Paths Not Taken

I first spotted the links to the following at Singapore Angle.

This is a project of the QUT Centre for Social Change Research (CSCR).

The project aims to recast Singapore’s postwar history by studying the civil and political movements that have operated outside the parameters of imagination created by the ruling People’s Action Party. The project draws from disciplines as diverse as history, cultural studies, anthropology, political science, sociology, law, gender and development studies, and architecture, and it studies an equally diverse range of ‘paths not taken’: party and activist politics; trade unions; commercial and professional organisations; social, intellectual, ethnic and religious movements, and; the media and service organisations. The project is intended to culminate in an international symposium and an edited book.

Some of the contributions appear very interesting and if I had a very rich guardian angel I would attend.

2. History Spiked: The Death of the Liberal Ideal in Singapore Media
Dr Cherian George

The press system in Singapore up to the 1970s included an adversarial tendencywithin the mainstream press, a contentious alternative press, and a live public discourse on press freedom. This paper will trace the closing off of these paths,leading up to the hegemonic, non-contentious and “nation-building” press system of post-70s Singapore. It will argue that the state achieved this closure not only by overt political repression but also by riding global trends in media economics and intellectual culture, which tended in the direction of industry concentration and commercialisation, at the expense of media diversity and public service.

This explanation for the prevailing media system refutes the cultural arguments that are currently mustered in its defence – that the system is a reflection of Asian values that emphasise consensus and harmony – and argues instead that it was a matter of deliberate political engineering by the PAP regime. Finally, the paper will attempt to locate vestiges of counter-hegemonic practice and discourse within the Singapore media system and assess their potential.

Dr Cherian George is a postdoctoral research fellow at Nanyang Technological University.

Lawyers and Politics: 1945-1990
Dr Kevin Tan

This paper examines the relationship between the legal profession and politics in Singapore from 1945 to 1990. The relationship between law and politics is a close one, especially in the aftermath of World War II and the rapid decolonization within the British Empire. This took on an greater significance given the number of lawyers involved in post-War political developments throughout the Empire. Singapore was no exception and it came as no surprise that the first Chief Minister and Prime Minister of Singapore were both lawyers.

The active role that lawyers played, both individually and collectively – through institutions such as the Bar Committee and its successor, the Law Society, as well as through political parties – in the immediate post-War period contrasts markedly with the relative inactivity of the profession in the 1980s and 1990s. It is also significant that the legal profession provided key political players who spanned the entire political spectrum during the formative years of Singapore’s nationhood. This plurality of views and visions for an independent Singapore was a path that was not taken; a path which could have led to quite a different Singapore.

This paper adopts a chronological approach and is organized in three parts. In Part I, we consider the period from 1945 to 1955, looking at the role lawyers and institutions played in the fight for self-government, and their competing visions for Singapore. In particular, the role of the Progressive Party under CC Tan, the Labour Front under David Marshall and the PAP under Lee Kuan Yew will be compared and contrasted. Part II will consider the developments from 1955 to 1965, the period of transition from the Rendel Constitution to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. Focus will beon the roles played by Lee Kuan Yew, EW Barker, KM Byrne (from Singapore) and Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak (from Malaysia) in this whole process. Part III concentrates on the post 1965 developments with discussion on the role of lawyers in the nation-building process. In particular, we will consider how the Law Society tried to find a voice in this process and ended up being crushed. Key figures who will be considered in this period are Francis Seow, Toh Soh Lung. The role played by opposition lawyers like Chiam See Tong will also be discussed in passing. Finally, I will discuss the establishment of the Singapore Academy of Law and how its expanded role has silenced the pluralistic political discourse that saw a brief flowering in the 1980s.

Dr Kevin Tan is a private researcher in Singapore.

Related Link:
Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Postwar Singapore


Calling all Bloggers: Get Skyped

Get your actual voice heard by a global audience. Introduce your blog and tell the world what it’s like to be a blogger in your country.

If you don’t already have Skype, please get it.

I look forward to talking to you soon. If I am not online then simply leave me a voice mail and I will get back to you asap.

To start go to Skype and download the free software. Invest a few dollars in headphones and microphone set. Then simply click on the Skype botton in the right hand column.

Old Age A Blessing? Not in Singapore

Filial Piety in Singapore? In order to understand the true level of caring I would walk into a local fast food restaurant. The sight of an elderly lady, stooped over emptying rubbish is an image that will stick with me forever. The thought that my grandmother or grandfather would still have to work after 60-65 makes me sick. If one sphere of the population deserve health care and some level of payment from the state in the form of welfare, or ‘pensions’, then there can be no better deserving than the elderly.

When I hear the empty words of politicians referring to filial piety or ‘how the elderly can continue to contribute’ I realise just how much hot air politicians like to emit.

30 JUNE 2005


THERE is nothing more comforting than to be reminded that you were once young.

That once, you moved to the rhythm of music effortlessly; that once, you were in love and could still feel what it is to be in love when you listened to romantic melodies.

It is also empowering to find that one can be 69 or 70 and enjoy what one enjoyed twenty, thirty or even forty years ago.

I realised this the night of the Engelbert Humperdinck concert.

It was one of those rare times I felt I was not the oldest in a crowd. I saw familiar faces who were there to recall good old times that seemed to be disappearing quickly.

We were all 20 once again.

Engelbert Humperdinck reminded us – if we needed reminding at all – that life is not over yet for those of us in our 60s and 70s. Even if we may look a bit worse for wear and our faculties compromise, or if we elapse into “senior moments” now and then.

There he was on stage, a bit thicker in the middle, a bit broader in the jowls, a bit stiffer in the joints. But with the same magic that had captured audiences the world over for almost 40 years.

During the concert, for some reason I can’t recall, Engelbert Humperdinck mentioned social security and asked if we got pensions.

There was this very telling silence. Reality of life for the old put a damper on the evening.

Life is difficult for older people in Singapore.

The Aware-Tsao Foundation report published recently concluded that “older women are in a particularly vulnerable position in their later life because of the lack of income over their lifetime, an old age income security system … the lack of an adequate and inclusive health care financing mechanism that covers those not in formal employment, and a family situation that can no longer sustain its care giving and providing role for its older relatives.”

The report adds that the responsibility to support the older population goes beyond the immediate family.

The Government, the private sector and communities all have a role to play to ensure that the older population feels valued and able to contribute.

For instance, the estate that I live in is undergoing upgrading. It is costing many millions of public funds, no doubt.

Has it made the buildings wheelchair-friendly? No. In this supposedly family-friendly society, is any consideration given to young mothers with strollers?

Sometimes, I wonder if one arm of government knows the policies being promoted by the other arms.

I move between despair and exaltation when I think of my own old age. The exaltation comes from imagining new visions, new states of personal realisation emerging at this stage of my life.

But then, public policies in healthcare, housing, education and labour – despite new initiatives being announced recently – seriously lag behind the needs of a growing elderly population.

Health costs keep rising. There are few support systems. Nor is there sufficient financial security – even with the CPF scheme intended, ironically, for this purpose.

So, what will nourish the visions of ageing men and women like myself, who want to live independent lives?

To say that taking care of the aged is the responsibility of the family is to deny the state’s responsibility to provide an environment that makes life easier for an ageing population.

It is also a denial of the reality of life for those Singaporean families which struggle to make ends meet.

One 84-year-old aunt I know has been praying for death for 10 years. Old age has made her dependent on two daughters who have, she says, the unhappy burden of looking after her.

Another 96-year-old aunt, hearty and mobile, has been shunted from son to son for 10 years.

Old age is not a blessing. And even those of us who can afford to attend a concert, can escape from the worries of ageing only for a moment.

The writer, a social activist and teacher, is a former president of Aware and SCWO.

Edinburgh Calling

As some of you may know I am currently living in Edinburgh. Which has placed me in a postion to blog the upcoming events over the next few days – 2nd and 6th of July 2005. This Saturday there will be a large meeting in Edinburgh entitled The Long Walk to Justice.

The Long Walk To Justice is a symbolic journey of people across the world to Edinburgh to show the G8 leaders that the world is watching and waiting.

Ahead of the G8 Summit, hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe will make their way by land, sea and air to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, to show the leaders of the world’s richest nations that they must act to stop the scandal of extreme poverty.

I will be joining the event and blogging by whatever means possible. Hopefully via mobile phone, video, and pictures. I think it is a unique opportunity to do some ‘bridge-blogging’ into Singapore. The mass media will of course be covering the events but hopefully Singaporean readers will get a more personal account via this blog.

And as if that wasn’t enough I am also the proud possessor of two tickets to the Edinburgh 50,000

Edinburgh 50,000

The Final Push

This is the final moment; this is the eve of the biggest meeting ever in the fight against poverty.

As the leaders fly into Gleneagles on the evening of Wednesday 6th July, a very special event at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium will signal the end of the Long Walk To Justice and the beginning of the G8 Summit.

Hosted by Lenny Henry and Peter Kay, the event will include some of music’s biggest names such as Annie Lennox, Snow Patrol, Travis, The Sugababes, Ronan Keating, Beverly Knight, The Corrs, Natasha Bedingfield, Proclaimers, Texas, Youssou N’Dour, McFly, Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and African artists from Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD plus a line up of very special speakers.

So if all goes well I will be blogging democracy in action, witnessing thousands voicing their opinions, taking part in a mass movement and adding my voice to the Make Poverty History Campaign.

Chee to launch new book

“the democratic revolution has begun!”

Dr Chee Soon Juan has written a new book and will be launching it in a public forum in less than two weeks. Entitled The Power of Courage: Effecting Political Change in Singapore Through Nonviolence, this book explains to readers the concept and philosophy of nonviolent action and why it is important to Singapore.

The book launch is open to members of the public.

9 July 2005, Saturday 2 pm
Grand Plaza Parkroyal
10 Coleman Street
Coleman Room, Level 1
(Opposite Peninsula Hotel,
City Hall MRT Station)

Unlike Dr Chee’s previous books, this publication discusses how Singaporeans can take action to empower themselves and stop the political rot that afflicts our nation. It is a practical book with useful information on organizing activists and taking positive steps to wean the PAP off its addiction to authoritarian habits.

Mr Francis Seow, Singapore’s former solicitor-general and the bane of the Minister Mentor writes the first Foreword, with Mr Robert Helvey, president of the Albert Einstein Institute and expert on nonviolence, writing the second. Mr J. B. Jeyaretnam weighs in with an Introduction.

The book also examines the laws that the PAP introduces to strengthen its grip on power and how these laws are applied selective against the opposition. Dr Chee also relates how nonviolence has been effectively and successfully applied around the world. The book encourages Singaporeans to be proactive and take the struggle for freedom to the PAP.

Yeshua-Moser Puangsuwan, Asia’s coordinator for Nonviolence International and who was recently prevented from entering Singapore to conduct a workshop on nonviolence, wrote on the backcover of the book:

“In this brief but clearly written book Dr Chee has outlined the methods of non-violent civil disobedience, or the moral imperative of breaking unjust laws to bring about social uplift, as was advocated by some of the greatest practitioners of nonviolence, MK Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Using examples from the histories of different civil movements for social change, and giving specific examples from contemporary Singapore, he reveals how the current government of Singapore pursues the selective use of legislation, which instead of promoting the rule of law, entrenches the current People’s Action Party regime’s ‘rule by law’. Read this book and pass it on, the democratic revolution has begun!”

So make sure you spread the word and make your way down to Grand Plaza Parkroyal Hotel next Saturday and see how you can be part of the democracy campaign that will ultimate win us back our country.

Singapore police warn would-be Olympic vote protesters they could face arrest

Welcome to Singapore.


SINGAPORE (AP) – Singapore police Tuesday said they would clamp down on any protest designed to disrupt the 2012 Summer Games vote, saying demonstrators could face arrest.

The warning came a week after a British group of small businesses opposed to London hosting the games said they were considering protesting at the Singapore meeting, which begins Sunday, to dissuade the International Olympic Committee from giving the vote to the British capital.

Other cities vying for the Olympics, which could bring up to $12 billion US for the hosts, are New York, Madrid, Paris and Moscow. The decision will be made July 6.

Singapore law dictates that outdoor gatherings of five or more people require a police permit. Public demonstrations are extremely rare in the tightly-controlled city-state. Police usually deny permits, citing “law and order problems.”

Anyone who organizes or participates in an assembly or procession without a permit is violating the law,” said Aubeck Kam, the police’s operations director, at a briefing about security for the July 2-9 meeting.

Heads of state expected to be in Singapore to support their countries’ bids include British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a slew of celebrities and star athletes are also expected to attend.

People gathered to support a cause would constitute a demonstration, Kam said, adding the police have not received an application from the British group to protest.

Kam also said police would not authorize any application for outdoor marches or assemblies with the potential to “breach public peace.”

More than 2,000 armed police, military and civil defence officers will maintain security at the event, which an estimated 3,500 delegates will attend, Kam said.

All vehicles and persons entering the IOC session at the Raffles City Convention Center will be checked, and concrete barricades will be set up around the building to prevent anyone from ramming a vehicle into it, he said.

The British Marshgate Lane Business Group claims they are being offered below-market rate compensation to move in preparation for London’s hosting.

Related Articles:
London businesses set to send delegation to Singapore

Take survey or face fine, Everyone told

I suppose this is one way of getting around the major problem of poor response when using a postal questionnaire but surely forcing people to return is a gross invasion of privacy. Anyone ever heard of civil liberties or the right to privacy in Singapore?

If the Department of Statistics requires a certain number to be returned then they should send out the largest number possible that will ensure they meet their quota. They could also put an incentive in place, win a free trip, never have to answer one of our surveys again. The use of a fine if it is not returned should be viewed as a threat. Yes you get a great return rate, but the information provided is not likely to be correct. It cannot be annoymous, information might be checked by the authorities. The data collected may have a high claim of internal reliability but it lacks any claim of representativeness and therefore lacks any claim to being scientific.

The information is provided under a threat.

It can in no way claim any level of ‘validity’. The person filling it out had better be careful. If I was filling it out I would have my lawyer sitting next to me while I did so.

I could guess the findings now, “Our survey shows that the laws of Singapore are being adherred to by all Singaporean households.” And those laws are CONSERVATIVE, therefore Singaporeans are conservative, so we will introduce changes in government policies, but very slowly. Our population does not desire dramatic change because they are conservative.

Or is it that our survey threatens people if they do not fill the form in, and if information is not correct. What happens if someone fills the form in saying that they are a lesbian couple, one an illegal immigrant, both 26 years old, living with three children from their past marriages? Is there even a section on the form that enables the respondent to input such data?

June 27, 2005
Lee U-Wen

THIS was one lottery where Mr Mika Sampovaara didn’t want his name to be pulled out of the hat.

The 35-year-old trader from Finland, who moved to Singapore last year, received a letter from the Department of Statistics (DOS) in March, asking him to take part in the General Household Survey here.

Mr Sampovaara was not interested.

“I don’t have anything to hide, but I should have a basic right to privacy. They want to know my passport number, date of birth, education level, my wife’s name, and so on. It’s very unusual for me. Whatever the institution, reputable or not, that’s a lot to ask for,” he said.

He told the DOS that he did not want to participate. He was in for another jolt.

“I was told that was not an option and had to give them the information they wanted.”

If he didn’t do so on time, he would be fined.

According to the department website, anyone who refuses to answer or knowingly provides wrong information faces a fine of up to $1000.

The department feels that the survey, conducted every 10 years, is extremely important. After compiling data on how much families earn, spend and travel, it helps the Government plan public programmes and policies.

But Mr Sampovaara comes from Finland, where there is no obligation for people to take part in such surveys.

This was confirmed by the Embassy of Finland. In fact, about 37 per cent of the people there refuse to – or do not – respond to similar household surveys.

Here, too, Mr Sampovaara wants his right to privacy to be respected even as the Singapore Government seeks to attract more overseas talent.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love Singapore very much. It is a very safe country and I’ve had a wonderful time here so far,” said Mr Sampovaara. “I do not like to be forced to do anything just for the sake of doing so,” he added.

Apparently, the DOS remains unmoved in the face of his stand. Mr Sampovaara said he had received at least 10 phone calls from the department, which randomly selected 90,000 homes – about 10 per cent of households here – for the survey.

When he refused to cooperate, a DOS officer came knocking on his door. It was after 10pm. “I told him to go away but it was hard to sleep afterwards,” said Mr Sampovaara.

When contacted by Today, the DOS said that it typically takes about half an hour for a family of four to complete the GHS.

Said Ms Ang Seow Long, its assistant director of publications and statistical information: “It’s important that respondents provide the required information so that the results are complete and nationally representative.

“The majority of respondents are co-operative and have helped to maintain a high response rate.”

She reiterated that the households that had been selected could not be replaced – to ensure that the survey remained representative. She said there were safeguards in place to protect the confidentiality of the information given to the DOS.

Mr Sampovaara, to whom the issue of privacy is vital, still hasn’t budged. He is beginning to realise there are no easy answers.

How Other Countries Do It

In the United States and Canada, the Statistics Act requires the authorities to inform respondents whether their participation is mandatory or voluntary, depending on the nature of the survey.

Closer to home, countries such as Japan have laws stating that those selected for housing surveys are obliged to respond or face penalties.

No such obligation or penalties exist in Finland.