Saturday, February 28, 2009

Literally Breaking News: Merlion hit by lightning editor's note: Just when you think things cannot get worse, our tourist icon - the Merlion was struck by lightning! In ancient China, natural disasters are usually a harbinger of a change in the “mandate of heaven”. A devastating earthquake flattened the Chinese city of Tangshan in 1976 just a month before Mao Zedong’s demise. Is this Heaven’s “warning” to our leaders? Or it is a sign that somebody may pass on soon?

U.S. Department of State - Singapore Human Rights Report 2008

Seelan: My film One Nation Under Lee is mentioned in the subsection below, "Academic Freedom and Cultural Events". Among the many other interesting pieces of information in this report, I'd also like to bring your attention to the first paragraph of the subsection, "National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities". A link to read the full report and watch One Nation Under Lee is available at the end of this post.

2008 Human Rights Report: Singapore
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Source: U.S. Department of State
February 25, 2009

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

All public institutions of higher education and political research have limited autonomy from the government. Although faculty members are not technically government employees, in practice they were subject to potential government influence. Academics spoke and published widely and engaged in debate on social and political issues. However, they were aware that any public comments outside the classroom or in academic publications that ventured into prohibited areas--criticism of political leaders or sensitive social and economic policies or comments that could disturb ethnic or religious harmony or appeared to advocate partisan political views--could subject them to sanctions. Publications by local academics and members of research institutions rarely deviated substantially from government views.

In October the local branch of Australia-based James Cook University suspended John Tan, assistant secretary general of the SDP and a lecturer at the university, indefinitely from his teaching duties after the attorney general announced his intention to bring contempt-of-court charges against Tan for wearing a protest T-shirt to court.

The Films Act bans political advertising using films or videos as well as films directed towards any political purpose. The act does not apply to any film sponsored by the government, and the act allows the MICA minister to exempt any film from the act.

In May the MDA censors interrupted the private screening of political activist Seelan Palay's film One Nation Under Lee, which portrays the country as lacking press and political freedoms. The MDA confiscated the film because it had not been submitted to the Board of Film Censors for classification and certification. At year's end the Board of Film Censors still had not certified the film, with the result that any public screening remains unlawful.

A list of banned films was available on the MDA Web site. Certain films that were barred from general release may be allowed limited showings, either censored or uncensored, with a special rating. In April the MDA censors gave an NC-16 (no children below 16 years old) rating to a documentary by filmmaker Martyn See focused on the activities of SDP chief Chee Soon Juan and others during a three-day protest at the Speakers' Corner.

In January the MDA stopped the Complaints Choir from performing in public, stating that foreigners should not get involved in domestic politics. The choir included six foreigners among its 50 members and refused to perform without the six. The performance was moved to an indoor venue and was recorded and posted on YouTube, where it received over 10,000 viewings.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Malays constituted approximately 15 percent of the population. The constitution acknowledges them as the indigenous people of the country and charges the government to support and to promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and language interests. The government took steps to encourage greater educational achievement among Malay students. However, ethnic Malays have not yet reached the educational or socioeconomic levels achieved by the ethnic Chinese majority, the ethnic Indian minority, or the Eurasian community. Malays remained underrepresented at senior corporate levels and, some asserted, in certain sectors of the government and the military. This reflected their historically lower educational and economic levels, but some argued that it also was a result of employment discrimination. The government issued guidelines that call for eliminating language referring to age, gender, or ethnicity in employment advertisements; restrictive language pertinent to job requirements, such as "Chinese speaker" remains acceptable. These guidelines were generally followed.

For the full report visit the U.S. Department of State.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Why TBT protesters look forward to going back to court

Source: Singapore Democrats, 25 February 2009

The 16 Tak Boleh Tahan activists who protested against escalating costs in Singapore last year are looking forward to the resumption of their trial tomorrow at the Subordinate Courts.

This is because legal battles are one way through which Singaporeans can fight for their rights and work towards the rule of law, however long the process may take.

The trial is heard by District Judge Chia Wee Kiat. It commenced last year from 23 Oct to 7 Nov. But because it could not finish in the allocated period, the hearing was adjourned to 26 Feb to 12 Mar 09. The protesters face two charges: one for participating in an assembly and another for a procession outside Parliament House on 15 Mar 08.

While some may not yet comprehend why the Singapore Democrats and Friends are determined to challenge the PAP's unconstitutional ban on freedom of speech and assembly, we are convinced that with time and effort these Singaporeans will eventually understand what we are trying to achieve.

We don't do what is easy, we don't do what is safe. We do what is right and necessary. And we do it because it will benefit our fellow Singaporeans in the long run. This is what true leadership is all about.

Leaders must lead and an important aspect of leadership is bringing to the attention of the people the pitfalls and dangers that lie ahead for our nation. These include the total lack of political rights for our citizens.

Think about it. Despite the enormous amounts of reserves the Government has lost through disastrous investments, no one is held accountable. Everyone goes about their work as if nothing happened. Even Ms Ho Ching's stepping down as chief of Temasek is billed as a strategic move. She has not been called to answer for the losses incurred.

This happens only because Singaporeans have been stripped of their rights to freedom of assembly. In any democratic nation, the people would have congregated in public and demanded answers from the government.

What about elections? Can't we just vote in enough opposition MPs and change the laws from there? If only it were that simple. A government that has no qualms in ignoring the Constitution will have no hesitation in changing the rules governing elections. Already PM Lee Hsien Loong has openly admitted that he needs to fix his opponents and buy his support.

This is why the PAP has been in power for half-a-century with almost zero opposition representation in Parliament. Do we learn nothing from this?

Leadership is not about bossing people around. It is about educating and persuading the people, and making the necessary sacrifice so that our fellow citizens may see what we see and heed our urgent call.

This is not to say that we don't believe in elections. As we have stated repeatedly we will continue to put up candidates and fight the elections. In fact we have already started preparations for the coming GE.

But over and above contesting the elections once every four or five years, we also need to work towards political reform. An opposition in an autocratic system must fight on all fronts, not just the elections. Our strategy must be wholistic.

This is why we go back to court tomorrow enthused and with a strong sense of purpose. We are filled with the knowledge that history and right is on our side.

We will continue to expose the police as a tool of the ruling party. We will continue to demonstrate the selective prosecution by the AG. We will continue to urge the Judiciary to uphold the rule of law in Singapore and to enforce the letter and spirit of our Constitution and, indeed, the constitution of the free and civilised world.

For without the rule of law all the house-to-house visits, posters, flyers, etc will come to nought and the PAP will continue to rule without an opposition in Parliament for another 50 years.

Top row (l-r): Chee Soon Juan, Carl Lang, Francis Yong, Chia Ti Lik, Sylvester Lim, Shafi'ie, Govindarajan, Jufrie Mahmood, Chong Kai Xiong

Bottom row (l-r): Seelan Palay, Jufri Salim, John Tan, Jeffrey George (pleaded guilty), Jaslyn Go, Suraya, Ng E-jay (pleaded guilty), Gandhi Ambalam, Chee Siok Chin

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Interview with a 56 year old retrenched worker who is not allowed to withdraw his CPF

Source: Wayang Party Club


Mr Tong (not his real name) is a single 56 year old Chinese man who used to work as a warehouse supervisor. He was retrenched 3 months ago and has been looking for a job. Due to a previous accident which left two metal implants in both his legs, he had difficulties securing a job.

He withdrew part of his CPF at 55 years old and still has over a $1,000 left in his CPF account. When he approached CPF Board to request for withdrawal of the remaining amount, he was told he need to wait for 6 months before he can apply. In the meantime, he has used up his savings and cannot even afford three simple meals a day.

Part 1

Part 2

“I don’t have a job now, I don’t have a single cent, I am worse off than a begger, I am worse off than death !”

“What I want is my OWN retirement money ! They want me to wait till 64 years old, I don’t think I can live that long with my current health ! I ask them to help me and they say it is not possible. Why not possible ??? It is MY MONEY !!!”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rights Groups Question ASEAN Human Rights Priorities Ahead of Summit

By Daniel Schearf, Bangkok
19 February 2009

Rights groups say the Association of Southeast Asian Nations needs to do more to protect human rights, especially in Burma. Activists and rights organizations are meeting in Bangkok to pressure the regional organization, ahead of its annual summit next week in Thailand.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is coming under increasing pressure to improve human righ
ts in the region.

Rights groups have applauded ASEAN's forming a human rights body, but say so far it appears largely toothless and not willing to take on human rights violators like Burma's military rulers.

Yap Swee Seng is with Forum Asia, a coalition of 42 human rights organizations across Asia. He told journalists Thursday ASEAN's human rights body needs to make independent assessments of human rights concerns and have the power to act against violators.

"If the body doesn't have this kind of mandate, especially on the protection mandate…it will be very questionable whether this human rights body can function as expected by civil society to effectively promote and protect human rights," said Seng.

Seng was speaking on a panel of activists ahead of several gatherings in Thailand of grassroots and regional organizations.

The rights groups will meet next week in Bangkok and Hua Hin, a resort town where ASEAN will hold its annual summit.

One of the hot issues this year is how to handle Burmese boat people, who have been fleeing Burma by the hundreds and washing up in neighboring countries.

Seng says ASEAN states need to address the source of Burmese refugees, if they want stability and security in the region.

"ASEAN states have to come to term with the reality that they have to address the root causes of this problem, this humanitarian crisis where democracy and human rights in Burma will have to
be restored," he said.

One of ASEAN's fundamental principles is non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.

Seng says ASEAN may use that as an excuse to avoid condemning human rights abusers or demanding improvement.

The activist meetings in Thailand begin as a United Nations' human rights envoy ends a six-day trip to Burma.

Tomas Ojea Quintana was in Burma to see if the military government implemented his suggestions to improve the country's poor human rights record.

During his trip, Quintana was able to meet with some political prisoners. He gave no immediate assessment of human rights conditions in the country.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Monday, February 23, 2009

Attorney General Walter Woon confuses me

Below are two statements made by Attorney General Walter Woon, one in 1991 and the other in 2008 - Tell me what you think.

'Stand up and be quoted'
Straits Times, 6 July 1991

Walter Woon on:

* The Supremacy of the Singapore Constitution:

'We effectively don't have a Constitution. We have a law that can easily changed by Parliament, and by the party in power because the party is Parliament. The changes themselves might not be controversial, but it is unsettling how flexible the Constitution is, unlike, say, in the United States.'

*On the(1987)Marxist plot:

'As far as I am concerned, the Government's case is still not proven. I would not say those fellows were Red, not from the stuff they presented...I think a lot of people have this scepticism.'

*On the powers of the Judiciary:

'It is absolutely futile for people to talk about challenging Executive decisions in court. If it is not legal, the Government will make it legal, and it will make it legal retrospectively. The judges have no choice in this. Whatever their own personal inclination, they are bound by their oaths to uphold the law.'

*On Emigration

'There was this sense of frustration about being treated like idiot children, and people who had the opportunity went somewhere else.'

'But if you want creative people, people who can see beyond the horizon, who can move the place faster than others can move theirs ... the change is necessary. This is the 1990s. If a person is good, he will be headhunted by any number of countries.'

That was 1991, now here's what he said more recently:

Human Rights activists - a bunch of ‘fanatics’?
The Online Citizen
, 12 June 2008

The following are extracts of Attorney General Walter Woon’s speech at a Law Society gathering last Thursday where he touched on the topic of human rights. The event was to mark the launch of the Law Society’s Public and International Law Committee.

The extracts are culled from reports by the Straits Times and TODAY.

"Human rights has become a ‘religion’ that breeds devotees who border on the fanatic."

"It would be ‘hypocrisy’ for such people to decide what is acceptable for the rest of society."

"We have to be careful when we talk about public law, and not to confuse law with politics. There are many people who think if a decision is made and they don’t like it, then this is something the law can correct. There is a line between a political decision and a legal decision."

"You have, like in some religions, the fanatics. And it’s all hypocrisy and fanaticism (for these people) to set the views, as the leading spokesmen, of what is acceptable and what’s not."

"What we are against is the assumption of some people that when they define what’s human rights, that decision is the decision of the rest of humanity."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mouse who barked - More "wisdom" from the PAP Ministers

Source: The Online Citizen

Just in case anyone missed this article in the Straits Times on 4 Feb 2009:

Mouse who barked

A MOUSE met a cat. The mouse barked like a dog. That scared the cat away.

To great levity in the House on Wednesday, labour chief Lim Swee Say recounted the tale to get across a solemn message: it is important to upgrade one’s skills.

In an impromptu speech to rebut criticisms of the Jobs Credit scheme, Mr Lim said: ‘We must never hope for a no-pain solution because there’s no painless way out of global recession.’

He then told the tale of a kingdom of mice that ‘lived very peacefully’ until a cat appeared. The mice Parliament convened to discuss how to overcome their new fear.

One mice MP proposed a very simple solution: hang a big bell on the cat’s neck so that it can be heard wherever it goes. Another suggested that it be big and heavy ’so that by the time the cat sees us, it will be so heavy, it cannot keep up with us’.

But there was a snag in implementing it. Who will bell the cat?

‘There was no volunteer,’ said Mr Lim.

The idea failed and the cat continued to move around freely while the mice lived in fear. One day, a mother mouse and her baby were hunting for food when the cat cornered them.

Trapped, the mother did the unexpected: she stared at the cat and barked, sending the feline fleeing.

To laughter from the MPs, Mr Lim said: ‘The mother mouse turned and told the baby mouse: ‘See, now you understand the importance of upskilling and re-skilling’.’

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Political dwarfs like Mr Lee Kuan Yew : Chia Thye Poh

Source: Martyn See

I derive no inspiration from my country's current (and past) government leaders.

My only source of patriotism is drawn from the scarifices made by political dissidents, both past and present, who has/had been persecuted, imprisoned and vilified by their own government for their beliefs.

They, I believe, are the real patriots of Singapore.

Singapore's forgotten founding fathers.
Dr Chia Thye Poh [left] with Mr Lim Chin Siong.
Picture from National Archives.
Record date : 24/07/1962



Research by Isrizal Mohd Isa

Extracted from Parlimentary Debates of the Dewan Ra’ayat (House of Representatives)
Thursday, 19th September, 1964


Mr Speaker: You have one more minute left.

Enche' Chia Thye Poh: I think one more minute is too short.

Mr Speaker: I will give you one more minute.

Enche' Chia Thye Poh: I think it is most unfair for me to complete my speech in one minute. I beg you to ...

Mr Speaker: No, I will give you one minute.

Enche' Chia Thye Poh: Sir, when the Prime Minister talks of defending our country, we find it hollow. This Government has betrayed all the vital interests of the people to the British. It has no right to talk of defending the nation. This Government is oppressing the people; more than 200 political leaders and trade unionists are in the jails of Singapore. Our Secretary- General, Mr Lim Chin Siong, is in Changi and political dwarfs like Mr Lee Kuan Yew can strut around and talk big only when giants like Mr Lim Chin Siong are kept out of the political arena (interruption).

Mr Speaker: Do not disturb him.

Enche' Chia Thye Poh: The Prime Minister has spoken about the communal riots in Singapore. He says that the Indonesians and the Communists caused it. We are from Singapore and we know that this is just to cover up the real culprits. The Prime Minister of Singapore is telling, in Europe, that the UMNO politicians have caused it. The UMNO in Singapore says that the P.A.P. has caused it. We who are in Singapore know that the communal riots were the work of the UMNO and the P.A.P. who were indulging in a bitter fight for power . All this nonsense about the Indonesians and the Communists causing these riots is just to hide the truth that the main culprits belong to the ruling parties.


Enche' Chia Thye Poh: We challenge the Government to have a public enquiry into this. When the riots started . . . .

Mr Speaker: Order, order! Your time is up—it is already one minute.


2 years later, at the age of 26, Member of Parliament for Jurong Mr Chia Thye Poh was arrested and detained without charge or trial. He spent a total of 23 years in prison and another 9 years under restrictive orders in Sentosa. Upon his release in 1998, he publicly called for the abolition of the ISA. He attained his phD recently, but his last known whereabouts are uncertain.


Related reading:

2 recent articles by Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Full of generalities but short on specifics: President S R Nathan’s (unofficial) guide to rubber stamping

Written by Ng E-Jay,, 18 Feb 2009

President S R Nathan held a press conference on Tuesday to explain why he agreed to the first-ever draw on past reserves.

Being full of generalities but short on specifics, did President Nathan tell us anything that we did not already know?

President Nathan said that the swiftness of the process of obtaining his in-principal approval, which took just 11 days, stemmed from the urgency in giving the Government the confidence to roll out measures to tackle the recession, which could worsen without fast action.

Mr Nathan also said that he need not have held a press conference to explain the decision, as he is required only to convey his decision in writing to Parliament upon the Government’s request.

However, we are not so much concerned with why the decision was made swiftly, which has already been explained by the Finance Minister in Parliament, but whether adequate due diligence was exercised by the President and his Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA).

Mr Nathan tried to assure us that the steps taken to seek his approval did not bypass procedures and went by the book. “Whether you take 11 days or one month, the process will be the same,” he noted. (ST, “Why I said yes”, 18 Feb 2009)

Mr Nathan also disclosed that he and the CPA had sought regular briefings with the Government last year on the state of the global economy and its possible impact on Singapore, and that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also discussed with them his concerns about the dire economic circumstances and the need for extraordinary measures to tackle the downturn.

But being short on specifics, Mr Nathan’s assurance that procedures were followed and that he and the CPA kept themselves updated on the state of the economy leaves many questions unanswered. For example:

  • Is the CPA truly independent of the Government? Are all of its members completely free from Executive influence?
  • Did the CPA examine the Government’s budget position closely to determine whether there was a real need to draw on past reserves to fund the Jobs Credit and Special Risk-sharing Initiative schemes?
  • Did the CPA consider whether suitable alternatives were available that would not have required a draw on past reserves, such as issuing debt or drawing upon current reserves, which is the surpluses accumulated during the Government’s present term of office (since GE 2006)?
  • Did the CPA scrutinize the Government’s accounts on its current and past reserves to satisfy itself that those accounts are properly maintained?
  • How did the CPA satisfy itself that the current economic crisis warrants a draw on past reserves? What economic metrics or models were used? Did the CPA carry out its own independent analysis of economic conditions apart from the views provided by the Government?

I strongly suspect that these questions are left unanswered for a reason, and it is not because reporters did not ask them. After all the late President Ong Teng Cheong recounted that the Accountant General had informed him that it would take 52-man years to produce the list of assets held by the Government (this recount is disputed by the Ministry of Finance — see this link).

President Nathan said that he left CPA members to come to a decision on their own, but revealed that in early January when they were briefed by Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang on the state of the economy and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on the Budget strategy, he was already convinced by then of the need to agree to the request for a draw on past reserves.

This begs further questions: What if the CPA had disagreed with the Government’s assessment on the state of the economy or on the need to draw on past reserves? How would the President have acted then? And how was the President sure that using past reserves was the right strategy without first examining the Government’s accounts and considering all possible alternatives?

President Nathan emphasised that the Constitution does not prescribe the process for dealing with a request for using past reserves, and that all it spells out is the need for the President to consult the CPA and to publish his view when he approves a draw on past reserves.

However, this does not mean the public is not entitled to know the process by which the CPA reached its decision, and whether the same process will be used to evaluate further requests in the future.

Without complete transparency from the CPA, how is the public able to determine whether the CPA is consistent in its methodology and procedure of evaluating Government requests to draw upon past reserves?

The President’s explanation of the circumstances leading to his in-principal approval on the use of past reserves as well as his assurance that procedures were followed sound like a veiled justification for what increasingly looks like a rubber-stamping exercise in reality.

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told Parliament that he was not sure the details of the President’s process were relevant.

This is a system that relies on trust in the individuals who are in charge,” he said.

Mr Tharman added that other systems “based on transparency of figures and procedures”, as distinct from trust in the individuals, have been shown to shift towards “wanting to spend more reserves for less and less meritorious purposes over time”.

“That is what we want to resist,” said Mr Tharman.

Read the above carefully. Mr Tharman has said that TRUST is MORE IMPORTANT than TRANSPARENCY.

It is this mentality taken by the ruling PAP that makes President Nathan’s nebulous explanations look all the more precarious.

Also read:
The most expensive President in the world finally replies to justify his $3 million dollars salary

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More LKY revelations at Rajakumar's memorial

Source: RajakumarSingapore Democrats
Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The young lawyer waited anxiously at his office, hoping to be engaged as counsel to represent eight university students facing charges of sedition over an article they wrote in their campus newsletter.

He didn't want to miss the golden opportunity to provide legal advice to the defiant undergraduates and thus boost his standing as a defender of the underdog.

He was none other than Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The year was 1954. The students were all members of the University Socialist Club (USC) that was formed a year earlier at the University of Malaya with its campus at Bukit Timah.

This little nugget of hitherto unknown fact and other information came to light on Saturday, 14 Feb 09, at a memorial to mark the recent death of Dr M K Rajakumar, the lead writer of the editorial titled Aggression in Asia in the student publication Fajar (dawn).

Dr Agoes Salim who was president of the USC in 1956 made this revelation to the surprise of many in the audience who had thought that the students were the ones who had sought out after Mr Lee when in fact it was the other way around.

Dr Salim had travelled from Malaysia to chair the four-hour memorial which was steeped in history.

Young Rajakumar, came to Singapore from Malaya to study medicine under a government scholarship. Along with other like-minded student activists of their day who were highly motivated in fighting for independence from British colonialism, Rajakumar was one of the prime movers in founding the USC in 1953. The first president of the club was another medical student Poh Soo Kai who was detained under the ISA by Mr Lee Kuan Yew for years.

Rajakumar became the editor of Fajar when he and seven of his colleagues were arrested in 1954 for the seditious editorial. They became known as the "Fajar 8". Rajakumar was only 22 then and was in his fourth-year medicine studies. The vice-chancellor of the university, Sidney Caine, put up bail and got the eight released.

Another bit of information that came to light at the memorial was that the services of the Queen's Counsel D N Pritt. The students wanted a QC to represent them. Mr John Eber, vice-president of the defunct Malayan Democratic Union (MDU), had approached Mr Pritt on behalf of the Fajar 8.

This contradicts Mr Lee who had written in his memoirs:

Things always seem to come out of the blue. On 28 May 1954, a group of students at the University of Malaya were arrested and charged with sedition. They wanted me to defend them. I agreed to act for them, and after some reflection, advised them that theirs was a case best treated as a political contest, not a legal one. I proposed that we bring out from London a British Queen's Counsel D.N. Pritt, famous for championing left wing causes.

In Lee Kuan Yew's words, it was he who had engaged the services of Mr Pritt. In any event, the QC came from London to defend the students and got the charges quashed in two-and-a-half days.

At Saturday's memorial, close to fifty of Dr Rajakumar's contemporaries and friends, both young and old, gathered, ironically, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the same Bukit Timah Campus to remember him.

Dr Rajakumar passed away on 22 Nov 2008 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at the age of 76.

In his tribute to Dr Rajakumar, Dr Salim said:"He is not only a friend, but a philosopher guide, he was my mentor. In a way he was a genius."

Another speaker, Mr Dominic Puthucheary, a contemporary of Dr Rajakumar and fellow freedom fighter said: "The present financial crisis has shown how we were right then. Our group was a world by itself, so selfless, kept our soul together and did not lose our idealism."

Mr Puthucheary, a lawyer from Malaysia, was a trade unionist in Singapore in the 1960s and detained under Operation Coldstore in February 1963 and subsequently expelled to Malaysia by Mr Lee.

Speaking next, Professor Arthur Lim, a former classmate of Dr Rajakumar pledged $10,000 to organise the first anniversary of his friend's passing away. The two were hostel mate.

There were also moments of reminiscence. A man in his late 50s, then a student, remembered Dr Rajakumar speaking at a Fullerton Square lunchtime election rally together with Dr Lee Siew Choh, the late chairman of Barisan Sosialis in 1963.

The student activism of early 1950s greatly promoted public awareness in the political struggle of our people, which lead to the formation of the PAP on 21 Nov 1954.

Together with the other members of USC like Dr Poh Soo Kai and Dr Lim Hock Siew, Dr Rajakumar also became a founding member of the PAP.

Forged from the crucible of the struggle for freedom, the PAP turned around and denied that very freedom to the people when it ascended the throne.

Seelan: For more truth about our history, also read the book Paths Not Taken.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Help rendered to 60 Bangladeshi workers after peaceful assembly outside MOM building

Source: SG Politics

Help has been rendered to 60 unemployed Bangladeshi workers who staged a peaceful assembly outside MOM building to draw attention to their plight on Monday.

See Also:
Government’s pledge to protect foreign workers’ rights should go beyond mere empty talk

2 activists arrested for speaking out on Burmese issue
Local activists arrested for supporting Burmese cause

Original ST Title: 60 workers demand unpaid wages
Straits Times, 17 Feb 2009

ABOUT 60 Bangladeshi workers gathered outside the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) at Havelock Road yesterday, demanding work and unpaid wages.

The workers, all employees of Goldrich Venture, claimed they had been owed around three months’ wages and have not worked for at least a month.

When contacted yesterday, the MOM said Goldrich Venture is one of two companies that have been under investigation for salary arrears and possible breaches under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act since last month.

The ministry has commenced prosecution action against Mr Paul Lee, director of Goldrich Venture and Gates Offshore, for violations under the Act.

It also said it helped the 60 workers move to proper accommodations after discovering that they were housed in unacceptable conditions, and is helping them with their salary claims.

It added that it will not hesitate to take action against employers who fail to pay salaries on time, or fail to upkeep and maintain the foreign workers they have brought in.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Burmese activist exiled from Singapore receives UN refugee status

From Moe Kyaw Thu, one of the 2 Burmese activists that we protested for recently:

Dear All,

I would like to update my situation as a Burmese activist who departed from Singapore.

1) I had applied UNHCR refugee on the 24th Nov 2008 once I know that non-renewable of my work pass.

2) I had interviewed by a protection officer on the Dec 5th Jan in Singapore. I left from Singapore 27th Jan 2009 after expired date of my work-permit.

3) I had reported to UNHCR Jakarta office on the 28th Jan 09 and I had received "Asylum Seeker Certificate" on the 30th Jan 2009. [According to official from UNHCR-Jakarta presently, Asylum seeker from Singapore is regionally covered by Malaysia and Thailand] so that my profile has to transferred to Jakarta accordingly.

4) On the 9th of Feb I've received phone call from UNHCR for notification of my asylum decision and given appoint date on 16th Feb 2009.

5) 16th Feb 2009 I met up with Protection officer and I had received recognition of "UNHCR REFUGEE CERTIFICATE".

That is my update for all of you, presently; I'm living here with under UNHCR protection and code of conduct.

I'm strongly committed to freedom and democracy of Burma and Singapore.

I'm greatly appreciates all Burmese and Singaporean pro-democracy activists whose sacrificing their lives for freedom and democracy.

We shall overcome someday!


J Moe

Monday, February 16, 2009

Singapore Tamils protest newspaper misreporting

Source: TamilNet, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Singapore Tamils have protested misreporting of a news in the headlines of the country’s Tamil daily Tamil Murasu last Thursday, which read that the LTTE had claimed they would even attack Tamil Nadu, media circles in Singapore said.

The newspaper published the story in the headlines as reported from Colombo, citing TamilNet as the source and describing it as an LTTE website.

The source cited by the newspaper was a line that appeared in a feature article titled “India’s devastating ‘play with fire’ in the island of Sri Lanka,” on 30 January, 2009.

The concerned line reads as follows: “This time the war is not going to be confined to the island of Sri Lanka, but will be fought involving Tamil Nadu too.”

The context of the above line in the article would show that it was written in an anticipatory sense to mean that failure of India in tackling the current crisis would cause re-emergence of the struggle with a wider perspective and this time Tamil Nadu would be joining the Eezham Tamils in their struggle.

It was wrongly read and interpreted completely the other way round that the LTTE was going to attack Tamil Nadu.

The preceding paragraph of the line, explaining the context, goes as follows:

“The net result of the Indian game, without enjoying any popular support from any quarter concerned can only be autocratic and will prove to be devastative to the entire island. Repercussions arising from resentment, coupled with re-emergence of a dormant LTTE will only see a raging political inferno and bloodbath.

“This time the war is not going to be confined to the island of Sri Lanka, but will be fought involving Tamil Nadu too.”

It seems that the Tamil Mursau news writer didn’t read the original TamilNet article, but was depending on a twisted citation of it that appeared in a blog allegedly associated with espionage.

TamilNet is an independent news agency contrary to the description that appeared in Tamil Murasu.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thoreau: On Man & Nature

I have always been a great fan of the writings of Henry David Thoreau, the great American author, naturalist, philosopher and advocate of vegetarianism.

I just finished reading a small book compiling his views on certain topics, called "Thoreau: On Man & Nature". I'd like to share a few of my favourite quotes from it. Please note that the term God is used with a pagan viewpoint.

"I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite - only a sense of existence. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment."

"My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature, to know His lurking places, to attend all the oratories, the operas, in Nature. To watch for, describe, all the divine features which I detect in Nature."

"No humane being, past the thoughtless age of boyhood, will wantonly murder any creature which holds its life by the same tenure that he does."

"We can only live healthily the life the gods assign us. I must receive my life as passively as the willow leaf that flutters over the brook. I must not be for myself, but God's work, and that is always good. I will wait the breezes patiently, and grow as they shall determine. My fate cannot but be grand so. We may live the life of a plant or animal without living an animal life. This constant and universal content of the animal comes in resting quietly in God's palm. I feel as if I could at any time resign my life and the responsibility into God's hands and become as innocent and free from care as a plant or stone."

Next up I'm going to re-read his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

PAP Minister on the Internet community, and the Internet community on him

"Sadly, the Internet community here “squandered” an opportunity to show that it was capable of a “higher degree of self-regulation”"
PAP Senior Minister of State Lui Tuck Yew in Parliament on 04 Feb 2009

Lui Tuck Yew’s admonishment of netizens misses the forest, the trees, and even the overhead bridge

Lui Tuck Yew’s one-sided argument

Lui Tuck Yew should recall what his PAP colleague Wee Siew Kim said in 2006

Lui Tuck Yew Wants a Cyber Panopticon

Discrediting the “new media”

Friday, February 13, 2009

Singapore: The Switzerland in Asia (only dictators and mass murderers need apply)

Source: Singapore Citizen
Photos added by Seelan Palay

Maybe Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was right in 2001. Singapore has indeed reached the Swiss standards of living. However, Singapore is different from Singaporeans. A country might reach the heights of Mount Everest, but its population might be in the depths of the Mariana Trench of the Pacific. So what's the Swiss standard of living is Mr Goh referring to?

I think I know. He was referring to the playground Singapore is to rich people. We have beautiful homes like Sentosa Cove and we are in the midst of building two massive playgrounds at Marina Bay and Sentosa. We are a major banking hub in the world, and many banks call Singapore home too. However, a closer look into this glitz and glamour might be surprising. Let's see who calls Singapore home, along with the many red-shirt Singaporeans on national Day.

1. Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe and the Butcher of Africa

Mr Mugabe has presided over Zimbabwe for 29 years, in which Zimbabwe's economy went into free-fall, and many of his political opponents were jailed or killed. The United States and the European Union has enacted travel bans on Mr Mugabe and his government officials.

End of the travelling, you say? No fear. Captain Planet Singapore flies to his rescue. Singapore, apparently, is one of his favourite destinations, and he has visited Singapore several times for holiday and his doctor appointments. What's more? Singapore provides him with our fantastic banking services, designed to hold and manage his cronies and hismoney, as the inflation in Zimbabwe soared by 11.25 million percent. Singapore: a friend in need is a friend indeed!

As for Singapore, according to Zimbabwean media reports, this is the favored location for Zimbabwean ministers and military chiefs to park their ill-gotten wealth.

2. Than Shwe, head of State of Burma

It's an open secret that Singapore and Burma are best bed buddies, cosying up to each other like lovers. I think our relationship with Burma is on better terms than with Malaysia, given that a Singapore's spokesman described the relationship as complementary.

A Singapore spokesperson proclaimed, "Singapore and Myanmar should continue to explore areas where they can complement each other."

So how are Singapore and Burma such good friends? It helps that staunch friends like Singapore do not ask the Burmese how their money is gotten. Everyone knows that Burma has a booming economy, in drugs. Burma is the world's largest heroin supplier, and everyone knows how strict Singapore is with drug traffickers, especially heroin traffickers. However, the strictness does not seem to apply bilaterally. Common sense will dictate that since Singapore has such a tough stance on drug trafficking, we will not be good friends with Burma. Unfortunately, money sense for Singapore's politicians is greater than their common and ethical sense. Top Burmese officials travel freely between Burma and Singapore and they, obviously like Mr Mugabe, make full use of our excellent banking facilities and health facilities.

Singapore has also gone to the extent of aiding them in the suppression of their own citizens. Not only do our government spy on its own people, our government helps other governments spy on their people too. How's that for being excellent neighbours?

Singapore has been more than willing to share its expertise in intelligence with its Burmese counterparts. The Singapore-Myanmar Ministerial-Level Work Committee was set up in 1993 in Rangoon to "forge mutual benefits in investment, trade and economic sectors." The committee includes intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, other top Burmese ministers, and high level Singapore an officials. At the December 23 meeting, Khin Nyunt urged his ministers to give priority to projects arranged by the Singaporean government. "Pilot projects are being implemented to transfer know-how to Myanmar," said Khin Nyunt in his address. One such project is a state-of-the-art cyber-war center in Rangoon. Burma's military leaders can now intercept a range of incoming communications-including telephone calls, faxes, e-mails and computer data transmissions-from 20 other countries. The high-tech cyber-war center was built by Singapore Technologies, the city-state's largest industrial and technology conglomerate, comprising more than 100 companies.

3. Kim Jong II: the Dear Leader of North Korea

Kim Kong II seems to be the Dear leader of many North Koreans, and the amount of affection shown for their Dear Leader, is the same amount of affection the Dear Leader shows for the shiny city state of Singapore.

Singapore apparently has a working relationship with North Korea, and we seek to invest in the greater good of the communist North Korea. Our greediness knows no borders, not even to countries whose citizens starve while its Dear Leader dines on caviar and the some of the activities that it carries out include state-sanctioned sophisticated money forgery.

So while USA and other nations are trying to negotiate with North Korea in curtailing its nuclear ambitions, law-abiding and responsible global citizens like Singapore are busy thinking of more ways to cooperate with North Korea and invest there. Aren't we indirectly funding their nuclear projects and their exploitation of its citizens? I doubt such thoughts ever crossed our leaders' minds.

4. Indonesia

Ahh, our neighbours. Singapore is definitely a top destination for Indonesians, rich ones only. no, its not for our nasi-lemak. its for our excellent banks and healthcare system.

His remark was in response to the result of Merrill Lynch and Capgemini's survey which reported that one-third of 55,000 Singapore's rich people are Indonesians. The number reaches a total of 18,000 and their status is that of permanent residents (foreigners who have permanent stay permits) in Singapore.
The global financial organization estimates that the amount of assets of Indonesian people in Singapore is S$87 billion, or around Rp506.8 trillion.

That's a pretty huge sum, no? now, of course, being fantastic neighbours of Indonesia, we will never ask them how their money is gotten. Our banks happily safe-keep these money for these rich Indonesians, and our country happily welcomes their consumption. It does not matter how these money was gotten. Money is always money. dirty money, clean money, all is money in Singapore. and Singapore welcomes all forms of money. If hell notes has an exchange rate and can be converted into Singapore dollars, I have absolutely no doubt that Singapore will accept it.

So now you know why Singapore is so rich, so nice, so pretty, so safe? It's for you and me.

You and me to see, and for corrupted Indonesians and dictators from Zimbabwe, North Korea and Burma to enjoy.

A friend in need, is a friend indeed!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Rice Project photo exhibition

A photography exhibition featuring the works of 10 photographers who want to turn the spotlight back on the Asian Tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka who are still waiting for new homes, five years on. Experience Sri Lanka’s soul as they capture the beauty of the island through the lens.

The works exhibited will be used to raise funds for the Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, a non-governmental organization that focuses on building simple, decent housing for the people living on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. Donations are also welcome.

The opening of this exhibition is at 7:30PM on 13 Feb. 2009. Do come and join us as the Director for Habitat for Humanity (Sri Lanka) shares about their work in war-torn Sri Lanka.

6 years of Orangutan genocide in Kalimantan

While you watch this video, forests in Borneo, Indonesia are being destroyed and cleared for palm oil plantation. Without forests, Orangutans are left hungry and miserably homeless. The lives of Orangutans at the tip of machetes, rifles and excavators. Though our close relatives, the suffering of Orangutans continues only to meet business profit.

The Centre for Orangutan Protection was founded on March 2007. The primary objective of COP is to raise awareness of the desperate plight of orangutans in Indonesia due to massive, and often illegal, forest conversion for palm oil plantation. COP is the only group dedicated to this cause. Find out how you can help them on their website.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Forum: Opposition needs to come together


A common manifesto, a common website and common activities. These were some of the ideas that were floated at the public forum held yesterday at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel. A panel of nine speakers took to the microphone and called for greater cooperation among the opposition parties.

Ranging from political party representatives to civil society actors and bloggers, the speakers grappled with the idea of opposition unity in a political environment dominated by the PAP.

The presentations started off with the political parties. The chairman of the Reform Party, Mr Ng Teck Siong, established by the late J B Jeyaretnam, branded the system in Singapore as totalitarian and mooted the idea of a common manifesto for the opposition.

Mr Sin Kek Tong took a swipe at the GRC system and labelled it a "Group Representation Conspiracy". The chairman of the Singapore People's Party said that apart from the opposition parties, civil society and the blogging community must share responsibility in helping to build up an opposition to the PAP.

Singapore Democrats chair, Mr Gandhi Ambalam, talked about the dictatorial system of the PAP and urged opposition to work closer together.

"Can we do a 'Malaysia'?" asked Mr Jufrie Mahmood, referring to the unprecedented gains the Malaysian opposition made in the 2008 elections. He cited that parties as diverse as the Islamic PAS and the Chinese-based DAP had come together to offer the people an alternative platform.

"Why can't we in Singapore do likewise?" he asked.

Lawyer and activist, Mr Chia Ti Lik spoke next and said that opposition cooperation must lead to a more assertive alternative to the PAP. But he warned that when parties come together, there is a danger of collective inactiviity.

Blogger Mr Ng E-jay pointed out that the blogging community should think of ways to make their views avaliable to the mainstream public as the mass media were still very much in the hands of the PAP.

The youngest speaker in the panel, Mr Seelan Palay, said that he would mobilise the youth in Singapore and work towards democracy: "That's our promise to the opposition."

He added: "What we want is for the opposition to promise that it will be more cohesive and focus on the common enemy."

Financial activist Mr Tan Kin Lian said that it was important for the opposition to adopt a common set of values based on honesty and accountability, justice and fairness, a commitment to work for the people instead of for ourselves, and an attitude to be positive and constructive.

He added that the opposition should focus on educating the public about their rights and responsibilities as citizens, as well as the goals and alternatives of the opposition.

The last speaker was Dr Wong Wee Nam who stood for elections under the National Solidarity Party in 1997. He said that Singapore's politics comprised of "one loud voice and many squeaks." He echoed the view that fragmented groups cannot give rise to unity and urged opposition parties and NGOs to form a united front.

"If you come together, you do Singapore a great service. But if you keep separate, then you will not be of service to anyone," said Dr Wong.

Following a short break, the session resumed with Q&A. Most of the comments expressed the need for greater unity amongst the opposition components. Mr Ramli wanted to know how news about the opposition could reach people like him and his friends who did not have ready access to the Internet.

With limited resources and little access to the mass media, this problem continues to plague the opposition in Singapore, Mr Jufrie responded, adding: "I should do more to get down to the void decks and engage our youths."

Another questioner wanted to know how we could eradicate the fear among Singaporeans for voting for the opposition.

Dr Wong acknowledged that fear was still a problem and said that it lay with the serial numbers appearing on voting slips. He recounted how a young professional couple had told him that they had intended to vote for him in 1997 but balked at the last minute when their names were read out at the polling booth. He called on Singaporeans to overcome that fear.

One floor member drew applause when he said that he could have emigrated but chose to stay because he wanted to see democracy come to Singapore: "I want to see the end of the authoritarian system here and we should all do our part."

The approximately 100 people who attended the forum were obviously keen to see greater cooperation among the opposition parties. The discussion was the first of its kind but it should not be the last.

Read additional reports and analysis at Yawning Bread and Wayang Party Club and its videos. Also read the following post It's A Good Start. See more photos of this public forum here.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Why there's no Singaporekini

By Fang Zhi Yuan and Lim Siow Kuan on 5 Feb 2009

In a recent article ‘Malaysiakini at vanguard of media revolution’, political analyst James Chin from the Kuala Lumpur campus of Australia’s Monash University, said Malaysiakini could only have existed in places like Malaysia, Singapore or Burma, simply because the mainstream press have no credibility.

While it is true that Malaysiakini was able to establish itself as a credible alternative to the mainstream media precisely because of the latter’s overt pro-government stance, the same reasoning cannot be ascribed to Singapore where the mainstream media still retains a sizeable audience from both the intelligentsia and masses.

internet media and print mediaBoth Singapore and Malaysia have draconian laws governing the printing press. Singapore introduced the Newspaper and Printing Act in 1975 to control the ownership of newspaper firms while Malaysia has a similar law requiring media owners to obtain, and annually renew, publishing licences.

In Singapore, all the print media in the four languages of English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil are under the ownership of one single government-linked company - the Singapore Press Holdings whose chairman is almost always an ex-PAP (People’s Action Party) minister (its current chairman is ex-deputy prime minister Dr Tony Tan).

The circulation of foreign papers is severely restricted and those who went afoul of the government’s censorship like Far Eastern Economic Review and Wall Street Journal were subjected to heavy fines and subsequently banned from Singapore altogether.

Distinguishing between truths and spins

Singaporeans, especially those born after independence, have grown up knowing only the pro-government state press which explains why they are seldom able to distinguish between truths and spins inherent in the reports unlike an astute reader from a developed country like United States or United Kingdom.

Though the major dailies like Utusan Malaysia and New Straits Times are controlled by the Malaysian government, the newspapers with smaller circulations and the Chinese broadsheets such as Sin Chew Daily still retains a certain degree of independence and flair to provide contrarian views to the government’s mouthpiece.

malaysiakini raid 120507Malaysians who have long been skeptical of the mainstream media’s coverage of political affairs take an instant liking to Malaysiakini’s independent streak almost immediately, facilitating its eventual ascension to the pinnacle of Malaysian journalism.

Though the initial years were challenging, Malaysiakini was able to survive largely because of the low operating costs and wages in Malaysia. A fresh graduate journalist commands a monthly pay of only RM1,500 in contrast to Singapore which ranges from S$2,800 to S$3,500.

malaysiakini police raid 2003 220109 01Malaysiakini is able to attain such national prominence in the journalistic landscape of Malaysia partly because Malaysia is able to provide it with a large readership in the first place. Its daily readership of 100,000 unique visitors amounts to only 0.37% of Malaysia’s population of 27 million people. Applying the same percentage to Singapore’s 4.7 million people will only yield 17,390 readers a day.

Malaysiakini is founded by Steven Gan, an ex-journalist with The Sun. Being a professional journalist himself with the relevant knowledge and experience, he is able to form a team and build up a credible online news daily in a short period of time. Gan is also willing to risk his livelihood and personal freedom to write the truth - he was jailed for a week in 1995 over an East Timor conference.

On the other hand, Singapore journalists have too much to lose by going against the wishes of the government. Junior journalists are subjected to close supervision and frequent assessments before they are allowed to write on political matters. Senior editors are too well-paid to allow any lapses of judgement to occur which may break their rice bowls.

The political bureau is run by journalists with links to the Internal Security Department (similar to Malaysia’s Special Branch). Is there little wonder that we have not seen a Steven Gan emerging from the Singapore journalistic circles yet?

Are Singapore journalists devoid of ideas and passion for their profession? Why are they contented to be government’s ‘reporters’ and not real journalists to seek out and report the truth fearlessly?

cherian george‘Liberals’ within the profession like Cherian George (left) and PN Balji have left the profession to focus on academic research.Young promising journalists like Melanie Lee have opted to ply their trade with foreign news agencies like Reuters rather than to betray their own conscience by working for SPH (Singapore Press Holdings).

Online dailies are agents of change

Is there a need Singapore to have its own ‘Malaysiakini’ to serve as an alternative to the print media? Judging from the rising readership of news blogs like The Online Citizen, Singapore Enquirer and Wayang Party Club run entirely by self-funded part-time amateurs, it does appear that there is a sizable group of readers out there who are tired of the government-friendly mainstream media and are early seeking alternative news sources.

For a ‘Singaporekini’ to establish itself as a credible online news daily like its counterpart across the causeway, it should be helmed by a team of full-time journalists with the relevant training and experience in journalism. There must also be an external agency which is willing to fund the project for a foreseeable future till it takes off.

We have seen how Malaysiakini and subsequently other influential online dailies like Malaysia Today and The Malaysian Insider have served as agents of change in ending 50 years of unbroken one-party hegemony in Malaysia. There can be no free elections without a free press.

Perhaps this yet-to-be-founded ‘Singaporekini’ will be our sole hope of freeing ourselves eventually from the shackles of one-party rule.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Bob Marley (06.02.1945 – 11.05.1981)

Bob Marley (February 6, 1945 – May 11, 1981) was a Jamaican musician, singer-songwriter and Rastafarian. Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, and is credited for helping spread Jamaican music to the worldwide audience.

Bob's story is that of an archetype, which is why it continues to have such a powerful and ever-growing resonance: it embodies political repression, metaphysical and artistic insights, gangland warfare and various periods of mystical wilderness. Read more about Marley's story here.

Below is a video of "Get Up, Stand Up" by Bob Marley, capturing the energy and euphoria of his live performances. I'd like to dedicate the lines, "You can fool some people sometimes, But you cant fool all the people all the time" to Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rare Singapore protest over Sri Lanka war

Source: Agence France-Presse

Four people held a rare protest march in tightly controlled Singapore on Wednesday to appeal for British help in ending the war in Sri Lanka, a report said.

Outside of a designated free speech park, public gatherings of five people or more without a police permit are illegal in the city state.

Careful to remain within the law, four men marched on Wednesday morning from the city's Little India district to the British High Commission about four kilometres (2.5 miles) away, The Straits Times website reported.

About nine percent of Singapore's multi-ethnic resident population are Indian, and many of those are ethnic Tamils.

"It was the British colonial government that arranged for Tamils to move to Sri Lanka so it's responsible," V Thamizhmaraiyan, 54, a bus driver who led the quiet march, said in The Straits Times report.

Sri Lanka's president predicted on Wednesday the total defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels within a few days, while as many as 250,000 civilians may be trapped in the combat zone, according to UN agencies.

At the British High Commission, the Singaporean protesters handed over a letter conveying their appeal, the news report said.

A High Commission spokeswoman confirmed they had received a letter addressed to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown from four men.

"The letter is an appeal to the UK to help in stopping the violence in Sri Lanka. We have forwarded it to London," she told AFP.

She added that the men were not carrying any placards or shouting slogans.

Thamizhmaraiyan, the protest leader, was quoted as saying he had the support of many Tamils in Singapore but they did not join the march because they feared arrest.

"I assured them that we could not be carrying placards and banners and would not be doing anything illegal but they were still fearful," he was quoted as saying.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday called on both sides in Sri Lanka's conflict to allow a "temporary no-fire period" to evacuate casualties and allow relief in.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Misconceptions about the Singapore Democrats

Seelan: The SDP is my favourite amongst the opposition parties in Singapore because they are the party that best represents my interests, and in my view the close supporters and activists I've met there are the most racially, religously and culturally diverse. Below is an article that will shed light on the misconceptions people may have regarding them.

Misconceptions about the Singapore Democrats
Tuesday, 03 February 2009,

Through the years, much has been said about the SDP. As a result many views have been formed and propagated about what we stand for, our beliefs and how we go about achieving our goals – some accurate and others completely false.

We take a moment here to address these misconceptions so that Singaporeans can get a better understanding of the party. The information below will also be useful to counter the propaganda put out by the PAP.

Misconception No. 1: The SDP is not interested in parliamentary elections

Parliamentary elections are the cornerstone of a functioning democracy and we cannot emphasize more that we see elections as the only legitimate way of political parties gaining power. We have taken part in every election in the past and will continue do so in the future.

What we don't believe in, however, is that an opposition party, under present political circumstances, should focus exclusively on elections. This is because elections in Singapore are not free and fair. The PAP amends electoral rules to suit its own needs, controls the media, and victimises opposition leaders. Where else in the world can a prime minister openly say that he needs to "fix" the opposition and "buy" votes -- and get away with it?

The truth is that it is impossible for the opposition to make any meaningful inroads into Parliament through the existing electoral process. This is why, over and above taking part in elections, opposition parties – together with civil society – must work to reform the election system.

What the SDP wants to see is a truly fair parliamentary election system in Singapore, one acceptable by international standards.

Misconception No. 2: The SDP wants to effect change through "extra-legal" means

As explained above, when effecting change through undemocratic elections is impossible other peaceful, non-violent approaches are the only other options open.

What the SDP is fighting for are the freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly for Singaporeans, rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. They are the building blocks of free and fair elections without which we cannot press the Government to reform the electoral process.

But when the PAP continues to violate the Constitution and bans citizens from peaceful assembly, Singaporeans must stand up and protect our Constitution. The only way that this can be achieved is by defying the repressive laws put in place by the PAP.

Protecting the Constitution is not extra-legal because the Constitution is the supreme law of the country. It is the PAP that has resorted to extra-legal measures by violating the supreme law of the land.

Misconception No. 3: The SDP is an extremist party that advocates breaking laws

Let us be absolutely clear: Citizens cannot go about breaking a law just because they don't agree with it. This is not what civil disobedience is about. Civil disobedience is about standing up and not submitting to unjust laws put in place by governments to deny citizens their most basic rights. These rights are universally accepted as inalienable to all persons and the PAP has no right to take them away.

In fact it is the PAP that does not adhere to the rule of law. Case in point: The police arrested Tak Boleh Tahan protesters on 15 Mar 08 while allowing Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) members to conduct their protest. Such discrimination clearly infringes Article 12 of the Constitution which demands that the law must apply equally to all without favour or fear.

We, the Singapore Democrats, are protecting our Constitution and there is nothing extreme about that. In fact it is the duty of all citizens of this republic to stand up for our Constitutional rights.

In any democratic society, we would be considered a moderate party. It is only in an authoritarian system that the ruling party tries to brand reformers as extremists.

Misconception No. 4: The SDP does not offer constructive alternative ideas

Like the other misconceptions, this is one that the PAP likes to spread despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

Way back in 1994 the party adopted Dr Chee Soon Juan's book Dare to Change: An Alternative Vision for Singapore as its manifesto. The book explicitly spells out alternative policies as well as the rationale for these ideas, including those for the economy, politics, society, culture and the arts, education and the media.

These ideas were subsequently expanded in Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom: A Democratic Blueprint for Singapore. They are further developed in A Nation Cheated. Our flagship publication, The New Democrat, and pamphlets consistently focus on our alternative ideas to the PAP programmes. A look at Our Manifesto in this website would nail the lie that the SDP does not offer constructive alternatives. The latest example is our Budget proposal to help Singaporeans and the economy.

But Singaporeans don't know much of this because the state media will not publish our ideas and keeps printing lies that the Singapore Democrats simply criticise and don't offer constructive ideas.

Misconception No. 5: The SDP is only interested in human rights and not bread-and-butter issues

The SDP has always been at the forefront of raising concerns about the escalating prices of essentials. Again, a quick glance through this website would show clearly that issues such as health care costs, CPF savings, public transport fares, etc are regularly addressed.

The ongoing Tak Boleh Tahan campaign, for example, is one of our main programmes to ensure that the Government keeps the cost of living affordable. The plight of working Singaporeans and SMEs remain high on our agenda. In fact during the general elections, we zero in on pocket-book issues such as the minimum wage, retrenchment entitlements, and the Singaporeans First Policy.

The reason why the wider public does not realise this is because the mass media censor much of what we say and do, especially on pocketbook issues that we raise. A good example is their refusal to report our proposals for this year's Budget.

At the same time, however, it is important to bring up human rights matters. Human rights and bread-and-butter issues are two sides of the same coin. In order for us to talk to the people about issues that concern them, we need freedom of speech. Without this freedom we cannot effectively communicate with the people.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hunger strike for Sri Lanka in Australia

Source: AusSgWorldPolitics

A group of activists have launched a hunger strike campaign in Martin Place, Sydney, urging the Australian government to not only condemn the killings, but also call for a ceasefire so that humanitarian aid can reach the affected areas in North East of Sri Lanka.

According to a volunteer I spoke to, the organisers of the protest are hoping to gain permission to continue their hunger strike at this busy location though they are still at the stage of negotiation with the authorities at the moment.

The group hopes that more Australians will support their effort by coming down to Martin Place and signing the petition which will be submitted to the Australian government, demanding concrete action.

Alternatively, they urge concerned citizens to write or call the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith at Stephen DOT Smith DOT MP at aph DOT gov DOT au or 02 6277 7500 to act on this humanitarian crisis.

The hunger strike is led by nine youths who have passed the 48 hour mark by 3 pm today. According to the official blog site, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard has yet to response though Stephen Smith has worded a statement expressing concern on this matter.

In the leaflet circulated by the organisers, former US deputy Associate General Bruce Fein has said that ‘… what is happening to Tamils in Sri Lanka is a clear-cut case of genocide’ while the German Foreign Minister, Frank- Walter Steinmeir was quoted that the ‘most important thing now is to negotiate a cease fire’.

According to an AP report quoting the Red Cross, 250,000 civilians are estimated to be trapped in this territory as the ‘overall humanitarian situation remains precarious for thousands’. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has also expressed concern over the ban of aid workers and reporters from entering the conflict zone by the Sri Lanka government, which ‘adds to concerns that the situation may be even worse than we realize’.