by allegations of vote buying.
Lawmakers of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party brought bags stuffed with bundles of cash into parliament mid-way through the debate, and waved the money in the air claiming they were paid bribes by a government ally.
Parliament was thrown into confusion as opposition lawmakers demanded the prime minister's resignation. They did not allow him to make a speech in parliament.
The Congress Party says it has won a clean victory, and the allegations of bribing lawmakers were deliberately planted by their opponents because they were set to lose the vote.
For days, New Delhi has swirled with reports the Congress Party and the opposition have been offering hefty bribes and other political favors to lawmakers to win their support.
The nuclear pact with the United States was at the heart of the two-day debate that preceded the vote. Government supporters defended the deal, saying the country desperately needs alternative sources of energy to help it overcome the huge shortfall facing the nation.
Opponents said the deal will bring India under greater influence of the United States, and compromise the country's nuclear weapons program.
The nuclear deal still has to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the U.S. Congress. India is barred from getting nuclear technology because it has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
By Anjana Pasricha
New Delhi, 11 July 2008
There is hectic political lobbying in India, where the Congress-led coalition government is preparing to face a vote of confidence later this month. The government opted to hold the vote after angry leftist parties took back their support to protest a civilian nuclear deal with the United States. Anjana Pasricha has a report from New Delhi.
The Congress-led coalition government says a special session of parliament will be convened to hold the confidence vote.
The government, which controls only 225 lawmakers in the 545 lower house of parliament, lost its majority earlier this week when communist allies took back their support.
The communist parties have vowed to do everything they can to stop the government from finalizing a civilian nuclear pact with the United States. The deal will give New Delhi access to civilian nuclear technology, from which it is barred, because it has not signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.
The government says that it will only conclude the nuclear deal after proving that it has parliamentary majority.
Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in New Delhi Friday, that the government is confident of passing the test in the lower house of parliament, known as the Lok Sabha.
"Parting company with the left is sad, but sometimes in politics it happens," said Mukherjee. "There is no bitterness among us. But at the same time we shall have to accept this challenge, with our courage and conviction which we are going to do. Everybody is prepared to face the vote of confidence in Lok Sabha."
But the Congress Party is taking no chances, and is busy trying to cobble together parliamentary support to ensure its survival.
Party managers were closeted in meetings with small political parties on Friday to enlist the support of as many lawmakers as possible.
The Congress Party-led alliance has already secured the vital support of a regional group, the Samajwadi Party. But it needs the backing of more lawmakers to ensure that it can win the confidence vote. There are also worries that some lawmakers of the Samajwadi party may rebel.
Both the fate of the nuclear deal with the United States and the government will depend on the outcome of the crucial confidence vote.
If the government loses the vote, it will have to call early elections. It will also not be in a position to move ahead with the civilian nuclear deal with the United States.
But a confident government says that will not happen.
The government has already taken the first step toward implementing the deal by submitting a draft plan for inspections of its civilian nuclear reactors by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
That move has further angered India's leftist parties and other opposition parties, who say a government without a majority should not move ahead with an international
The communist parties say the nuclear pact will bring New Delhi too close to Washington. The Indian government says it needs the deal to ensure future energy supplies for the country.
Monday, July 21, 2008
HINDRAF, Mon, 21/07/2008
P. Uthayakumar refuses to attend ISA rehabilitation programme by Police Special Branch which is in violation of Article 95 of the U.N standard Minimum Rules.
Mr. P. Uthayakumar was on 10/07/08 requires to attend a rehabilitation programme organized by the Police Special Branch and to be conducted by Associate Professor Dr. Mohammad Agus bin Yusof of the National University of Malaysia (UKM). On two previous occasions last month and again this month a Police Special Branch Acting Commissioner of Police (ACP), Superintendent of Police and a DSP wanted to rehabilitate Uthayakumar but Uthayakumar refused to meet them. Uthayakumar's position is that this is in violation of Article 95 of the United Nations (U.N) Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of prisoners which provides that prisoners without charge are not to be subjected to Rehabilitation.
Further Uthayakumar's detention is in violation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948 of which Malaysia is a signatory, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1976, Article 3, 10, 11(1) of the U.D.H.R specifically provides that there shall be no detention without trial, provides the right to personal liberty and to a fair trial and that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Especially after having studied law and practiced law for sixteen years and also an active legal practitioner and himself a human and civil rights Lawyer Mr. Uthayakumar is unable to accept any form of sentence to imprisonment for a term of two years and continuing indefinitely at the pleasure of the Executive without trial and not having been found guilty by a court of law. What more to be rehabilitated after the Judgment of Prime Minister Badawi of Malaysia who acted as Judge, Jury, Prosecutor and Executioner.
Mr. Uthayakumar's struggle is against the marginalisation, discrimination, oppression, suppression, equality and inequal opportunities and the permanent colonialisation of the ethnic minority Indians in Malaysia through lawful and peaceful means. Badawi and the UMNO controlled government of Malaysia refused to even reply to the hundreds of letters, memorandums, and protest notes and running into thousands of pages scores of civil suits, it would appear that it would be a crime to champion equality and equal opportunities, Malaysian Bar Resolutions, hundreds of police reports etc. and when having exhausted all these avenues over a period of sixteen years of peaceful campaigning Uthayakumar organised a 100,000 Hindraf peaceful assembly at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre on 25/07/2007. The Badawi regime took this as a threat to their authoritarian rule especially so in view of the then imminently impending general elections which we believe had to be postponed to 08/03/2008. Badawi's excuse was that Uthayakumar and the three other Hindraf lawyers were threat to "national security". Badawi's reason for not having them prosecuted in an open court of law was their said detention was based on "intelligence information" which could not be tendered in open court, meaning there is no credible evidence and/or Uthayakumar and Hindraf has an avalanche of evidence as the aforementioned thousands of pages of documents and photographs which the Badawi regime can not or would not be able rebut.
Thus Uthayakumar and the other 3 Hindraf lawyers have now been detained for eight months now.
P. Uthayakumar's and Hindraf's legal and peaceful struggle would continue irrespective until the rule of law is observed and justice is served. People power "Makkal Sakthi" will prevail one day.
P. Waytha Moorthy
Saturday, July 19, 2008
A rare slip-up in court by Singapore's elder statesman, Lee Kuan Yew
Members of Singapore's government are notorious sticklers for legal exactitude. So it has been interesting to watch the reaction after the country's elder statesman, Lee Kuan Yew—a British-trained lawyer before he became a politician—gave inaccurate testimony in the trial of two opposition leaders.
In May Mr Lee testified in a hearing to decide damages against Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and his sister, Chee Siok Chin, for defaming the former prime minister and his son, Lee Hsien Loong, who is now prime minister himself.
Mr Lee senior claimed that after the London-based International Bar Association (IBA) held its annual conference in Singapore last October, its president sent a letter to the Law Society of Singapore praising the country's justice system. It has since emerged that there was no such laudatory letter.
Mr Chee (who along with his sister was briefly jailed for contempt for accusing the judge in his case of bias) tried unsuccessfully to have the hearing reconvened in the light of Mr Lee's incorrect testimony. Mr Lee's counsel, Davinder Singh, wrote to the court on July 9th admitting that his client was wrong about the letter but noting that the IBA's president, Fernando Pombo, had praised Singapore's "outstanding judiciary" in a speech at the start of the conference. Mr Singh argues that what matters is that the IBA did praise Singaporean justice, not whether it did so in a speech or a letter. Mr Chee says there is a difference: the speech was made before the conference, where criticisms of the justice system were aired. Mr Lee was claiming, in effect, that the IBA was still impressed after this.
By coincidence, on July 9th the IBA's Human Rights Institute issued a report criticising the use of defamation suits by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to silence the opposition and the press, and expressing concerns about the independence and impartiality of Singapore's judges. The law ministry has rejected the IBA's report, pointing out that Singapore's legal system has won excellent ratings in other international surveys. Indeed, in cases not involving the country's leaders, there is no dispute about its quality. As for the IBA's worries about cases involving PAP figures, the law ministry claims that the IBA failed to substantiate its "grave" allegations with evidence, though its report does discuss several worrying cases.
America's State Department, which is in rather less danger of being sued by the PAP than are the opposition or newspapers, has expressed concern about judicial independence in political cases in Singapore. In its latest human-rights report, in March, the department noted that the PAP's consistent success in defamation suits against critics "led to a perception that the judiciary reflected the views of the ruling party in politically sensitive cases."
According to the Straits Times newspaper, Mr Lee on July 11th accused human-rights organisations of "a conspiracy to do us in". He said that they saw that Russia and China had been studying Singapore's success, and hence regarded it as a threat. Mr Lee and the government argue that doing things their way has made Singapore prosperous, orderly and corruption-free, and has earned international respect. The threat of defamation proceedings may make opposition politicians weigh their words more carefully than they do elsewhere. But Singaporean voters continue to buy the PAP's argument that such constraints are a price worth paying—so far.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Published 17 July 2008
The dreamy, white-sand beaches of south-east Asia will welcome millions of western tourists this summer. From the west coast of Thailand, excursions will head to Ko Tapu, the island made famous as the lair of the Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun. Others will be lured by the clifftop kecak dances on Bali, where flames illuminate the tales of the Ramayana, performed in an 11th-century Hindu temple as the sun sets on the Lombok Strait. Cultural visitors will head to the ancient royal capital of Angkor in Cambodia, while the South China Sea is heaven for divers.
But cast your mind back to the beginning of this year, and there is another picture that speaks to a somewhat darker truth about the region than the paradisiacal vistas painted by tourist brochures suggest.
As General Suharto lay dying in a Jakarta hospital in January, western commentators bemoaned the failure to bring the former Indonesian dictator to justice. A "tyrant", they called him, a man responsible for murdering up to half a million of his countrymen in a purge of communists in the late 1960s, accused of stealing as much as $35bn from the state during his 31-year rule (which ended in 1998) and who held the dubious honour of being declared the most corrupt leader of all time by the NGO Transparency International.
None of this stopped a string of local luminaries coming to pay their respects. Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia for 22 years; Singapore's founding father, now minister mentor, Lee Kuan Yew; the sultan of Brunei: all visited as Suharto fought his last battle. "I feel sad to see a very old friend with whom I had worked closely over the last 30 years, not really getting the honour that he deserves," said Lee, who came to full power in 1965, two years before Suharto. Dr Mahathir held the old dictator's hand and shed a tear. Even the leader of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, had kind words for the man who ordered the invasion and subsequent repression of his country in 1975, and he asked the Pope to pray for him.
After his death, the west was unanimous in its condemnation of his rule. "Suharto's legacy speaks for itself. We regret that, on this occasion, we must write harshly of the dead. Very harshly," concluded a New Statesman leader. Yet closer to home, different sentiments were expressed. The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, praised Suharto's promotion of regional unity, while Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono eulogised the "many great services" he had done for the nation. The truth is that, surprising - even repugnant - as outside observers may find this seeming indulgence of a man they considered a brutal despot, it was only to be expected that his death would be marked more generously in the region. For although in some respects Suharto may have been an exception, in many others he was the rule.
Most tourists continue to be blissfully unaware of the region's internal politics. Few larking about in the water park on Singapore's Sentosa Island turn their thoughts to Chee Soon Juan, the long-standing opposition leader who has been bankrupted by defamation suits, banned from standing for elections and frequently imprisoned - all for actions and campaigns that would be taken for granted in a liberal democracy. Nor does it seem likely that many who visit the Shoe Museum in Manila, home to Imelda Marcos's footwear collection, reflect for long on how it was that her late husband, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, managed to turn the Philippines into a nation of "40 million cowards and one son of a bitch", as a US official put it.
Yet, as the balance of power and wealth moves inexorably east over the course of what China's Deng Xiaoping and India's Rajiv Gandhi predicted would be the "Asian century", governments and businesses need to know more about the group of countries to the south-east of "Chindia". Skyscraper cities are the visible evidence of decades of growth (5.7 per cent across the region in 2008, according to the Asian Development Bank; down from 6.5 per cent in 2007, but still buoyant compared to the 1.8 per cent the OECD estimates for the UK this year). Individually, the members of Asean (the Association of South-East Asian Nations) may not be big players, but collectively they are a part of what Fareed Zakaria, in his book The Post-American World, refers to as "the rise of the rest". And at a time when Islam's place in the world and the extent to which liberal democracies should either accommodate or confront it is the subject of constant debate, not to seek a greater understanding of an area with more Muslims than the entire Arab Middle East would be foolhardy in the extreme.
Chief among the lessons that need to be learned are the historical reasons why liberal democracy
has been so absent from the region, and why one should not expect its imminent arrival. The western powers will have to accept that their future partners - and they must act towards them as partners, shedding any lingering superiority to their former imperial possessions - may be part of the growing club of nations where an authoritarian "guided democracy" holds sway. Indeed, proponents of the "Asian values" school of thought reject the suggestion that modernisation should be accompanied by liberalisation.
As Lee Kuan Yew put it in a speech in Tokyo, in 1992: "With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries . . . What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural background, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient."
Put bluntly, liberal democracy has no historic roots in the Asean countries; and after independence (all were colonised apart from Thailand) there were plenty of reasons why more authoritarian forms of government swiftly became the norm. These were states, but not nation states in the classic 19th-century European sense. Some owed their very creation to European empires. The boundary between Malaysia and Indonesia, for instance, corresponds to the early 19th-century division of influence agreed by the British and the Dutch. Singapore was a swampy island populated by a few fishermen until it was founded as a city state by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. The Philippines never existed as a unit prior to rule by the Spanish and then the Americans (400 years of convent, 50 years of Hollywood, as the saying goes). They, and many other neighbouring states, faced not only battles to maintain territorial integrity on independence, but also struggles to forge national identities.
Far from aiding this process, experiments with democracy in the 1940s and 1950s suggested it was a system that gave too free a voice to separatist tendencies and stoked racial tension. After 17 different cabinets in 13 years, President Sukarno introduced "guided democracy" in Indonesia in 1957. Five years later, the military took over in Burma, ending democracy for good. No one disputes the countless atrocities the generals have since inflicted on that unfortunate country. At the time, however, many were sympathetic to the move. "If they hadn't stepped in, the country would have disintegrated," one diplomat then stationed in Rangoon told me.
The lack of homogeneity caused serious problems. Did the large Chinese diaspora, which held levels of wealth disproportionate to its size in many countries, owe its allegiance to the new states, or did it look to the home country? It was an important question during the decades of the domino effect, when first Vietnam, then Cambodia and Laos, fell under communist rule.
Stability became the goal. And the means to achieving it - removing dissent from the public sphere, building up institutions such as the monarchy in Thailand and the army in Burma - were presented as being both necessary and true to local values and customs. To adat, the system of customary law ingrained in the culture from Malaysia, across Indonesia, to the Muslim south of the Philippines, and to compadrazgo, the network of client-patron kinship in the rest of that country; to Confucianism in the Chinese communities; drawing on the passivity and fatalism of Buddhism in the northern countries, and on the essentially conservative nature of the Muslim south.
Why is all this relevant today? The answer lies in the fact that there is still not one functioning liberal democracy in south-east Asia. Burma's tragic story is well known. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are only beginning to recover from the decades when communists of various shades, supported by both China and the USSR, wreaked havoc throughout Indochina; Vietnam and Laos are still nominally communist today, while Cambodia's prime minister is a former member of the Khmer Rouge.
Thailand continues its well-worn pattern of oscillating between tentative democracy and army-led coups, with the monarchy playing a stabilising, moderate role. Singapore's elections are a byword for predictability, not least because any party other than the ruling PAP faces huge obstacles to getting on to the ballot. The rigidity of Malaysia's political system has been highlighted recently by the response of the governing coalition to the prospect of losing power for the first time, provoking a crisis in which the opposition leader has been framed for sexual assault. And in the Philippines and Indonesia, both supposedly democracies since the falls of Marcos and Suharto, respectively, elections are so marred by corruption and vote-rigging that it would be a joke to suggest they merit the description "free and fair".
If they paused to consider the political repression in the region, it would seem intolerable to the tourists jetting in to the airports of south-east Asia. But those shiny new temples of commerce, many of which put Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle to shame for space, convenience and cleanliness, are symbolic of why revolution is not around the corner, and why the citizens of many of these countries accept more authoritarian forms of government. It has been those governments that have kept the order necessary for growth.
Such cultural factors should also call into question the levels of demand for western-style liberal democracy. The Thai people showed that there was something more important to them than democracy when they accepted the coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 because it was thought to be sanctioned by the king. There is at least some truth to those Asian values that Lee Kuan Yew talked about. Dr Mahathir put it another way in 2003: "In some countries sleeping naked on the beach as a sign of protest is considered democracy - if that is democracy then this is not needed."
That "not needed" may sound chilling to Europeans baking in the tropical sun this summer. Should they be lucky enough to enjoy lengthy interaction with local people, however, they may be surprised to find that many are not bothered by such remarks. The west had better wake up to the fact that other parts of the world don't necessarily share its values. In the age of the Asian century, it's time we stopped being surprised.
The Asean nations
- Brunei Population: 380,000. GDP per capita: $32,167. Religion: 67 per cent Muslim, 13 per cent Buddhist, 10 per cent Christian. Absolute monarchy. Legally, the sultan "can do no wrong" personally or officially.
- Burma Population: 55 million. GDP per capita: $239. Religion: 89 per cent Buddhist. Brutal military dictatorship since 1962.
- Cambodia Population: 14 million. GDP per capita: $600. Religion: 95 per cent Buddhist. Faltering - some say failing - democracy.
- Indonesia Population: 237 million. GDP per capita: $1,925. Religion: 86 per cent Muslim. Dictatorship until 1998; shaky democracy.
- Laos Population: seven million. GDP per capita: $656. Religion: 65 per cent Buddhist, 33 per cent animist. One-party communist state.
- MalaysiaPopulation: 25 million. GDP per capita: $6,948. Religion: 60 per cent Muslim, 19 per cent Buddhist, 9 per cent Christian, 6 per cent Hindu. Democracy, although ruling coalition has never lost a general election.
- Philippines Population: 93 million. GDP per capita: $1,625. Religion: 81 per cent Roman Catholic, 5 per cent Muslim. Chaotic, corruption-ridden democracy since fall of the dictator Marcos in 1986.
- Singapore Population: five million. GDP per capita: $35,163. Religion: 43 per cent Buddhist, 15 per cent Muslim,15 per cent Christian, 9 per cent Taoist. Democracy in name; opposition parties face obstacles to getting on to the ballot.
- ThailandPopulation: 65 million. GDP per capita: $3,737. Religion: 95 per cent Buddhist. Alternates between tentative democracy and coups.
- Vietnam Population: 86 million. GDP per capita: $818. Religion: 85 per cent Buddhist. Communist state moving towards market economy. Research by Alex Iossifidis
Monday, July 14, 2008
Seelan Palay: I am not religious but I am a pagan sympathizer. Below is the beginning of an article on nature worship in Hinduism.
Hinduism has always been an environmentally sensitive philosophy. No religion, perhaps, lays as much emphasis on environmental ethics as Hinduism. The Mahabharata, Ramayana, Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Puranas and Smriti contain the earliest messages for preservation of environment and ecological balance. Nature, or Earth, has never been considered a hostile element to be conquered or dominated. In fact, man is forbidden from exploiting nature. He is taught to live in harmony with nature and recognize that divinity prevails in all elements, including plants and animals. The rishis of the past have always had a great respect for nature. Theirs was not a superstitious primitive theology. They perceived that all material manifestations are a shadow of the spiritual. The Bhagavad Gita advises us not to try to change the environment, improve it, or wrestle with it. If it seems hostile at times tolerate it. Ecology is an inherent part of a spiritual world view in Hinduism.
Read the full article here.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
SINGAPORE, July 12, 2008 (AFP) - Singapore is the target of a conspiracy by human rights groups which criticise the country's governance, founding father Lee Kuan Yew said in a newspaper report Saturday.
"There is a conspiracy to do us in. Why?... They see us as a threat," Lee, 84, was quoted as saying in The Straits Times.
The perceived threat arises because Russians and Chinese have been coming to Singapore to study the small country's success, he said in a dialogue with the Economic Society.
Lee's comments came after an association of global lawyers last week said that, despite its impressive economic development, Singapore fails to meet international standards for political and human rights, and there are concerns about the independence of its judiciary.
"Who are they? Have they ever run a country, created jobs for community and given them a life? We have and we know what it requires," Lee said, without specifically referring to the report by the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute.
But during his dialogue, Lee was asked whether Singapore needed a Western-style liberal democracy to succeed.
"Different people have different cultures and forge different consensus and seek different solutions to their problems," said Lee, who holds the influential rank of Minister Mentor in the cabinet of his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Singapore's leaders say the country's tough laws against dissent and other political activity are necessary to ensure the stability which has helped it achieve economic success.
For a report and video of the event, visit The Online Citizen.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Bush's farewell joke falls flat
Source: Asia One
US PRESIDENT George W. Bush, who has been condemned throughout his presidency for failing to tackle climate change, ended his final Group of Eight summit this week with the words: 'Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter.'
He then punched the air while grinning widely, as the rest of those present, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, looked on in shock, reported The Telegraph newspaper yesterday.
Mr Bush, whose second and final term ends this year, then left the meeting at the Windsor Hotel in Hokkaido, Japan, where the leaders of the world's richest nations had been discussing new targets to cut carbon emissions.
'Everyone was very surprised that he was making a joke about the US' record on pollution,' the newspaper quoted an official who had witnessed the extraordinary scene as saying afterwards.
It was a defiant farewell from the President over his refusal to accept global climate change targets, said the Independent newspaper.
Mr Bush had given some ground at the summit by saying he would 'seriously consider' a 50per cent cut in carbon emissions by the year 2050.
"This charge is making a group of law-abiding citizens into offenders," Mr Jufrie Mahmood said to the Judge as the charge was read out to him. "It is a mockery of our Constitution which guarantees us the right of free speech and assembly."
Mr Jufrie is one of the 18 activists who are charged with participating in an assembly and procession without a permit on 15 Mar 08. As each one of the accused had the charges read out to them, all indicated that they wanted to engage counsel.
Read the full article here.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
|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
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
135-3 Jalan Toman 7
Kemayan Square 70200
7TH July 2008.
I have been monitoring the Tamil press for the last few days and am sorry for the predicament you are involved in.
I note with concern that suddenly there appear many groups who claim to be representing HINDRAF and founders of HINDRAF and have thrown various allegations against you. Many of the allegations are unfounded, unwarranted , trivial in nature and are calculated to break HINDRAF and portray that HINDRAF is a disorganised organisation.
There is no doubt that HINDRAF is a young organisation which has been deliberately refused registration by the Government so that they could continuously accuse us of running an illegal organisation.
It is also clear that the Police Special branch which have been working hard to break this powerful organisation is gaining limited success with the help of irresponsible individuals and Media.
In the current circumstances I urge you to remain calm and refrain from issuing any statements for the next few days at least. Let us give our detractors an opportunity to fulfil their Karma. In this way we would also know for certain who is with us genuinely and who are the opportunists who reaps at our cause and at the cause
of our struggle.
I also take note of individuals who mislead the community by pretending to be championing our cause. There also appear to be people who are only interested in monetary factor and do not see the larger community interest.
I once again urge you to remain calm and apologize for putting you in a difficult position to face such criticisms.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Jul 7, Malaysiakini.com
Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) leader P Uthayakumar did not meet with Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar because he was not prepared to plead for an early release.
The minister had visited the Kamunting detention centre on July 5 to meet with the five Hindraf leaders who are being held without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
However, Uthayakumar had refused to meet Syed Hamid. The former’s brother and Hindraf chairperson Waythamoorthy issues a statement explaining why.
He said Uthayakumar had asked family members who visited him over the weekend to inform the public that he deliberately refused to meet the home minister for the following reasons:
1) The intentions of the minister was clear. The minister had expected the detainees to plead their predicament and their jail conditions and beg for an early release.
2) He (Uthayakumar) believes in the Hindraf struggle and has no regrets for the incarceration he faces.
3) The minister had on previous occasions lied and mislead the Malaysian public that Hindraf was a threat to national security.
4) He (Uthayakumar) maintains that his is a just struggle for the freedom of Indian Malaysians from permanent colonisation of the neo-colonialist Umno government which has suppressed, oppressed and marginalised the Indian community for the last 51 years.
"Uthayakumar urges all Hindraf supporters to remain focussed in the struggle and feels proud to be able to "serve the Indian Malaysians" by taking their plight to prison.
"He feels the draconian ISA law that is used against him and his incarceration should be used to expose the atrocities, marginalisation and oppression of the Malaysian government against the Indians here," read the statement.
Uthayakumar and four other Hindraf leaders were detained shortly after organising a mammoth rally last November which saw tens of thousands taking to the streets.
The government later accused the movement of being an extremist outfit and labelled its leaders a threat to national security.
The other four in detention together with Uthayakumar are M Manoharan, T Vasantha Kumar, V Ganabatirau and R Kenghadharan.
On Saturday 05 July 08, local activists held a brief protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Singapore, in solidarity with the planned mass demonstration in Sapporo and anti-G8 activists worldwide.
Chong Kai Xiong, Ilyas Imran, Rachel Zeng, V. Rajaram, Seelan Palay, Shafiie.
Today is the 5th of July, International Day of Action Against the G8. In solidarity with the planned mass demonstration in Sapporo and anti-G8 activists worldwide, we held a brief protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Singapore.
As we gathered outside the gate, we were met with hostile reception from the security guard on duty, who threatened to call the police if we did not leave immediately. Undeterred, we unfurled our banner and took pictures. Later, when we asked to hand a collective letter to the Japanese ambassador, the guard refused to cooperate. We were also stopped from depositing the letter in the mailbox. One of us attempted to reason with guard but he would not listen. In the end, we had to leave without submitting the letter. We will try again on Monday.
The embassy must have been put on alert during the G8 summit, for the guard appeared to have anticipated our actions. He was probably told to refer anything peculiar to the police. Here, we lament the fact that demonstrations are relatively uncommon and risky in Singapore. Repressive laws require police approval for public gatherings of 4 or more people. These laws are selectively enforced and used to quell dissent.
Photos of our protest can be found on this report - http://japan.indymedia.org/newswire/display/4565/index.php
Report on mass protest in Sapporo - http://ticker.gipfelsoli.org/2008/07/05/thousands-challenge-g8-and-march-for-peace
5th July 2008
Ambassador Makoto Yamanaka
Embassy of Japan in Singapore
16 Nassim Road
We are a group of Singaporeans who have been following the worrying turn of events leading up to the 34th G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan this year.
We express our alarm at recent news of foreign scholars, independent journalists and media workers being detained at the airport and subjected to long hours of questioning. Among those held and probed is Ms Susan George, a well-known political scientist and writer on Third World poverty critical of the G8.
There have been reports of intrusive searches conducted under the pretext of “anti-terror” measures.
Those approached by the authorities have been required to declare their schedule in Japan, with details of activities for each and every day of their stay. Some have had their visit cut short while others, such as activists from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, have been outright barred from entry into Japan.
We denounce these measures as they violate both the constitutional rights of Japanese citizens and the human rights of foreigners entering Japan. It worries us that the level of security this year will set new precedents for future summits in a grim trend of increasing intolerance towards mounting opposition.
Like many others, we see that the summit venue in Lake Toya was deliberately chosen in order to avoid civil society, requiring time consuming and expensive trips activists and demonstrators cannot generally afford.
As you know, the G8 is an informal grouping of eight of the wealthiest industralised nations. Decisions arrived at G8 meetings affect billions around the world due to the group’s collective dominance of the world’s economy. Yet member countries constitute only about 14% of the world’s population, with Japan as populous Asia’s only representation and none from Africa or Latin America.
This being the case, policies set into motion show a lack of proper consideration of problems faced by the global south, with disastrous results.
G8 backed policies also generally favour the interests of transnational corporations over ordinary workers.
The reclusiveness, lack of representation, together with heightened police presence and security measures at the summit this year, further adds to the already elitist image of the G8. It appears to us as though G8 leaders are bunkering down, seeking refuge more than ever when they should instead open up and pay closer attention to criticism from the ground.
For the suppression of dissent with severe curbs on the right to freedom of expression and assembly, Singapore has over the years acquired a dismal reputation with human rights groups and professional bodies such as Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. Japan should avoid falling prey to the same authoritarian tendencies which may one day result in a severe backlash.
We hope that you would communicate our views to the Japanese government. Thank you.
A group of concerned Singaporeans
Chong Kai Xiong
Thursday, July 3, 2008
TRAGIC END: Mr Guru, 55, contested the 1988 General Election and lost against Mr Lee Kuan Yew in Tanjong Pagar. He failed to get elected again in 1991. His wake (above) was held at Sin Ming Drive yesterday. Friends said he had been keen to rebuild his law practice. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN
A LAWYER who took 13 years to be reinstated collapsed near his office and died later - barely three months after being allowed to practise again.
The incident took place near the Chinatown MRT station, apparently minutes after Mr M.G. Guru, 55,left his office on Monday evening.
Two passers-by tried unsuccessfully to revive him before an ambulance arrived at about 6.15pm. He died at the Singapore General Hospital about two hours later.
Mr Guru was a one-time opposition candidate whostood for elections twice as an independent.
In 1988 he stood against then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in Tanjong Pagar and lost, but kept his deposit. In 1991, he stood in Tanglin in a three-cornered contest, and lost his deposit.
He landed introuble for helping a client get a medical certificate to avoid a court date. He was convicted in 1993 and struck off the rolls the following year. At the time, he had been a lawyer for about nine years.
Over the next decade, he dabbled inconsultancy, sales and self-study to earn a Master's in Law.
He applied to be re-admitted to the Bar three years ago but was unsuccessful.
Undeterred, he re- applied in January. This time, a Court of Three Judges allowed his re-admission, only thethird in more than 25 years.
It had been business as usual for him on Monday, when he defended a 73-year-old woman charged with dangerous driving.
Back at his office at K. Ravi & Partners, he had about 40 other probate, divorce and criminalcases awaiting his attention.
Lawyers and friends expressed shock at his sudden death and spoke of an upbeat man who was looking forward to rebuilding his practice.
Senior lawyer Abraham Vergis said Mr Guru was 'just elated' at being allowed topractise again. 'I remember how he was overwrought and just hugged me on the day the court re-admitted him,' said Mr Vergis, who argued before the Court of Three Judges for Mr Guru's reinstatement.
He added that the ignominy which his friend had tobear during the years he was disbarred was 'very, very painful for him'.
He described Mr Guru as 'jolly, always positive, amiable and one who never had an unkind word'.
Senior lawyer Lee Chow Soon said he admired Mr Guru for his resilience,despite hitting that wall in his career.
'It showed his character. He was filled with passion for the law and also served as a lecturer to legal officers in Cambodia,' said Mr Lee.
Yesterday, Mr Guru's widow M. Jaya, 50, and his second son Thanes,21, showed up at his office to collect his personal effects.
The board above his desk had newspaper clippings on the cases he had handled, reports of his re-admission and testimonials supporting his re-admission, among other personal items.
Madam Jaya said of her 'soft-hearted' late husband: 'I feel sad because he put people before himself and, in a way, was cheated. People always came first for him. He was God-fearing - from day one, he was like that.'
She added that she took comfort in thefact that he died a lawyer, even though he had been one for just three months this time round.
'I am sad he went, just when he was starting to shine. If God had given him another year, it would have been so nice.'
The funeral is being held today, 3 July 08.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Sunday, 29 June 2008
Andrew Loh, The Online Citizen
I would sincerely like to believe that this is the absolute lowest that the PAP government will go to attempt to destroy its political opposition – crossing the line into vulgarity.
The first time I heard of Dr Chee Soon Juan was way back in 1992, when he first stepped into the political arena. Given the way the People’s Action Party ruled Singapore then – and even now – it was quite inspiring to see one such as Dr Chee stepping right into the cauldron of Singapore’s political minefield.
16 years have passed since then and many things have transpired – both with Dr Chee and Singapore as a whole.
As far as the Government is concerned, sadly, the changes have not been in tandem with the promises made.
Singaporeans will still remember how the Government promised a “tolerant society”, a “gracious society”, a “compassionate society”, and even one which would allow space for “political dissidents”,as declared by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. (See here: Protecting the sacred cows behind electric fences)
There is no other more prominent “political dissident” than Dr Chee Soon Juan here in Singapore. While one does not expect the ruling party to “make life easy” for their political opponents, whether it’s Dr Chee or Mr Low Thia Khiang or anyone else, one does, however, expect a certain sense of common decency and respect. This is not because one has to respect some societal decorum or political rules, but simply because one has to respect a fellow human being.
When one reads the Straits Times’ reports on how Dr Chee was described as “psychotic”, “psychopathic”, “suffering from antisocial personality disorder”, one instinctively knows that a line has been crossed.
My first thought was: How does a husband and a father see such characterisation of him in a national newspaper?
I emailed Dr Chee to ask him:
As a husband, a father and someone who has given the last 16-17 years of your life fighting for your political beliefs, what is your reaction to such characterisation or attempts to further demonise you by the govt and its media?
If you have truth on your side and you know your cause to be just, you need never fear your rulers and what they do to you. Time and history are powerful judges.
In a post on the Singapore Democratic Party’s website thanking his supporters for their support, Dr Chee called the media’s latest portrayal of him “the politics of evil:
I glanced through some of the things written about me by the press over the least (sic) week or so. Of course, this is not the first time that epithets have been thrown at me. But the degree of venom this time round is surprising.
The appeal to (pseudo) medical grounds in a concerted and coordinated manner to further blacken my person is unprecedented and quite without shame. Just when you think that the low road cannot get any lower, it takes another dip.
How do I retaliate? I shall not. Because to do so would be to engage in the politics of evil that I detest.
I would sincerely like to believe that this is the absolute lowest that the PAP government will go to attempt to destroy its political opposition – crossing the line into vulgarity.
Whatever one may think of Dr Chee, love him or loathe him, Singaporeans deserve a Government which looks beyond its own selfish political interests and not one which does not even blink an eye as it descends into the bottomless pit of vulgar and vile character assassination.
I haven’t spoken much with Dr Chee all these years although I have been present at several of his party’s public activities. On one of these instances, I remember taking pause and pondering on the motivation behind this man whom some might call an enigma. It was at the petition signing-cum-protest event held outside the Burmese embassy in October last year.
In the quiet of the night, when the crowd had thinned out, he sat in his chair, arms folded and looking into the distance. I could only wonder what was going through his mind then. Perhaps he was saying a silent prayer. Perhaps he was thinking of what would transpire the next day. Or perhaps he was just taking a moment.
Whatever it was, one thing was clear to me – that his is a conviction formed by more than just some personal political grudge against those who have persecuted him endlessly. Indeed, Dr Chee has said several times in the past that he bears no such animosity towards those in the PAP government. I believe that his conviction comes from a belief deep in his heart; a conviction which has its foundation in his belief in fairness towards his fellow human beings.
It is never easy to lead the life of a politician, based on such beliefs, for politics requires one to compromise, negotiate and even to abandon one’s personally-held principles and beliefs at times.
Perhaps it is precisely because Dr Chee has such convictions that his dogged tenacity is misunderstood or scorned at. But if one were to take the man at his word, and discard all the speculation and suggestions, one might just realise that the man indeed is no psychopath. For if he was, the history of the world would have to be re-written, for those who fought by the same beliefs as Dr Chee would then, too, be mad.
If you have truth on your side and you know your cause to be just, you need never fear your rulers and what they do to you.
Well said, doc.