Importance of History


Thought I’d collate some excerpts on “The Importance of History” for my 50th (socio-political) blog post :)

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Importance of History / Why History Matters

1) Our view of history shapes the way we view the present, and therefore it dictates what answers we offer for existing problems.

2) What is history? [A] simple definition: “History is a story about the past that is significant and true.”

3) History is important because it helps us to understand the present. If we listen to what history has to say, we can come to a sound understanding of the past that will tell us much about the problems we now face.

4) If we refuse to listen to history, we will find ourselves fabricating a past that reinforces our understanding of current problems.

5) History teaches values. If it is true history, it teaches true values; if it is pseudo-history, it teaches false values. The history taught to our children is playing a role in shaping their values and beliefs—a much greater role than we may suspect.

Source: Gutenberg College

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6) The past causes the present, and so the future.

7) Any time we try to know why something happened—[we] have to look for factors that took shape earlier. Only through studying history can we grasp how things change; only through history can we begin to comprehend the factors that cause change; and only through history can we understand what elements of an institution or a society persist despite change.

8) History also provides a terrain for moral contemplation and helps provide identity, including a commitment to national loyalty.

9) Historical study is crucial to the promotion of [the] well-informed citizen. It provides basic factual information about the background of our political institutions and about the values and problems that affect our social well-being.

Source: American Historical Association

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10) Far from being a ‘dead’ subject, history connects things through time.

11) The study of the past is essential for ‘rooting’ people in time. And why should that matter? The answer is that people who feel themselves to be rootless live rootless lives, often causing a lot of damage to themselves and others in the process.

12) Humans do not learn from the past, people sometimes say. An extraordinary remark! People certainly do not learn from the future. Of course humans learn from the past—and that is why it is studied.

Source: The Institute of Historical Research

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13) Every authoritarian government worth its salt understands the importance of commanding the national historical narrative. It is a concept that was perhaps best encapsulated by George Orwell in his classic dystopian novel 1984:

“Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past.”

14) Countless one-party states and banana republics have banned books, banished professors and pumped propaganda into the education system. But few have managed so successfully to stamp their imprint on their nation’s history as Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and his ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

15) Many Singaporeans perceive their own history to be little more than the Lee Kuan Yew story, with a bit of Sir Stamford Raffles thrown in for good measure. Given the government’s hegemonic control over the school curriculum, universities and the mass media—and its belief that these institutions must perform a “nation-building” function—this [well-rehearsed official narrative] has become deeply entrenched and gone largely unchallenged.

Source: Asian Correspondent | Global Asia

Excerpts from “The Bonsai under the Banyan Tree”


Excerpts from “The Bonsai under the Banyan Tree: Democracy and Democratisation in Singapore”

by Michael Barr (2012)

PDF Link to Journal Article: Taylor & Francis

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Extracts from Article:

1) Singapore’s democratic processes are a bonsai version of the real thing, meaning that what passes for democracy is constrained, pruned, stunted, and mainly for show.

2) The government’s aversion to political contestation is complemented by its propensity to identify national crises and apocalyptic choices. . .Lee Hsien Loong describes this mindset as ‘paranoid government’, and it is a technique directed in part towards manipulating public fears.

3) Lee and the ruling elite do not believe in democracy, in the sense of contestation for power through the ballot box, negotiated by rules and social power structures that apply even-handedly to all parties.

4) . . .exaggerated by the system of punishment politics introduced by Goh Chok Tong that brazenly twisted the principles of technocracy and professionalism whereby services and upgrades were withheld from constituencies and even from individual housing blocks that voted for the opposition.

5) This reference to the banyan tree entered political parlance in 1991, when Minister for Information and the Arts, George Yeo, delivered what seemed at the time to be a landmark speech, promising to ‘trim the banyan tree’. It alludes to the fact that nothing grows under a banyan tree because, between the thickness of its foliage and the dominance of its root system, it sucks the life out of anything that tries to share its space.

6) Even at the time he was explicit on the limits of the ‘trimming’: ‘We cannot do without the banyan tree [. . .] We need some pluralism but not too much because it will also destroy us. In other words we prune judiciously’.

7) Since April 2009 freedom of assembly has become more restricted than it was in 1991, with the courts now having the power to declare a single person in any public place to be an ‘illegal assembly’.

8) It is with this history in mind that I turn my attention [to] the possibilities of democratization in this stultifying atmosphere, and characterize the operation of democracy in Singapore as being akin to a bonsai growing under the banyan tree.

9) In 2011 the bonsai plant started growing beyond its wire binding, thanks in large part to the perseverance of both opposition and civil society groups that have learnt their craft under the shade of the banyan tree, operating in an environment where the media, all the instruments of the state, and most elements of society are subservient to the ruling elite.

10) Government ministers have lost – possibly forever – the presumption of professional authority that they enjoyed before. This changes the dynamic of political contestation in Singapore.

11) The government is being challenged by a new constituency and found to be out of touch. This is a constituency of tertiary educated, middle-class Singaporeans, who are too young to have personal memories of the hardships of the 1960s and 1970s but are acutely aware of numerous grievances.

12) [The government] has built an education and social system based on ruthless competition, but argues that competition is bad in politics. It sets the pay scales for ministers by the standards of the CEOs of multinational companies, but argues that neither ministers nor the Cabinet as a whole should be held to account when they make mistakes.

13) Some of [the 2011 opposition] candidates are clearly more competent as politicians than most members of Cabinet, but this is setting the bar rather low, since none of these government ministers has had to face serious adversarial interrogation or criticism for decades, if ever.

14) Put bluntly, the crop of ministers and new candidates that contested the 2011 general election would not have passed muster in Lee Kuan Yew’s heyday.

15) It is easy to be pessimistic about the prospects of dramatic change, and yet who would have thought the opposition would even get this far? It has learnt how to survive under the banyan tree, and even forced the government to engage in some reluctant pruning.

Source: “The Bonsai under the Banyan Tree: Democracy and Democratisation in Singapore,” by Michael Barr (2012)

PDF Link to Journal Article: Taylor & Francis

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DR. MICHAEL BARR is Associate Professor in International Relations in the School of International Studies at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. He is the author of Lee Kuan Yew: The Beliefs behind the Man and other books on Singapore politics and history, and is Editor-in-Chief of Asian Studies Review.

Michael Barr Online: Profile | Publications | Interview with James Minchin | Interview

Excerpts from “The Politics of Judicial Institutions in Singapore”


Excerpts from “The Politics of Judicial Institutions in Singapore”

by Francis Seow (1997)

Link to Article: Singapore-Window | PDF

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1. Acquittal: A judgment that a person is not guilty of the crime with which the person has been charged.

2. Executive: Also used as an impersonal designation of the chief executive officer of a state or nation. (Black’s Law Dictionary)

3. Rule of Law: The legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials. (Wiki).

Extracts from Article:

1) While [certain features of Singapore society] may be desirable, the manner of their implementation depends on certain anti-democratic and authoritarian structures and institutions.

2) I was astounded when my attention was first drawn to an October 1993 Straits Times banner-headlines, Singapore’s legal system rated best in world: Full confidence that justice will be fast and fair.

3) Some history is needed to show how the legal system was systematically undermined by the prime minister after the People’s Action Party (PAP) came into power.

4) The sudden transfer in 1986 of senior district judge, Michael Khoo — one of the ablest judges to grace the subordinate court bench — to the attorney general’s chambers following his acquittal of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam [engendered] much controversy. From being the respected head of the subordinate judiciary, Khoo overnight became a mere digit within the attorney general’s chambers.

5) Jeyaretnam appealed [his] disbarment to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council — Singapore’s ultimate court of appeal in London — which roundly castigated the chief justice and the Singapore courts for their legal reasoning.

6) The minister for law [moved] in parliament for the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council decrying it as being “interventionist” and “out of touch” with local conditions.

7) Asked about the abolition of the privy council, Goh Chok Tong responded that [the] privy council was “playing politics.” It was a disgraceful statement. As the Roman satirist Juvenal once said: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will guard the guards themselves?)

8) The Jeyaretnam case [highlights] the grotesque contortions the politically corrupt judiciary went through to rid a political irritant to the prime minister and his government. It demonstrates the misuse of the law in advancing the agenda and interests of the ruling political party.

9) [The attorney general] argued the court could [not] “inquire into the reasons why [a] detention order is made [through the Internal Security Act (ISA)]. This is an executive act.” The court for its part willingly abdicated its judicial responsibility in favour of officialdom rather than the cause of justice.

10) In 1987, twenty-two young Roman Catholic and social activists were arrested under the ISA, accused of being Marxists involved in a dangerous conspiracy to subvert the PAP government through violence. They were released only after they had made the ritualistic television confessions. But eight of them were re-arrested when they disclosed those confessions had been coerced out of them. In the ensuing [proceedings], the [appeal was allowed] on technical rather than on substantive grounds, thus enabling the government to hurriedly amend the constitution and the relevant laws, and order their re-arrest.

11) Although the PAP government recognizes the role of the judiciary in the body politic, it no longer sees it as a check on the balance of power in the traditional sense but rather as an important instrument for the prolongation of its political longevity.

12) Judges on contract, renewable at the will of the prime minister, is not conducive to judicial independence. . .it is not uncommon to find a particular judge, like T.S. Sinnathuray, being commonly assigned sensitive cases with predictable results. Judges known for impartiality, independence and strength of character are never assigned them.

13) The then prime minister [LKY] appointed his banker-friend, Yong Pung How, as chief justice, who had not practised law for 20 years, whose superior claim to this illustrious position was that he is a loyal crony.

14) LKY’s hour-long defence of the appointment in parliament — during which he delved into bathetic nostalgia; [and] his inquiries of his judges to name the three best persons, excluding themselves, all of whom in a remarkable coincidence, named his friend [Yong] as “the best of the possibles” — rang somewhat hollow and contrived.

15) The salaries, which the PAP government pays its judges, have much method in its generosity. High court judges receive A$630,000 per annum plus a minimum bonus of three months’ salary or A$205,020 at A$68,340 per month, totalling A$835,020, besides other perks and privileges, like a motor car, a government bungalow at economic rent. The chief justice receives A$1,260,000 per annum, besides an official residence (or an housing allowance in lieu thereof), a chauffeur-driven car, among other handsome perks and privileges of office. Indeed, he receives more than the combined stipends of the Lord Chancellor of England, the Chief Justices of the United States, Canada and Australia. As a Queen’s Counsel pointedly queried: “Is this kind of money a salary or an income of permanent bribery?”

16) Supremely confident in the reliability of his judiciary, the prime minister uses the courts as a legal weapon to intimidate, bankrupt or cripple the political opposition, and ventilate his political agenda. Which judge would be so reckless or foolhardy to award a decision against him? Judges know on which side their bread is buttered.

17) The notorious case of Public Prosecutor v Tan Wah Piow demonstrates the [precarious] state of the judiciary in Singapore. . .vital defence witnesses were arrested on the morning of the trial, and deported.

18) An Australian Queen’s Counsel, Frank Galbally, who observed the trial for the Australian Union of Students, said: “In Australia, the case would be laughed out of court … [The three accused] did not get a fair trial. … In my opinion, it is just a political trial.”

19) [In a 1995 criminal trial in Singapore] Alun Jones, QC, discharged himself “for the first time in 23 years’ practice,” describing the judicial proceedings as “a travesty of a trial” and a “perversion of a judicial process.”

20) The New York City Bar Association, after a fact-finding mission to Singapore led by the late Robert B. McKay, then dean of the New York University Law School, observed:

What emerges. . .is a government that has been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of its political interests. . .The only check on the Singapore judiciary is the prospect of ultimate appeal to the Privy Council in London.

That report was published in October 1990. Since then, appeals to the privy council have been abolished. The supervisory powers of the courts have been removed.

21) In a fateful [1996] interview, opposition Workers’ Party candidate, Tang Liang Hong, observed:

“Why wasn’t [the Nassim Jade] matter handed over to a professional body like Commercial Affairs Department or Corrupt Practice Investigation Bureau? They are government departments [well-known] for being [firm and impartial]. They would be more detached and their reports would have been more convincing to the people.”

Lee and his son took offence at those remarks, and commenced a libel action. The presiding judge was Justice Lai Kew Chai, a former partner of the prime minister’s law firm of Lee and Lee.

22) Lee and his political colleagues’ [papers] were served and heard the same day — a privilege and sense of urgency denied to Tang and his wife. Tang described it as PAP’s ‘instant justice.’

23) Let me recall to mind the dreadful words of Dr Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s notorious minister of propaganda:

“Justice must not become the mistress of the state, but must be the servant of state policy.”

Those words could just as well have been spoken by Harry Lee Kuan Yew or by any one of the PAP ministers. For Singapore’s judiciary is well on its way to this Goebbelsian utopia.

Source: “The Politics of Judicial Institutions in Singapore,” by Francis Seow (1997)

Link to Article: Singapore-Window | PDF

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FRANCIS T. SEOW is a former Solicitor General of Singapore and a brilliant Public Prosecutor. He was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal during his 16-year career with the Singapore Legal Service.

Francis became the lawyer for several of those detained in 1987. Regrettably, in 1988, he too was arrested under the Internal Security Act and detained without trial for several months.

He is the author of several books on Singapore, including To Catch A Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison, The Media Enthralled and Beyond Suspicion? – The Singapore Judiciary.

Francis Seow Online: Profile | Wikipedia | YouTube | Beyond Suspicion | Foreword by Devan Nair

Amos Yee on Vincent Law being “Immensely Creepy”


Note to Reader: “Make your own conclusion.”

(Paraphrased from Amos’ Facebook description: “I don’t need a description, check out my content and form your own.”)


“[My former bailor] Vincent Law didn’t really molest me, haha,” Amos wrote. “Though he is immensely creepy. I’ll save the specific details for another time.”

Source: Straits Times

Source: Amos Yee (Facebook)


1) Although Vincent didn’t sodomize me physically, he did violate me emotionally.

2) About 2 days before the court date, a lad by the name of Jolovan, whom my mom and I had met in a little activist get-together, came along and said that there were 3 people who were willing to be my bailors, and he would pick the best one to do so.

3) After I was released at the bail center, I immediately had dinner with Jolovan and he shared with me the reason why he chose this stranger [Vincent Law] to be my bailor. He gave several reasons like the fact that he was a) mostly unknown, comparatively to other people; b) his reputation was least likely to be stained if he were to be associated with me; c) he wasn’t political, so people would not accuse me of collaborating with a political party to further their political goals (which really isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

4) Once I went out of the bail center, I saw my family, Vincent and some other friends. The first thing that Vincent said to me was: “Hello, I am Vincent your bailor. I think the first thing you should know about me is that I’m a Christian.”

5) The first few minutes that I talked to him, he seemed like a relatively harmless person, serviceable, but bland, nothing particularly special about him, no truly interesting or provocative views or delivery, been there done that. But as we went along, Vincent then decided to discuss with about religion. And from there the meat-headed conservatism commonly upheld by fundamentalist Christians, soon emerged.

6) I responded with the usual Atheist arguments of there’s absolutely no evidence at all that Jesus existed, [you know] the common, simple basic refutations of religion. Then [Vincent] just sat there, face stern, chest upwards, with the air of a hot-headed bull, and said to me:

“Oh well since I’m a Christian,and you don’t like religion, then I guess you don’t like me, so maybe I should just discharge myself as your bailor!”

Wow…WTF? That seemed a little uncalled for. What’s up with the threat?

7) So I calmed him down and said it’s all cool — just because someone disagrees with a person’s views, doesn’t mean that they think the person is bad, nor does it mean you have to hate him for it. So he became calm and cool and we continued a peaceful conversation, we met the lawyers, had lunch and then I left for home. But needless to say, I already did not like him.

8) Whenever I expressed further displeasure and reluctance on meeting him every day, he would then, once again, threaten to discharge himself as my bailor.

9) Another instance, Vincent even started whining to me in a shrieking voice and said, “You know how many hate messages I have gotten once I became your bailor! You know how many people have criticized me on Facebook? You better appreciate what I’m doing for you!”

Buddy, you’re the one who went up and said you wanted to be my bailor, now that it’s not going favorably for you, that’s your problem not mine, I’m not going to be sympathetic to any of your whining. Appreciation is earned, not demanded.

10) I continued to engage in theological debates with him, and blatantly revealed the falsehood of every one of his supposedly Christian tenets. The aspect of the bible that we argued the most about was the infamous bear story, where God chose to summon a bear to maul a group of boys after they made fun of a bald priest.

The verse was from 2 Kings 2:23:

‘Some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.’

I of course said that this was quite evident that God was a mass murderer. And [Vincent] refuted that claim, and it really provided me further insight to the extent of just how delusional a religious person can be.

12) Vincent’s mistreatment and intimidation towards me, is deemed as a ‘counselling technique.’ If this is truly one of Vincent’s techniques he uses as a Youth Counsellor, then you can see why I would feel absolutely no remorse if he loses his job.

13) Even though he didn’t molest me, seeing what he said and the ‘counselling techniques’ he used on me, I think it would be wise for parents to not hire Vincent for their children. Unless you feel that emotional torment is helpful to your child emotional state, though the view of which is unsurprising since that would be the mentality that you hold when you decide to put your children in schools.

14) First the Government, then my father, and then Vincent, I’m really always getting incessantly victimized aren’t I?

15) I’m never affected by the response of stupid people because you should never be intimidated and stop doing what you love, just because many people are against you, especially when those people are idiots.

16) Right now Vincent is hogging my mother, demanding that I issue a public apology to him and his family, otherwise he would get a lawyer to sue me. I think that’s pretty clear enough evidence that Vincent Law is [a] hypocrite and he is a fraud.

He’s standing up for me, he’s fighting for freedom of speech, he’s fighting against the laws that claims that even if somebody lies, mocks or offends a person or large amounts of people, it should not be deemed as a criminal offense.

But now, when the cause that he so boldly advocated, is used unfavorably towards him, he is now threatening to use those exact same laws that he went against, to sue me. And yet you all claim that his intentions were genuine. But let me tell you Vincent, if you do indeed sue me for defamation, then I’ll sue you for emotional abuse of a child. And seeing how I’m already baselessly deemed as a mentally disturbed teenager, I think the judge will look very favorably to my case.

17) Unbeknownst to me initially, my mother revealed that there is in fact a 2nd definition of the word ‘molest’. With reference to

mo·lest (mə-lĕst′) tr.v. mo·lest·ed, mo·lest·ing, mo·lests

1. To disturb, interfere with, or annoy

After you’ve read this tale you would know that Vincent did in fact disturb and annoy me. So technically, Vincent didn’t molest me, but yet he did. The beauty of contrarieties in life.

18) Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold. And after my little accusation of molest, all is well and good. It was an ingredient to effectively troll the media (i.e. to make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them), I managed to publicly humiliate Vincent, and after this incident he has decided to wash his hands off me and that means, I will never see or talk to him again.

19) My fellow friends, this is what happens when you get a Christian as a bailor.


16 May 2015: MY COMMENTS

What Amos did may have been irresponsible from a certain angle. Based on this version of events, it is equally irresponsible for a youth counsellor to make use of a case or situation as an opportunity to evangelize (i.e. convert a non-Christian to Christianity).

Amos has a reasoning capability that is above average, which is especially notable when one takes into context his young age (16 years old).

The intersection of religion, responsibility and freedom of speech, brings to mind the following quote:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868)

UPDATE: Words of Advice from An Older Reader (re: Amos’s style)

Amos Yee should curb his inordinate exuberance if he wants to continue to have public sympathy and support.”
(sent via email)

Excerpts from “Anti-colonialism. . .Operation Coldstore”


Excerpts from “‘The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger': Singapore’s ‘Progressive Left’, Operation Coldstore, and the Creation of Malaysia”

by Thum Ping Tjin (2013)

PDF Link to Journal Article:

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1. Colonialism: Control by one country over another area and its people (M-W).

2. Left-wing: The liberal, socialist, or radical section of a political party or system.

Extracts from Article:

1) A generation of Singaporeans, born around 1930, [were] subjected to ‘some of the most ambitious projects of political development and social engineering in British imperial history’ by authorities tasked with turning them into loyal British subjects.

2) By 1961 the [progressive] left-wing had coalesced into the opposition Barisan Sosialis party and were on the verge of taking power in Singapore.

3) [LKY] sought the achievement of merger to win back popularity. This goal dovetailed with British desires for a federation of its maritime Southeast Asian colonies under the control of a friendly pro-British government.

4) In order to overcome the Federation government’s reluctance to take in Singapore, the British and Singaporean governments marketed the Barisan as communist-controlled, [a] threat to the Federation. . .the arrests were justified using the same argument of communist subversion.

5) Operation Coldstore, on 3 February 1963, decapitated Singapore’s progressive left-wing movement. By the time its leaders were released from detention – some of them after decades in detention – the PAP had cemented its grip on power and closed down any space for political opposition.

6) From 1947, [the British Military Administration] launched a sweeping educational policy that prioritised English-medium education and undermined vernacular education. [Teachers and students of Chinese schools were] arrested and expelled for criticising colonialism.

7) With the outbreak of the Malayan Emergency in 1948, Singapore was turned into a police state. . . It was later estimated that in Singapore alone 90,000 people underwent the detention screening process and 20,000 were voluntarily or forcibly deported over [the] Emergency.

8) In 1951, future progressive left leaders Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, and Chen Say Jame were detained for protesting the colonial government’s orders to sit for a pointless examination. Unable to elicit a confession of communism, Special Branch resorted to torture and beatings.

9) In 1954, Puthucheary, Sandrasegeram Woodhull, Poh Soo Kai, Sheng Nam Chin, Jamit Singh, Lim Shee Ping, and Lim Hock Siew, among others, found themselves charged with sedition after an edition of the [University Socialist Club] newsletter (Fajar) condemned colonialism in Asia.

10) While none of the PAP’s leaders were ever detained or charged with sedition, nearly the entire progressive left’s leadership had personal experience of it.

11) [In 1955, Lim Chin Siong] was elected Secretary-General [of the tiny Singapore Factory and Shop Workers’ Union (SFSWU)]. On the day Lim became its leader, SFSWU had 273 members. Ten months later, it was 29,959. The trade unions [provided] the organisational basis for the PAP election victory in 1959.

12) The PAP’s leadership [demanded] unquestioning obedience and [rejected] the need for consensus. Decision-making was concentrated in the hands of a trusted ‘inner cabinet’.

13) After legislation had been passed, the PAP leadership realised that the trade union movement could form a rival political power base. It abruptly withdrew registrations for all trade union federations and stopped the recently passed Trade Unions Bill from becoming law.

14) PAP members grew discontented over the leadership’s authoritarianism. Political secretaries Woodhull and James Puthucheary criticized the ‘tough talk, arrogance and downright cockiness of some of our Party officials’ in the party newsletter. . . .they were met with a harsh response, with Minister of Culture S. Rajaratnam and Lee Kuan Yew publicly calling them ‘opportunists and turncoats’, a ‘lunatic fringe’ of the party, and ‘bits of scum’.

15) Lord Selkirk (British Commissioner 1959-1963) summarised, ‘What had been noted as self-confidence before the PAP took power soon became touched with arrogance, their energy became aggressive and their party loyalty marked with extreme intolerance of any opposition or criticism. Their discipline was characterised by bullying.’

16) The biggest concern for the progressive left was a growing suspicion that Lee was actively blocking the release of detainees.

17) While the British had been prepared to fully cede control of internal security during the negotiations for the new constitution in 1957, Lim Yew Hock and Lee Kuan Yew had asked for the creation of the Internal Security Council (ISC) instead. This would allow the next Singapore government to deflect blame for the use of internal security laws and continuing detentions.

18) LKY promised that all detainees would be released within three to six months. . .[LKY] tabled a document in the ISC in August 1959 calling for the release of the detainees, then asked for the ISC to veto the document on his behalf so that his government would not have to ‘soil their hands’. Publicly, he continued to blame the ISC for the lack of releases.

19) Selkirk was particularly taken aback by Lee’s ‘dangerous obsession with Lim Chin Siong’ and the degree to which Lee blamed Lim for his own failures.

20) Selkirk pointed out that [LKY’s defeat in the Hong Lim result] was due to his own arrogance.

21) A statement by six progressive left leaders [on] National Day [focused] entirely on reunifying a divided PAP and returning its focus to anti-colonialism. It [called] for the return of internal security powers to a fully elected and representative government.

22) Seeking leverage, Lee proposed to the British that he announce the release of detainees and the ISC countermand it. The British refused, declaring he had ‘lived a lie about the detainees for far too long‘.

23) ‘Lee is not himself prepared ultimately to face the music’, wrote Selkirk, but was ‘asking for the British and Federation to take the public odium.’

24) On 20 July, [the] PAP leadership sought to shift the debate to focus on merger, and declared that anyone who disagreed with them was against merger.

25) A press release signed by the dismissed members attacked Lee for his internal party purge and ending all pretence of democracy: ‘Party members are obliged to be loyal to the objectives and principles of the Party, not the individuals who are trying to monopolise power in the Party.’

26) ‘The fundamental problem is still opposing colonialism,’ said Lim. He pointed out that merger could not be separated from colonialism, because any merger arrangement would have to be approved by Britain, which [would] not agree to an arrangement that did not protect its interests.

27) Lee [ensured] that all alternatives to the PAP option were repugnant, leaving the public with no real choice. The British called this ‘a dishonest manoeuvre’ and the Tunku ‘a dirty game’.

28) If the Barisan adhered to constitutional methods, they could not win a vote; if they resorted to illegal activity, they would be arrested.

29) The Tunku openly worried at Lim Chin Siong’s ‘frightening’ organisation abilities and talismanic presence and the ‘extremely skilful, successful, and devoted’ Barisan leadership. Their arrest on security grounds before the creation of Malaysia would neatly solve this fear.

30) Under Lee’s direction, Singapore Special Branch produced a paper describing an extensive communist conspiracy in Singapore, directed from the underground by the CPM and led in the open by Barisan politicians as part of a Communist “United Front”. The Security Liaison Officer (SLO) Maurice Williams [noted] numerous major deficiencies. Firstly, ‘in spite of intensive investigations, no evidence has been obtained’ of a conspiracy. . . the label Communist “United Front” was so broadly applied that it referred to anyone unhappy with the government.

31) The PAP strained its [1962] campaign to the legal limit, freely using public money and government facilities to promote its Alternative A. It deluged the state with radio broadcasts, advertising jingles, posters, and pamphlets, including 200,000 free copies of Lee’s The Battle for Merger. Goh sent out some 40 trucks fitted with loudspeakers to warn people that blank votes would be considered Alternative B, which would cause Singaporeans to lose their citizenship.

32) [Lim Chin Siong]: “The PAP used threats and cheated to gain victory… the people can clearly see that if the PAP can juggle with the law and threaten and cheat today, they will be able to do so tomorrow.

33) By supporting the Brunei rebellion [in the context of anti-colonialism], the Barisan had provided, Lee declared, ‘a heaven-sent opportunity of justifying action against them,’ [even though Lim] explicitly rejected violence.

34) Operation Coldstore, planned for 16 December 1962, had collapsed when Lee Kuan Yew tried to manipulate the arrests to strengthen his own political survival by inserting the names of fifteen additional political opponents, to the Tunku’s anger.

35) [Lim Chin Siong’s] ‘whole-hearted support’ for Indonesia’s anti-colonial position was misquoted in the next morning’s Straits Times as ‘whole-hearted support’ for ‘Indonesia’s pro-revolt stance’.

36) Anticipating arrests, Lim predicted the ‘establishment of a Fascist and military dictatorship in the country,’ and pleaded that ‘only with the free and unhampered participation of the progressive forces can the constructive energies of our people be released.’

37) Coldstore was finally carried out on 3 February 1963, removing the left’s intellectual and spiritual leadership.

38) The PAP leadership, led by a lawyer and academics intimately familiar with the minutiae of parliamentary procedure, out manoeuvred the trade unionists and physicians who comprised the Barisan’s leadership.

39) It is likely that the progressive left underestimated the willingness of Singaporeans to accept a flawed but concrete package of Malaysia over the ideal but abstract package of freedom and democracy.

Source: “‘The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger': Singapore’s ‘Progressive Left’, Operation Coldstore, and the Creation of Malaysia,” by Thum Ping Tjin (2013)

PDF Download:

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THUM PING TJIN (“PJ”) is a Visiting Fellow at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford; Senior Research Fellow at Sunway University, Malaysia; Research Fellow at the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia; Research Associate at the Centre for Global History, University of Oxford; and co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia.

A Rhodes Scholar, Commonwealth Scholar, award-winning student, Olympic athlete, and the only Singaporean to swim the English Channel, PJ attended Harvard at the age of 16 where he concentrated in East Asian Studies. His work centres on decolonisation in Southeast Asia, and its continuing impact on Southeast Asian governance and politics.

Thum PJ Online: | Project Southeast Asia | Wiki | YouTube | Interview | TOC

Excerpts from “Who’s Afraid of Catherine Lim?”


Excerpts from “Who’s Afraid of Catherine Lim? The State in Patriarchal Singapore”

by Kenneth Paul Tan (2009)

PDF Link to Journal Article:

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1. Patriarchal: Characteristic of a system of society or government controlled by men.

2. Ad Hominem: Responding to arguments by attacking a person’s character, rather than to the content of their arguments (Wiki).

Extracts from Article:

1) Lim’s [second political commentary piece for The Straits Times] drew a strong reaction from the state that foreign journalist Kieran Cooke described as more appropriate to “a government teetering on the edge of collapse than . . . one of the world’s most enduring political machines.”

2) Through [coercive] instruments, the state has effectively castrated political opposition and alternatives in civil society, preventing them from mounting effective political challenges to the state.

3) The [state] has taken the form of an official national discourse that defines the conditions of possibility for what can be legitimately thought, expressed and communicated in Singapore. As Catherine Lim observed, “Singapore is often seen as the creation of the PAP, made to its image and likeness” (Lim, 3 September 1994).

4) In contrast to a “masculine” state that possesses universal vision, the people are presented as selfish, ignorant, deficient, dangerous and “feminine,” and thus cannot be trusted with matters of public significance unless tightly supervised by state-approved committees (Woo and Goh, 2007).

5) Civil society actors who [challenge the state’s] authority – as a wife might challenge her husband’s authority – will [be] derogatorily described as hysterical, and treated with condescension, ridicule, reproach or even punishment.

6) In her second commentary, Lim further elaborated on the “great affective divide” but introduced a second related thesis: that then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s promise of a more open, consultative, kinder, and gentler style of government was being “subsumed under” his colossal predecessor Lee Kuan Yew’s authoritarian style.

7) The prime minister’s press secretary, Chan Heng Wing (4 December 1994), wrote a letter to The Straits Times the following week. His tone, in stark contrast to Lim’s, was defensive, mocking, harsh and foreboding. His ad hominem arguments belittled her analysis by suggesting that the novelist could not tell the difference between “real life” and “fiction” and that she demonstrated a “poor understanding of what leaders in government have to do.”

8) [Chan] maintained that the prime minister welcomed “alternative viewpoints” only if they were correct ones.

9) Thus, public consultation was not meant to serve as a process of decision-making, but as a propaganda tool for getting people to buy into what had already been decided by the state.

10) The Straits Times then published a number of letters from Singaporeans who came to Lim’s defence, including the leader of an opposition party who argued that:

The PAP’s attitude towards criticism is wrong. . .The Government should accept criticism as a form of feedback. / The PAP has not changed. Its leaders still believe that if you are not with them, you are against them. How should ordinary people criticise the Government then?
(Jimmy Tan, 7 December 1994).

11) In his reply to Lim’s apology, the prime minister explained that his response was aimed at getting Singaporeans to “know where the limits of open and consultative government lie.” [He introduced] a golfing metaphor – “Out-of-Bound” (OB) markers – to signify these political limits, a metaphor that has come to dominate contemporary discourse on Singapore’s public sphere.

12) [Lim] was transformed [into] an uncouth, insolent, insubordinate, immoral, traitorous and dangerous woman who dared to overstep her boundaries in traditional Asian (read patriarchal) society. . .a vocal Catherine Lim was presented as a westernised monster threatening to devour the values of Asian civilisation.

13) The state, perhaps, did not want to have to deal with Lim’s inconvenient message, or it chose to focus not on a woman’s substance but on her manner and tone.

14) In parliament, the prime minister described Lim’s political commentaries and criticism from other Singaporeans as an “attack” that the government would have to reciprocate: “If you land a blow on our jaw, you must expect a counter-blow on your solar plexus” (quoted in The Straits Times, 24 January 1995).

15) Outdoing his successor yet again, the “formidable PAP juggernaut” [Goh Chok Tong] raged against Lim, employing a battery of [violent metaphors] to reinforce his point:

Everybody now knows that if you take on the PM, he will have to take you on. . . If he didn’t, then more people will throw darts, put a little poison on the tip and throw them at him. And he’ll have darts sticking all over him.
[. . . ]
everybody knows if I say that we are going in a certain direction and that we’re going to achieve this objective, if you set out to block me, I will take a bulldozer and clear the obstruction.
[. . . ]
The PM has to carry his own big stick, or have someone carry it, because now it’s his policy and his responsibility to see his policy through. I would isolate the leaders, the troublemakers, get them exposed, cut them down to size, ridicule them, so that everybody understands that it’s not such a clever thing to do. Governing does not mean just being pleasant.
[. . . ]
You will not write an article – and that’s it. One-to-one on TV. You make your point and I’ll refute you. . . Or if you like, take a sharp knife, metaphorically, and I’ll take a sharp knife of similar size; let’s meet. Once this is understood, it’s amazing how reasonable the argument can become.

16) Writing about [LKY’s] eternal/paternal dominance over the nation’s history [and] self-understandings, Souchou Yao argues that the Father’s refusal to die – in his promise to rise from the grave – will stunt the growth of an already immature citizenry, preventing the “coming of a new epoch” by preserving the overcompensating logic of economic competition.

17) [Singapore’s stern father] consistently infantilises Singaporeans by insisting that they are not yet ready for liberalisation and democratisation, especially when they threaten to de-centre the PAP from its position of power.

18) [The Catherine Lim affair points] out the potential of a strategy of assuming the feminine role deliberately and even excessively, and in that role proactively criticising the state in a gently ‘‘spousal’’ way to make a strongly argued point without incurring the state’s full-blown violence.

19) Catherine Lim was able to expose the unconscionable violence of a patriarchal state without being destroyed by it, raise sympathy for the underdog, and mobilise forces of resistance against an authoritarianism through which such high-handed threats of violence were possible.

20) Her potentially castrating actions also set the stage for a state that defined itself in the hyper-masculine terms of rationality and self-control to behave – ironically – in a melodramatic, overly-emotional and even hysterical fashion that would have readily been associated with a debased femininity.

21) Catherine Lim’s affair with the state in 1994 was a “three-steps forward, two-steps-back dance” – but the net movement was still forward.

Source: “Who’s Afraid of Catherine Lim? The State in Patriarchal Singapore,” by Kenneth Paul Tan (2009)

PDF Download:

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KENNETH PAUL TAN is Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) and Associate Professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, where he has taught since 2007. His publications include journal articles and book chapters on democracy, civil society, media and multiculturalism.

Kenneth Online: Facebook | | LKYSPP | Interview


Snapshot with Catherine Lim (2015)

CATHERINE LIM’s works deal largely with the East-West divide, Asian culture, women’s issues, as well as Singapore’s culture, history and politics. She has won national and regional book prizes, and was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Information. (bio from SWF)

Catherine Online: Website | Wikipedia | Interview | “If Only” | “A Great Affective Divide”

Did K Shanmugam Make An Illegal Party Political Film? (Martyn See)


Source: Martyn See (Facebook)

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Did Law Minister K. Shanmugam make an illegal party political film?

Dear K. Shanmugam,

On the 10th of May 2015, you uploaded a video entitled “A Day in the Life of a Minister”, which features a camera crew tracking your activity of the day. It was an unscripted video shot and edited in the style of a reality-TV programme.

You stated that the 12-minute long video was made by “volunteers”. By that, one would assume that this is not a government-sponsored production. As such, may I inform you that this video is not exempted under section 40 of the Films Act and therefore in possible violation of section 33 which criminalises “party political films”, the penalties of which are a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.

I cite the following clauses of the Films Act relevant to “A Day in the Life of a Minister”.

“Party political film” means a film —

(a) which is an advertisement made by or on behalf of any political party in Singapore or any body whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, or any branch of such party or body; or

(b) which is made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore;

For the purposes of this Act, a film is directed towards a political end in Singapore if the film —

(a) contains wholly or partly any matter which, in the opinion of the Board, is intended or likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum in Singapore; or

(b) contains wholly or partly references to or comments on any political matter which, in the opinion of the Board, are either partisan or biased; and “political matter” includes but is not limited to any of the following:

(i) an election or a national referendum in Singapore;

(ii) a candidate or group of candidates in an election;

(iii) an issue submitted or otherwise before electors in an election or a national referendum in Singapore;

(iv) the Government or a previous Government or the opposition to the Government or previous Government;

(v) a Member of Parliament;

(vi) a current policy of the Government or an issue of public controversy in Singapore; or

(vii) a political party in Singapore or any body whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, or any branch of such party or body.

None of the following films shall be regarded for the purposes of this Act as a party political film:

(e) a documentary film without any animation and composed wholly of an accurate account depicting actual events, persons (deceased or otherwise) or situations, but not a film —

(i) wholly or substantially based on unscripted or “reality” type programmes; or

(ii) that depicts those events, persons or situations in a dramatic way;


40. —(1) This Act shall not apply to —

(a) any film sponsored by the Government;

(b) any film, not being an obscene film or a party political film or any feature, commercial, documentary or overseas television serial film, which is made by an individual and is not intended for distribution or public exhibition; and

(c) any film reproduced from local television programmes and is not intended for distribution or public exhibition.

(2) The Minister may, subject to such conditions as he thinks fit, exempt any person or class of persons or any film or class of films from all or any of the provisions of this Act.

(3) An exemption granted under this section may be withdrawn at any time.

I put it to you that the video “A Day in the Life of a Minister” may constitute an illegal ‘party political film’ under section 33 of the Films Act because:

1. It is an advertisement made by or on behalf of a political party in Singapore whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore.

2. It is made by a person and directed towards a political end in Singapore – by featuring a Member of Parliament.

3. It is a film that is substantially based on unscripted and “reality” type programmes, and it also contains dramatic elements.

4. It is not a government-sponsored film.

Of course, the Minister may opt to exercise section 40 of the Films Act to exempt your film from the Act.

In the interest of upholding transparency in the application of the Rule of Law in Singapore, this letter will be made public. I look forward to your reply on this matter.

Yours sincerely,
See Tong Ming

The above was emailed to K. Shanmugam on 11 May.

Source: Martyn See (Facebook)

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MARTYN SEE is a Singaporean political blogger and filmmaker with two banned films, two police investigations and a conscience that just won’t let him rest.

Martyn See Online: Blog | Excerpts | Facebook | Photo Album | Interview | YouTube