Take a can of Coke, shake it and then open it. Now try to put the fizz back into the can.
That’s what the PAP is trying to do with politics in Singapore. Its recent effort to rein in activists is evidence that the regime is trying to roll back time and take Singapore back to the era where it had complete control of the political narrative of this country.
Like trying to put back fizz, this endeavour is going to fail.
First, the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) launched a vicious attack against the Temasek Review (TR). SPH journalists tried to out the person(s) running the website and ran a shockingly personal campaign against the group. Even Temasek Holdings got in on the act, wanting TR to relinquish ‘Temasek’ as its name.
The result? It put off even more the already angry readers and, to boot, attracted many more people to the website. Rather than closing down TR, the autocrats made the site even more popular.
The Government then turned its attention on The Online Citizen (TOC), another website with a large readership. TOC was told that it was going to be included in the Government gazette as a political association. It was clearly a move designed to intimidate the organisers of the website.
The editors and volunteers of the set-up have thus far responded to the state harassment with commendable fortitude (with a little bit of cheeky defiance thrown in).
Like TR the resultant effect is the TOC gaining sympathetic support from the online community which, by the way, is growing with each passing day. Lawyer Mr Siew Kum Hong, who hitherto was not involved with TOC, stepped up to volunteer as a registrant for the group. He explained in his blog that he did so because he “wanted to demonstrate support for TOC through this challenging period.”
His parting shot: “I’m looking forward to the ride.”
Then, a few days ago, police called up Ms Rachel Zeng, Mr Seelan Palay, and Mr Jarrod Luo to question them because there were reports that they were selling Mr Alan Shadrake’s book Once A Jolly Hangman. Mr Shadrake himself has been a thorn in the autocrat’s side as he refuses to back down from his prosecutions in court.
With his counsel Mr M Ravi who is himself conducting a heroic legal campaign in the courts over the mandatory death penalty, Mr Shadrake is proving to be more than a handful for Lee and Co.
Back to Zeng, Seelan and Luo. The police action may stop the activists from selling Mr Shadrake’s book, but if you know the trio like we do, you can be sure of one thing: this latest PAP move has just made them more resolute in their quest for freedom and justice in this country.
The nature of autocrats
This is the folly of dictatorships. They cannot see the futility of their ways. For all the talk about their academic prowess, PAP ministers and MPs demonstrate a remarkable lack of intelligence and foresight in reading the future and what it portends.
Cracking down on dissent and activism in this day and age when information is available at the click of a button? Not very smart.
This regime was successful in detaining its opponents in the 1960s, 70s and even 80s. These were possible only because the party could control the dissemination of information. But that was then. This is now. There was no Internet then. Now the fight is on a different plain. No longer will the PAP be able to brand its opponents the way it wishes without a backlash from the public.
For every punitive and repressive action that it takes, there will be an equal and opposite reaction. Over time such reaction will accumulate and sooner or later the threshold will be crossed. It will take a very foolish person to bet against this development.
Far be it for the Singapore Democrats to offer our opponents any advice, but if there are any sensible and sane minds out there in the PAP, this might be a good time to take stock of what’s going on in the world and start moving politics in Singapore in the right direction.
Subserving themselves to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s anachronistic style of politics is not at all an astute gambit. In fact it is a dead-end street. All this talk of demolishing opponents is spouted by a man who is trying to relive a bygone era.
You just can’t put the fizz back into the can.