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Mr Yap koon Hong
The Straits Times
Dear Mr Yap,
Your editing of my reply to Mr Peh Shing Huei’s article “The partitioning of the opposition” has removed its essence.
If you read my letter carefully you will see that its thrust is to highlight the agenda of Mr Peh and The Straits Times.
And what is this agenda? To cast the SDP in the worst light possible and, in so doing, promote a certain brand of opposition politics in Singapore.
So why is the newspaper doing this? You don’t need to be a genius to figure this out when its parent company, the Singapore Press Holdings, is run by former deputy prime minister and PAP member, Dr Tony Tan.
But by removing all references to Dr Tan as well as my comments about Mr Peh’s real intentions, you have taken away the nub of my letter.
The distortions in Mr Peh’s article that I pointed out were not just to clarify a misrepresentation of facts. I did so to show how the writer had used distortions to make the case that the SDP was the “radical” and “unlawful” component of the opposition that did not want to see opposition unity.
You also removed my statement: “What [Mr Peh] doesn’t tell readers is that the PAP bribes and intimidates voters, fixes the opposition, and makes up the rules as it goes along.”
By doing this you, apart from protecting the PAP, make it seem as though the SDP is the unreasonable party that does not want to contest elections and win power through “constitutional means.”
You have also removed my explanation that the reason for SDP’s growing online support is because information about us on the Internet is beyond the control of the PAP – a point that I hope is not lost on you as you edit my reply.
And because we are able to present our side of the story, our readers can see the truth and make up their own minds.
Be that as it may, I will edit my own letter so as to avoid your excuse that it is too long while retaining the point I wish to register. You have amended my reply to 614 words. The version from my own editing is 616 words.
I ask you to please publish the revised version as is and without further delay. Thank you.
Chee Soon Juan
Paragraphs that The Straits Times want to edit out of Dr Chee’s letter are in bold:
Is it possible that a Straits Times’ journalist is pointing out the way for the opposition to defeat the PAP? This is what Mr Peh Shing Huei would have Singaporeans believe in his article “The partitioning of the opposition” (ST, 29 Feb 08).
Reality check: The newspaper is run by the Singapore Press Holdings whose chairman is Dr Tony Tan, former deputy prime minister, GIC deputy chairman, and card-carrying member of the PAP.
So what is the real agenda behind this piece? Here are a few pointers:
Distortion #1: SDP = radical = bad
Mr Peh labels the Singapore Democrats as “radicals” for our “brazen actions flouting the law.” In the context of his piece, this is a bad thing to be shunned by society.
The loaded terms Mr Peh chooses for the two camps are telling. They give away the writer’s instincts and, more importantly, his real intentions.
What Mr Peh doesn’t point out is that it is not the Singapore Democrats who are flouting laws but rather the PAP which is making up and/or using unjust laws to deny citizens their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly, rights that are essential to their well-being.
I have written countless articles and even published a book to explain why civil disobedience is the correct and necessary response to a government that rules by whim especially when it comes to the political and civil rights of the people.
A good example is the recent banning of the planned SDP protest outside Parliament House on 15 March 2008. In contrast CASE was allowed to hold a similar event at the same venue in 2007 and will do so again on 16 March this year.
Yet the writer glibly ignores all this, opting to portray SDP as a bunch of renegades out to wreak havoc in Singapore.
In contrast, Mr Peh paints the “moderates” as “limit[ing] their challenges to the Government to constitutional means, contesting elections for seats.” How can such an approach to politics be criticised? Isn’t this being practiced by opposition parties in democratic countries all over the world?
What he doesn’t tell readers is that the PAP bribes and intimidates voters, fixes the opposition, and makes up the rules as it goes along.
The opposition has been playing the game under PAP rules for close to half-a-century with disastrous results. The SDP is calling attention to the fact that these rules must be reviewed and reformed, and for elections to be run by a genuinely neutral body. How radical is this?
Distortion #2: SDP not focused on bread-and-butter issues
Mr Peh further writes that “moderates focus more on bread-and-butter issues…Not so for the radicals.” This is a not-so-subtle comment that the SDP is not in tune with sentiments of the common folk.
A check of the SDP’s website and our newspaper The New Democrat shows this to be completely false. We have consistently and repeatedly raised pocket book issues such as the need for minimum wage, the escalating cost of living, the retention of CPF funds, HDB prices and so on.
In fact, Mr Yap Keng Ho and I are facing eight charges of speaking in public precisely for highlighting such kitchen-table issues in The New Democrat during the election period in 2006.
Here is how it really works: The Straits Times continues to blackout SDP’s views and positions on these matters. It then uses this lack of coverage to tell the people that the Singapore Democrats are neglecting bread-and-butter issues.
Distortion #3: SDP does not want opposition cooperation
Mr Peh relates that at the Workers’ Party’s 50th anniversary last year “only leaders of the moderate parties attended. Dr Chee and Mr Jeyaretnam were both absent,” giving readers the impression that I had chosen not to attend the dinner. He refused to tell readers that I didn’t attend because I was not invited.
Even when he mentioned about the SDP inviting other opposition parties for the forum on election reform, Mr Peh emphasized on the other speakers “taking shots” at other oppositionists but avoids mentioning my continued call for the opposition to come together on this issue.
Apart from the election reform forum, past events show that the SDP has tried to work towards greater opposition cooperation. Mr Peh tries very hard to distort our record.
The columnist points out that support for the Singapore Democrats in the Internet has grown. This is because the SDP does not take our support for granted. We work for it.
We are acutely aware that Singaporeans are thinking, discerning individuals. They don’t want to be talked at. If we make sense to them instead of patronising them and explain to them the logic of our positions, we believe that we can win their support.
More to the point, the mainstream media cannot censor or distort our views on the Internet like what Mr Peh has done. In an environment where information is not controlled by the PAP, people can see who is working and who is lying.
Mr Peh can pretend that he has the interest of the opposition at heart. He wants the opposition to unite “against a hegemon like the PAP” and “focus their attention on the polls” (polls which, as I have pointed out, are managed and controlled by the PAP). Nice try.
For people who still cannot see through Mr Peh’s motives, we’d like to remind you of two words: Tony Tan.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party