Chee replies to Wong Kan Seng about Nonviolence

August 8, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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Below is the letter Dr Chee Soon Juan wrote in reply to the comments made by Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Wong Kan Seng, in the Straits Times (6 August 2005) about Dr Chee’s call for Nonviolence to reform the political system in this country.

Mr Wong Kan Seng (ST, 6 Aug 05) has the gall to call on Singaporeans not to undermine “the rule of law and institutions” when it is his party that has brutalized the rule of law in this country.

First, let us be clear about what the rule of law is. It is most definitely not the enactment of repressive laws to curtail democratic freedoms in order to perpetuate the power of the ruling elite. And yet this is what Singapore has become under the more than 40 years of PAP rule. In addition, the rule of law ensures that all individuals and organizations (including the PAP) remain equal under the law, and that laws are not applied selectively. Let us examine how the Government has breached these tenets.

Passing laws to curtail democracy and to entrench the power of the PAP. In 1996 when the Singapore Democrats came up with a video to present its policies and leaders to the people, the Government banned it and amended the Films Act to prohibit “political” films. But then it allows the MediaCorp to run programmes like Up Close to highlight and promote PAP leaders.

Applying the law equally. While the Government allowed the NTUC to stage a demonstration in 1988 against the US, it bans the SDP and other groups to hold public rallies and protests. Another example: It recently allowed PAP women MPs to conduct a walkathon to mark women’s day, but forbade the Open Singapore Centre from organizing a marathon to commemorate human rights day.

Applying laws selectively. PAP ministers had entered polling stations in the 1997 elections when it was clearly illegal to do so. And yet, no action was taken against them. Had opposition leaders done the same, punishment would have been swift and hard.

The above are just a few examples of the many more cases of how the PAP has undermined the rule of law in Singapore.

There are just laws and unjust laws. Just laws, for example those that regulate traffic or those that punish criminals, are laws that citizens must support and obey for the common good. But there are also unjust laws that cause harm to society. Laws that discriminated against blacks in the US and the laws that colonial Britain used to subjugate India are but two examples. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Mahatma Gandhi used peaceful, non-violent action to win democracy and freedom for their peoples. Today, both figures are lionised and revered.

Closer to home Hong Kongers, a people whom observers say resemble the Singaporeans in their emphasis on making money, recently took to the streets, numbering half a million, in a peaceful protest against the introduction of Article 23, a law that was viewed as a threat to the democratic freedoms of Hong Kong. As a result, the SAR government rescinded the proposed legislation.

There are many more examples of how peaceful and persistent civil action, which is what Nonviolence is all about, has brought about democratic change in other countries. Why shouldn’t Singaporeans be similarly empowered? Being able to work to rid society of unjust laws (such as the openly biased sections of the Films Act, Parliamentary Elections Act, Public Entertainment and Meetings Act, and so on) while upholding just ones is a sign of a mature and morally well-adjusted society.

Mr Wong also suggests that unjust laws can be changed through elections. Does anyone in Singapore believe that elections, controlled by the PAP, are free and fair? As long as the opposition plays the elections game under the rules designed by the PAP, there is no realistic way it can affect policy changes through the parliamentary process.

All these issues and examples are discussed in detail in my book The Power of Courage: Effecting Political Change in Singapore through Nonviolence.

Mr Wong insists that Singapore’s politics is for Singaporeans only. The SDP fully agrees. The problem is that his stance is hypocritical. If he says that outsiders should not interfere with another country’s domestic politics, why then did the Government send troops to Iraq? The mission, according to the US, is to liberalise and democratise Iraq.

Why also did Mr Lee Kuan Yew recently go to Hong Kong to tell Hong Kongers that they should concentrate on trade and forget about democracy? Why did he say that Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was elected by the people to be the government, should remain as a symbolic figure and that the military should continue to rule the country?

Are these not examples of PAP hypocrisy?

If foreigners are not to interfere in Singapore’s affairs why do we have Americans, Japanese, and Germans sitting on the National Wages Council to help determine the wages of Singaporeans? Isn’t this evidence of yet more hypocrisy?

To be sure, learning from the international community about how to achieve democracy in Singapore is not foreign interference. Singapore must be open to ideas, be they economic, social or political ones, and be prepared to change with the times. The rest of the world is moving inexorably towards democracy. If we close our doors to these ideas, we are doing tremendous harm to our progress as a nation. The only party to gain from this is the PAP.

The Government’s tactic of trying to inoculate Singaporeans from ideas from around the world is doomed. With the advent of the Internet, Singaporeans are learning more and more about the PAP’s repressive ways and how to overcome them to achieve democracy and the rule of law in our country. No amount of hypocrisy and scare-mongering is going to change this fact.