Children at the forefront of the democratic future

Singapore Democrat

Children featured prominently at yesterday’sMeet-The-Author event hosted by Select Books at their new premises inArmenian Street.$CUT$

The author in question was Dr Chee SoonJuan. He read from his latest book, Democratically Speaking which hasalready hit $20,000 in sales and donations.

One couple with their toddler in towasked him to autograph a copy for their son. Another couple posedproudly for a photo with Dr Chee: the wife, who is pregnant,announced to the author that the picture was for their unborn son.

Another child, ten-year old Michelle, and Dr Chee were in conversation for quite a while ashe explained to her, with the careful intensity for which he isknown, how democracy works. One of Dr Chee’s daughters is also a pupil fromthe same school and his interlocutor was thrilled to find out that the two girls were classmates last year.

Poignantly, Dr Chee reminisced that hewas in jail when his elder daughter was born in 1999, convicted of holding public speaking without a permit at Raffles Place.

Prominent blogger, Alex Au, kicked offthe evening with a warm tribute to the author and congratulated himfor his work and his dedication.

Dr Chee then read a passage from thebook: a letter he had written to then Chief Justice, Chan Sek Keong,at the opening of the legal year in 2010.

The Chief Justice had madea startling comment in a speech the previous year when he suggestedthat then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s “precepts and values[are] reflected in all the laws.”

Dr Chee’s letter queried the basis ofthis comment, proposing that the strength of the Rule of Law restsprecisely in its freedom from any one person’s values since the lawshould not be so “malleable [that] whoever controls a governmentcould change the laws to suit his or her own values and rule withimpunity” (Democratically Speaking, page171).

Following the reading, Dr Chee spoke offthe cuff on the role of the fundamentals freedoms in advancing thepolitical and economic health of the nation and then fieldedquestions from members of the thirty-strong audience who wereinterested to hear him elucidate his political philosophy.

The perspectives of Professors AmartyaSen, formerly of Cambridge, and Paul Krugman, of Princeton, bothNobel economics laureates, have clearly shaped Dr Chee’s vision,particularly their firmly-held view that economic functioning andfundamental freedoms can, and must, go hand in hand for a society’sstability to be assured over the long-term. 

The audience later mingled and chattedover Select’s complementary glasses of wine. Spotted in theaudience were Dr Sharon Siddique, a former Deputy Director of theInstitute of Southeast Asian Studies and Rita Sim, Fellow of theKuala Lumpur-based Centre for Strategic Engagement (CENSE), apolitical, social and business consultancy.

A Singaporean businessman proudlyclaimed to have rushed almost directly from the airport to meet theauthor and collect his autographed copy of the book. Professor PaulTambyah and Dr Vincent Wijeysingha also attended the event togetherwith the proprietor of the bookshop and his staff. “This event isimportant because we need to dispel the ostracism that has beencreated around Soon Juan,” he said.

Interestingly, the current premises ofthe bookshop once housed the United Chinese Library which Dr Sun YatSen inaugurated on 8 August 1910 to promote general knowledge andculture. The library played host to many secular weddings in thefirst half of the 20th century including that of the late Presidentand Mrs Wee Kim Wee and the late cabinet minister, Tay Eng Soon’sparents.

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