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Free Malaysia Today
Pressure groups, whether in Suhakam-style or Thai-style Red Shirts are just not welcome in Singapore. Premier Lee Hsien Loong did not name those groups when addressing his compatriots last week but made it plain that in the run-up to a widely expected general election to be called anytime soon; politics will continue to be the way it has always been: polite, docile and consensual-based.
So if and when those elections are called anytime soon, its form and appearance will also be like how politics over the last 50 years has been: lacking any of the blood and thunder contests characteristic of Taiwan or the politics of personal destruction commonplace in the Philippines and to a narrow degree in Malaysia where opposition darling Anwar Ibrahim once bore the brunt of many merciless attacks.
Lee’s comments could not have come at a worse moment than what the country’s widely circulating daily, the Straits Times reported of Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) admonishing the city-state’s use of libel suits to snuff out views it considers as ‘bad taste’
His views are not new, so to speak.
Back in the 1990s, his predecessor and now Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong also spoke of tightening controls when calling for a press tradition that is not ‘adversarial’ and more consensual, much to the chagrin of those wanted otherwise.
His comments than were viewed as a ‘setback’ for those yearning for a whiff of fresh political wind after years of what was felt as the draconian embrace of Goh’s predecessor Lee Kuan Yew and who is the father of the present premier.
Now the junior Lee’s dictum confirms what has long been known of the city-state that despite the outward façade of modernity, opinion and policy making will continue the way it has always been: top down onwards.
And the standard bearer for such dialogue was the tone the country’s dominant political party (PAP) set when it came into power in June 1959.
Yet there is no mistaking to suggest that attempts to liberalise and herald in pluralism though salutary, have not really endeared its populace in the way it was intended.
The warning is out!
Even as the ruling clique has allowed the inauguration of a Speakers Corner, the partial liberalisation of cyberspace for dissenting political views etc; the fact underscored by RSF still remains. And that is fear for crippling civil suits as how former Workers Party (WP) boss J B Jeyaretnam once suffered.
Lee’s weekend comments were actually in response to a growing and full-blooded campaign by its denizens for the government to act on the property market where some 80% of its peoples’ live.
Escalating property prices when an economic recovery is still underway has been hurting to say the least.
Yet there is no denying that what Lee decried of ghost writers penning letters to him and several municipal bodies lend to suspicions that the government does indeed investigate the identities of those who write such letters.
A blog posting by a one ‘mollimolli’ said, “The warning is out! Be careful on what you write or say even if and when the authorities allow you. They will check you out if your article is not in tune to their ears. So this is democracy-the Singapore way, huh?”
Though ‘mollimolli’ could well be a one-off episode the fact that large numbers of people wrote to him, according to Lee’s account, using fake or assumed identities continues to reinforce the belief that fear of reprisals remains the key stumbling block to frank and unhindered dialogue.
If that’s dinkum, this is the advice for pressure groups.
Stay on the sidelines, for before you drum up support for whatever cause you need to do what has not been done for more than half a century: remove the element of fear in peoples’ hearts.
Maxwell Coopers is a freelance writer based in Singapore.