Why did foundation object to YD’s participation in seminar?

June 16, 2004
Singapore Democrats

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The Singapore Democrats have learned that the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) has abruptly withdrawn its financial support for the International Federation for Liberal Youth (IFLRY) to hold a seminar entitled Advocating Human Rights: Position of Young People in Society in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Apparently, one of the reasons for the about-turn was because of SDP Young Democrats (YD) participation in the seminar.

IFLRY officials have indicated that ASEFs position was that the YDs attendance of the event in Kuala Lumpur was unacceptable because it would speak in very negative terms about the ASEF member states from Asia. This is an apparent reference to YDs criticism of the Singapore Governments appalling record on human rights and the need for democratic reform in Singapore.

The SDP wishes to know if the PAP Government was involved in ASEFs abrupt and last-minute decision to withdraw its support of the ILFRY visit. (ASEF had apparently canceled its grant to IFLRY only 12 days before the scheduled event in Malaysia.) Has ASEF, which has its headquarters in Singapore, assumed the role of gatekeeper for the Singapore Government?

A similar situation occurred in 1996. The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) of which the SDP is a member had decided to hold its annual conference in Singapore. A few weeks before the event was scheduled to take place the sponsor, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), came under pressure from the Singapore Government. Because the FNF’s regional office was also located in Singapore, it had no choice but to cancel its sponsorship of the event. In 2001, another CALD conference could not be held in Singapore for similar reasons. (The FNF has since relocated its office to Bangkok.)

This raises important questions. Is ASEF allowed to function independently of the Singapore Government especially given the fact that its headquarters is located in Singapore? Or has the organization been assimilated into the Singapore establishment to portray to the world what the PAP wants ASEF to portray?

What does the YDs participation in the seminar have anything to do with an open debate about democracy in Singapore? Given the fact that ASEF is organizing a seminar in Seoul, South Korea about democracy also at about this time, doesnt this smack of hypocrisy and double standards?

It is interesting why the PAP continues to block open discussions of democracy and civil society in Singapore. It is obvious that the Singapore Government will go to great lengths to deny the Singapore Democrats from effectively reaching out to Singaporeans. This is yet another sign of an insecure government.

The SDP calls on democratic-minded governments in Asia and Europe to look into the matter and to prevent such matters from happening in the future.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party
16 June 2004

Note: The IFLRY seminar in Singapore will take place on Saturday, 19 June 2004, as announced (please see announcement on this website).