Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Elusive FEAR

The Elusive FEAR

The recent episodes of Martyn See and Acid Flask have raised a 4 decades old topic, the politics of FEAR in Singapore.

Under normal circumstances, I would be very unwilling to become the “FEAR monger” of this society. However, it seems that some of the bloggers and youngsters do not understand this FEAR at all, regardless of it being imaginary or real or otherwise.

Even when there are bloggers who have chosen to close down their blogs in the light of the Acid Flask saga, they are still maintaining that it is just “a matter of choice” but not “FEAR” that they did so. It is also “a matter of choice” that they do not want to be associate with any political party other than PAP.

Singapore has a long history of a culture of FEAR. The white terror period of the late 60s and 70s was barely remembered by the young ones. They do not even understand what “white terror” means in the late 60s and 70s. One could get into trouble simply by mere mentioning of certain “sensitive” words. Massive arrest of dissidents in Operation Cold Store was hardly mentioned anymore. This rule of “white terror” is justified by the need to counteract communist threats back then.

In the late 80s, ISA was still used against dissidents and the same tune of communist threat was used; i.e. the “Marxist plot” theory. But it is quite unconvincing to many despite of telecast of “confessions” basically because the biggest exporters of communist ideology, USSR has crumbled and Communist China was more interested in building up its capitalist market system. The Marxist Plot saga has implicated the US government involvement but it was quickly resolved. From then on, defamation lawsuits became the operandi modus way of dealing with dissidents instead of ISA detention.

As an individual who is participating actively in partisan politics, I would say that I have gone through the baptism of this elusive FEAR too. I started as an internet armchair critic who always believe that it is not FEAR but a matter of Choice that I refused to join any political parties. I was proven wrong during the period of 2001 GE when I made my first trip to the old WP HQ in Jalan Besar.

My feet were rooted right in front of the long dark staircase leading to the WP HQ. My heartbeats increased and my mind was filled with all sorts of imaginary “possibilities”. My consciousness of my mind had made me realize that all my past brave excuse of non-partisan activism was a Choice is nothing but subconscious FEAR in action. Then it appears to me that this FEAR would only be “REAL” for those who have experienced it, “Imaginary” to those who couldn’t realize it, “Non-existence” to those who refused to admit it. The next natural question that came to my mind was “Why am I living in such FEAR unconsciously?” “Why am I letting this FEAR loitering around?” “Why would I tolerate such existence of FEAR and allow my children and future generations subject to its mind control?”

My conclusion is that we could only fight this FEAR with the conscious knowing of its effects on our society. But at the same time, we should not perpetuate such FEAR into our people by making constant reference to it. It is a delicate way of dealing with this.

It surprises me recently that some young bloggers seem to disregard this elusive FEAR as the main hindrance to the progress of our society’s political landscape. It is a worry to me when there are substantial number of Singaporeans who did not consciously understand the effects of the rule of FEAR on this society. It will lower our guard against it and our desires of ridding it would diminish. You could not possibly solve a problem if you don’t even know the problem exists.

Even up to modern days, PAP has been capitalizing on various issues based on “FEAR” to win votes. In the early days, it is the FEAR of “freak election results” that a good government like PAP will be kicked out of power; then FEAR of “MNCs withdrawing their investments (plans or commitments) to Singapore if PAP did not have a “strong mandate”. (To them, a strong mandate is a “clean sweep” of all seats, leaving no opposition checking on them in parliament.). Then it was about the “FEAR” of losing “good ministerial caliber people” if the GRC was lost to opposition. Then it was about not having HDB upgrading, selling of HDB shops to shop tenants, places turning into slumps….etc.

It is all about “FEAR” of losing something. Such pervasive political culture of FEAR is unhealthy for Singapore’s progressive development. It will have impact on the risk taking mindset that is needed for entrepreneurship, creative and innovative explorations that are needed to further our economic, cultural and social development. Such political culture is not confined to our political development but has inevitable influence on the social, cultural and economic spheres.

The world will not wait for Singapore and we should understand the depth of the implications of such elusive FEAR exerted upon our Nation. If we failed or refused to face this elusive FEAR head on, we will definitely be left behind in this era of rapid Globalization.

Goh Meng Seng

Friday, May 13, 2005

Open Society, Singapore?

Open society, Singapore?

It was like only yesterday that the touching speech given by PM Lee HL rung in our heads, about the need to have an “INCLUSIVE” society. The young Singaporeans were urged to take “OWNERSHIP” of this land and that we need “DIVERSITY” of views. Let the hundred flowers blossom! I nearly believed when PM Lee HL urged Singaporeans to step forward, to participate in the political process or be socially and politically active by setting up civic and civil societies. But later on, I realized that PAP has slowly shifted from that position, talking about stepping forward to join PAP, nothing about opposition politics or Singapore politics as a whole. Well, so much for political inclusiveness, I thought.

But that is not all. There are recent sagas of Mr. Chen being threaten of lawsuit by ASTAR for his blogging activity and Martyn See being called up for investigation of his part on producing a documentary on Dr. Chee’s political path.

Mr. Chen has since published the apology and hoping that it will end just there. But what ASTAR has done have far more implications on Singapore than anyone else could imagine. I have not read what Mr. Chen has written in his blog but those who have read, said that they find nothing offensive in his articles. Most importantly, ASTAR did not specifically state which articles are offensive but requested Mr. Chen to withdraw ALL the content on his blog! This issue has caught the attention of a wide international audience and ever since, a couple of international organizations have issued press releases on this issue. It has reaffirmed the impression that in Singapore, the government is quick to use the threat of libel lawsuit to silence its critics. I would understand the need of any organization to protect its reputation but to force its critics to shut up, take down the whole blog without telling them which particular articles are libelous or offensive to them, is just too unfair. It just demonstrates that ASTAR is only interested in shutting its critics up with the slightest opportunity available. It is not about which articles are offensive to it anymore. However, ASTAR must realize that what it has done exerts a cost on Singapore’s international reputation as well as its own standing. ASTAR is an organization that provides human resource management service to our civil service. It sources for the best talents locally as well as from other countries to provide them scholarships to groom them. Ultimately, these scholars are channeled to other government sponsored research institutes. Its intolerance of diversity of views would make those potential scholars think twice before they would want to take up the scholarship. This would have wide implications on Singapore on the whole.

One may just take ASTAR’s incident as a separate one as it is run independently by a group of civil servants. What it has done may not reflect what PM Lee’s administration stands for. However, the clamp down on Martyn See could not be disassociated from PM Lee’s administration totally. Martyn has produced a simple historical documentary of Dr. Chee’s political brushes with PAP. If there is anything “political” about, it must be the opposition individual featured that make it political. However, the recent features done on a few ministers in C.N.A.’s UP CLOSE could also be considered as “political films” as well! The only difference is that it is “approved” by the PAP government and it has been written into law that anything approved by the minister could be exempted from the Films Act. If the PAP government under PM Lee Hsien Loong really cares about “diversity” of views/expressions, social-political activism or “inclusiveness” of its policies, such things won’t have happened. What we see here is how PAP government trying to intimidate social-political activists that have openly shown interests in oppositionists or opposition politics. This is what “inclusive” society all about?

Goh Meng Seng

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Where is the Fertile Land?

Where is the Fertile land?

There was a small debate in the past on civil societies and partisan politics. One argued that civil societies should nourish first before partisan politics could develop. The other argued that partisan politics has to take the lead.

I was quiet throughout the whole debate and pondering on the points made. This happened months ago and it is only until now, I realize what is more important.

I have always had this idea that our greatest opponent, is not the media, neither it is PAP, but it is the “mindset” of Singaporeans in general. It is the mindset that has been groomed within the social engineered environment over the past decades.

Recently, the casino debate has led me to revisit this topic of civil society vs partisan politics. I have spent time to ponder over the argument again and I have finally come to my own conclusions.

Partisan politics cannot strive in a land of “political desert”. This “political desert” is formed by the apathy of the population, in Singapore’s context, it’s the “mindset”, the mindset of “materialism” which is easily bought over by little goodies of HDB upgrading, ERS, NSS and nothing else matters. Sometimes, we may have “desert storms” whereby the voters will put up “protest votes” against PAP, not that they like or support the opposition parties. But these “desert storms” are easily subdued by materialistic considerations. There are some oasis out there, but otherwise, the whole political outlook is basically a dry desert with no fertile soil for partisan politics to grow.

Civil or civic societies are the rivers and fertilizers needed to change this political desert into fertile soil for partisan politics to grow. These societies should act as catalysts to the awakening of the population in terms of social-political consciousness. We may have some civil or civic societies registered in Singapore but it seems that their sphere of influence in terms of outreach is limited by the resources as well as the media blockade of their views and activities.

Some Civic or Civil societies have defunct or de-registered themselves in the past years. It is natural for Singapore government to view these societies with distrust, terming them as “opponents” out to create trouble. Think Centre has suffered such cold shoulder attitude and even forced to be registered as a political entity. This has further limited their effectiveness as it curbs their source of financial funding.

Civic society like The Tangent has confined itself to writing to newspaper forum pages, having closed forums and publishing their annual book on various forums and articles. It seems that it is contended to be an “elite” grouping instead of taking the effort to make further public outreach. The development of civil/civic societies is in dismay in the sense that they are not functioning as a channel to bring fore the needed social-political consciousness to the population.

Partisan politics cannot grow or develop if there is no fertile soil on this land. And it seems that we will have a long way before we could develop a more balanced political system via building up the alternative platform.

We used to have a very vibrant partisan political landscape in Singapore due to the many self-help groups in the community. Political awareness and consciousness were high after the struggle we have had with the Japanese Occupation, British Colonists and Communists. When PAP came into power, after the humiliating failure of the merger with Malaysia, it had forcefully eradicated all its opponents and subdued dissidents in every spectrums of Singapore. The present political desert is the direct result of such rule.

Whether such apathy could be reversed is up to anyone’s guess. In my view, only an active citizenry via civil or civic societies’ participation, could we rebuild the lost fertile soil of democracy.

It is ironic for someone like me who has gone through these years and many months of partisan political engagement to finally realize that what we are doing is “building castles in the air”. Well, not exactly, but building castles without sufficient pilings. It is so because we have neither the foundation nor fundamental support from a political desert in Singapore. Even if opposition parties managed to win a few more seats this time round, this is just due to the unhappiness against PAP's policies. These "protest votes" will not help Singapore to mature into a more balanced democracy but it is ironically, demonstrated the inadequacy of our social-political consciousness.

Is it the time for me to do a reverse gear and contribute my time and effort in organizing civil society? Or should I actively encourage more people to take up this role while I continue on my political struggle? It is a crossroad I have to cross.