Making the difficult but right choice

November 21, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Ms Chee Siok Chin has just returned from the Asia Leaders Society Summit held in Seoul, Korea from 17-19 Nov where former president Kim Dae Jung delivered the keynote address.

Ms Chee was invited to speak at the opening panel of the Summit about the challenges and choices she has had to make as a young leader. The discussants at the panel were told that it was important that they set the tone and agenda for the rest of the sessions at the Summit.

The other three speakers were from Afghanistan, China, and the US. Each spoke about the difficult decisions they have had to make in the work they were doing.

After her presentation, many participants came up to Ms Chee to congratulate her, commenting of her powerful and moving speech. They also expressed their concern and support for the democratic cause in Singapore. Many also told her that they never realised the degree of oppression in Singapore.

A Thai participant and political commentator remarked that Temasek Holdings was a family affair and that the “Prime Minister and his father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, have unabashedly defended the Temasek-Shincorp deal” even though Temasek is now under police investigation in Thailand.

He also said that the Singapore Government through this deal was the main contributor to former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s ouster. However, the Republic’s leaders deny any knowledge of this.

Below are excerpt’s of Ms Chee’s speech.

Asia Leaders 21: Challenges and Choices

Thank you, Asia Society for inviting me.

I shall be speaking from the perspective of an opposition politician and a democracy advocate.

Put together, we are an extremely rare breed in Singapore. This is because Singapore is not a democracy. Singapore is not unlike Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines before these countries went on and embarked on the democratization process.

Despite its affluence and an economic success, Singapore is not a country governed by democratic principles. I have said this in the many conferences that I’ve attended and I will say the same here. Singapore is under a dictatorship.

Unjust and repressive laws are used to curb freedoms of citizens in order that the ruling party’s power continues to be entrenched.

Working and living in this politically hostile environment, I’m often left to make difficult choices. Choice between what is ethically right or what is legal. Choice between acting on my values or doing what is popular in the eyes of the people. Choice between self-preservation or challenging the unethical regulations enforced to suppress the people.

In my capacity as a politician and a democracy advocate in Singapore, I have had to make those choices and am facing the repercussions of doing so.

I am facing a bankruptcy charge for bringing a constitutional matter to the Supreme Court. I have been ordered to pay costs for taking out an election petition against the results of the elections held this year, citing vote-buying and intimidation as grounds.

I am also facing bankruptcy from a defamation suit brought on by Lee Kuan Yew and his son, the Prime Minister.

I have also participated in activities in Singapore that are considered unlawful such as peaceful protests to demand for transparency and for freedom of speech. I had to make a conscious choice to challenge this unlawful regulation and thereby run foul of the law. I made the decision to face the consequences of my actions.

Even though acting on my principles and convictions have brought and will continue to invite punitive action from the authorities, I have chosen to persevere.

This is because these intrinsic values cannot be cowed into submission by carrots or sticks.

A society will not move in the right direction if there isn’t a framework of values that helps us make decisions.

As leaders we can never avoid the crossroads that we face. When it comes to making choices that are safe or choices that are right, I believe in the latter.