Book Review: Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore


An online blurb describes this book as “a penetrating analysis of the policies and predilections of [this] controversial leader.”

The table of contents accurately reflects the sequential and exciting tone of the content:

1. The Making of a City State
2. The Making of a Man
3. The Making of a Prime Minister
4. The Battle for the People’s Minds
5. Marriage and Divorce
6. Strategy for Progress
7. Strategy for Repression
8. The Mould of Conformism
9. From Athens to Israel
10. Under the Banyan Tree
11. Alone against Tomorrow

As someone born in the late 80’s, a lot of the details were new to me upon my first read of the book from cover to cover.

What is fascinating about the book is that it was published in 1973. The author displays an uncanny ability of astute perception and prediction for Singapore’s style of government and political situation in the ensuing decades since the book was first written.

The first half of the book is akin to a comprehensive history lesson of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s background and subsequent ascent to power. The author takes a careful and perceptive look at LKY’s actions to come to the conclusion that Lee’s concept of Singapore is partly “a way of [making] a society in his own image — the projection on to the national scene of an individual’s complex psychological problems.” This is justified by the Singapore of the 1970s mirroring “not the collective aspirations of a people or a generation but the ideals, convictions and prejudices of Lee Kuan Yew.”

The first notable aspect of the book is how it reveals the destructiveness of one man’s (and by extension, one party’s) policies and actions upon an entire nation, society, and generations of citizens. The author sticks to the facts with a writing style that displays lively touches of wit and humanity, so the reader is presented with a “study of Lee in action,” instead of a frenzied personal attack.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 were particularly outstanding for the thorough and well-selected cases that showcase the extent of Mr Lee’s policy of repression, with respect to any form of dissent or sharp criticisms.

In a brief yet comprehensive manner, the author analyses various contradictory statements by Mr Lee; the sequence of events associated with Operation Coldstore; the application of the Internal Security Act to dispose of political rivals; the subsequent treatment of political opponents and/or prisoners; and how all aspects of the state were subjected to government control (from the education system, to the mass media, and the rule of law, in order to cast “Singaporeans in a carefully prepared mould”).

The second notable aspect of the book is its prophetic nature. T.J.S. George foresaw that the “prosperity” Lee heralded would be “accompanied by deterioration in the quality of life.”

To casual observers and citizens who are impressed enough by “Singapore’s apparent glitter,” this deterioration in the quality of life would seem to be a misnomer. The last chapter of the book reveals how LKY’s “dictatorial” practices disregard “the citizen’s right to respect and equality, that basic right which enables each ‘digit’ in a social whole to stand up and express his views.”

The book shatters many myths with regard to the state of democracy and civil rights in Singapore. Above all, it gives an insightful account of the side of Mr Harry Lee Kuan Yew which will not be seen in state-sponsored portrayals of the ruler as a faultless man.

A quote from a blog post by the author to end off this review:

“The West has spread the impression that Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew is Asia’s outstanding economic miracle man while Malaysia’s Mahathir as a cantankerous ogre, hater of white people and dictator to boot. Both are dressed up portraits. What makes Mahathir special is that while pursuing economic progress he never lost sight of the larger picture of human values. That cannot be said of Lee Kuan Yew and certainly not of Indonesia’s Suharto or Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra.”
— TJS George (June 2011)

* * *

Author Bio:


T. J. S. GEORGE is a former political editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the founding editor of Asiaweek (Hong Kong). He is a writer and biographer who received a Padma Bhushan award in 2011 in the field of literature and education. A veteran senior journalist and one of the best known columnists in India, he continues his fight against social injustice, corruption and political anarchies through his columns.

T. J. S. George Online: Blog | Wikipedia

* * *

More Information:

Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (Amazon)
Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (NLB)
Excerpts from Book (blog)


Excerpts from “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore”


Excerpts from “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore”

by T. J. S. George (1973)

Link: Amazon | NLB

* * *


1. Pugnacity: Inclined to quarrel or fight readily; quarrelsome; belligerent; combative (Dictionary).

Excerpts from Book:

1) The Lees are Hakkas. And that is worth remembering. . .[Hakkas] are strong individualists, known for their pugnacity. (Pg-16)

2) [During World War II], LKY learned Japanese and obtained work as a translator in the official Japanese news agency, Domei. . .during his years in power he has shown a pronounced contempt for Singapore’s journalistic fraternity and has ensured that newspapers in the island were run much as Domei was run by the Japanese army. (Pg-22)

3) LKY’s concept of ‘Singaporeanism’ [is] a way of [making] a society in his own image — the projection on to the national scene of an individual’s complex psychological problems. (Pg-30)

4) [Lee’s group formed] its own party. They chose the name People’s Action Party (PAP). It appealed to them ‘mainly because this political party was meant for the people’. (Pg-36)

5) Elections to the central executive [section of the PAP] were restricted to cadre members — and cadre members were chosen strictly after screening by Lee Kuan Yew. As Lee himself once justified it, “The Pope chooses the cardinals and the cardinals elect the Pope.” (Pg-45)

6) Lee remarked later that “to lose would mean that a bunch of rogues would form the government and ruin the country and also fix the PAP.” It was a characteristic comment which summed up Lee’s own personality — his self-assurance, contempt for others, tendency to equate himself with the country and [indicated] Lee’s readiness to “fix” others once he got hold of the reins of power. (Pg-46)

7) Cassandra of the Daily Mirror [likened] LKY to Goebbels. The Daily Express angrily editorialized: “To such men Britain entrusts independence. Greedily they seize their new freedom for themselves and deny it to the people for whom it was intended.” (Pg-51)

8) Ong [Eng Guan] protested that the meeting was being converted into a trial. [He said]: “This is not the first instance of cloak and dagger plots in the party and it will not be the last.” (Pg-55)

9) In the days when LKY was in opposition, in 1956, he gave a vivid description. “I’m told [repression] is like making love — it’s always easier the second time. The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course, with constant repetition, you get more and more brazen in the attack and in the scope of the attack.” He became, and has remained, a striking example of what he was then condemning. (Pg-65)

10) [In Operation Coldstore], the important figures were put away [and] the Barisan Sosialis became a headless body. (Pg-68)

11) In Lee’s reckoning no one else in Singapore was, or could be, right. What he achieved in the process was a one-man party and a one-party state. (Pg-71)

12) Tunku [Abdul Rahman]’s responses sprang from the heart and from his identification with the people; Lee’s from the mind and his studied aloofness from the crowd. The Tunku was utterly human, Lee a machine. (Pg-77)

13) Lee’s policies have often ended up as counter-productive because they were unrelated to the human factors surrounding them. (Pg-84)

14) Malaysian Finance Minister Tan Siew Sen described the PAP as a party which shouted “Fire, fire” while committing arson. (Pg-86)

15) The West (its notions of post-war Asia swinging between anti-communism and the thirst for profitable investment) seemed grateful to Lee for what he projected as the Asianization of democracy — which in fact meant reducing people to digits; or to the letters GNP. (Pg-110)

16) Systematic destruction of political opposition and suppression of the trade union movement were the outstanding features of this policy [of rigorous internal repression]. The government also completely ‘officialized’ the education system, beat the mass media into subjection and instituted other programmes aimed at casting a generation of Singaporeans in a carefully prepared mould. (Pg-112)

17) Given this approach to detention and the rule of law, Lee never bothered to change — except to make it more repressive — the Internal Security Act which he inherited from the colonial administration he had fought. (Pg-116)

18) The treatment of political prisoners involves spiritual and political torture. The process of solitary confinement and interrogation, etc. continue until the prisoners are broken down or try to commit suicide. Those who cannot be broken are left to rot in prison. (Pg-119)

19) Amnesty International naturally showed concern about the fate of political prisoners in Singapore — only to get condemned as a meddler and barred from the republic in early 1971 (Pg-121)

20) People whose governments straightforwardly admitted to being communist or military at least knew where they stood. In Singapore, where professions were democratic while practices were dictatorial, the tragedy was compounded. . .[Lee and his cabinet] projected the dangerous thesis that an efficient Asian government could not also be democratic or humane. (Pg-128)

21) In November 1971, the Sunday Times said: “But for two great British universities to honour [LKY] as a Doctor of Laws devalues the degree and dishonours the first principle of university life — that ideas shall be freely exchanged.” (Pg-130)

22) The Statesman of India said: “In nine years of near-autocratic rule Lee has created a society of soulless conformists. . .a submissive press and the lack of an opposition have enabled Mr Lee to strut about his inconsequential stage and see himself as a Southeast Asian leader.” (Pg-130)

23) The opposition Barisan Sosialis was not banned — though every leader showing any potential was either jailed or exiled. (Pg-130)

24) Lee’s favorite word when referring to Singaporeans is, characteristically, ‘digits’. (Pg-132)

25) Professor D.J. Enright wrote in The Times in 1969 [of Singaporean students]: “This is the drawback to the exhortatory method of nation building: the simple-minded, the second-rate and the merely self-committed come to the top while the intelligent and idealistic feel there is no place for them in a world which is new but not very brave.” (Pg-132)

26) No boy or girl can enter a university in Singapore without written political clearance from the government, appropriately called a Suitability Certificate. A student-applicant’s educational qualifications and academic record have no bearing on his ‘suitability’, which is determined on the basis of his and his family’s political background. (Pg-133)

27) Soon the government took the official position that expatriates should keep out of local issues — and local issues could include everything from Singapore art to traffic congestion. (Pg-137)

28) The contradiction between the noble sentiments Lee aired in Kuala Lumpur where he was in the opposition, and the suppression he practised in Singapore where he was in power, did not seem to occur to him. (Pg-146)

29) Lee conjured up a patriotic halo round the denial of civil rights to an entire people. It was not merely a case of freedom being denied; it was also a case of minds being cast in a government-ordained mould. It was totalitarianism without the saving grace of honesty. (Pg-155)

30) [To most Western correspondents and visitors], Singapore’s apparent glitter has been impressive enough. (Pg-136)

31) Lee has never been impressed by charges of cruelty towards political prisoners in Singapore: according to his book, he was doing them a favour by letting them live. (Pg-191)

32) Singapore in the 1970s mirrors not the collective aspirations of a people or a generation but the ideals, convictions and prejudices of LKY. (Pg-200)

33) Post-1959 elections have been largely empty exercises, as shown by the deceptive ‘choices’ given and the methods employed for the referendum in 1962, the mass arrests of opposition leaders prior to the general election in 1963 and the hundred per cent PAP control of parliament since. (Pg-203)

34) One of the dangers that Singaporeans face is the temptation to live soullessly in order to make money. The prospects of becoming a society which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing is among the points of criticism Lee’s adversaries raise. (Pg-202)

35) The prosperity Lee has brought about has been accompanied by deterioration in the quality of life. (Pg-214)

36) Democracy simply means a government respecting the governed and being accountable to them. It is a political means to fulfill the human potential. (Pg-212)

37) LKY seems to assume that a sense of national identity can be created from television sets, apartments and jobs, disregarding the citizen’s right to respect and equality: that basic right which enables each ‘digit’ in a social whole to stand up and express his views. (Pg-215)

Source: “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore,” by T. J. S. George (1973)

* * *


T. J. S. GEORGE is a former political editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the founding editor of Asiaweek (Hong Kong). He is a writer and biographer who received a Padma Bhushan award in 2011 in the field of literature and education. A veteran senior journalist and one of the best known columnists in India, he continues his fight against social injustice, corruption and political anarchies through his columns.

T. J. S. George Online: Blog | Wikipedia

* * *

More Information:

Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (Amazon)
Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (NLB)
Book Review (blog)

Calvin Cheng Quotes


Quotes by Ex-NMP, Calvin Cheng (followed by a selection of rebuttals)

+ + +

QUOTE #1: “I was confident that it [would] not in any way affect my ability to be impartial, objective and non-partisan.” — Calvin Cheng (July 2009)

Rebuttal: “Mr Cheng is missing the point. If NMPs are truly supposed to be non-partisan, he should have resigned from the party upon submitting his application to become an NMP, not only after the results are out.”
— Ng E-Jay / Socio-Political Blogger (July 2009)

+ + +

QUOTE #2: “The biggest danger I feel are an emerging group of Westernised, educated, champagne socialists and latte liberals who pontificate about social inequality, democracy and freedom in the comfort of their condos.”
— Calvin Cheng (Oct 2014)

Rebuttal: “The greatest threat to Singapore is in the form of reactionaries who promote self-serving policies under the guise of pragmatism and meritocracy.”
— Terence Ng (Oct 2014)

+ + +

QUOTE #3: “[The association had ‘noble goals]. . .if wages of models have been left higher and they have benefited permanently, it’s a good thing.”
— Calvin Cheng (Oct 2013)

Rebuttal: “Calvin Cheng played a central role in price-fixing as president of the Association of Modelling Industry Professionals (AMIP). . .he knew [it was] wrong, and he did it all the same.”
RedWireTimes c/o Terry Xu (Oct 2014)

+ + +

QUOTE #4: “I don’t respond to anything on The Real Singapore, which is a Facebook page and website written by morons, commented on by morons, and read and shared by morons.”
— Calvin Cheng (Oct 2014)

Rebuttal: “Disgusted to see that a Hwa Chong alumni can behave in such a pathetic manner. Never have I been more embarrassed of the fact that I too, am a Hwa Chong alumni. The tone of your comments and posts here, or anywhere else for that matter, reek of elitism. You have gone against the values that you were supposed to have as a ‘distinguished’ alumni of Hwa Chong. Quite disappointing indeed. In case you were wondering, I do read TRS too, and let me tell you this: many of the people reading/commenting on TRS are fairly smart. They are intelligent people, able to make their own judgements and form their own opinions.”
— 17 y/o Tim Ling (Oct 2014)

Rebuttal:Thanks for your mercy and snobbishness.”
— Angie Ng (to CC’s reply that she “represents the low IQ segment of the public”; Oct 2014)

Rebuttal:Calvin Cheng, reading through your earlier comments in this thread, you have clearly lost your argument to 17 year-old Tim Ling, who has shown a greater level of maturity than you. . .TRS/TRE may seem to you to be ‘moronic’ reporting, and it is so simply because it goes against the same elitist ideologies you share with the ruling elites. At least reports in the TRS/TRE are neither restrained nor controlled like that in The Straits Times which gives it a greater appeal. Thousands of readers that include ardent PAP supporters like Jason Chua (who founded Fabrications About the PAP), several PAP MPs and yourself take the time to read TRS/TRE frequently, so I presume that makes you and the people that support or are in your beloved PAP party morons.”
— Mike Tan (Oct 2014)

Rebuttal:How on earth is this loser a ‘nominated member of parliament’? I would have expected a basic amount of political correctness and common sense, instead he spends his time on Facebook trading petty, personal insults with random strangers like a 12 year old. Ridiculous.”
— Bob Chan (Oct 2014)

+ + +

QUOTE #5: “Are Singaporeans so easily offended? Please. Have more of a backbone and thick-skin. Are you going to go on a frenzied witch hunt just because some foreigner called you a loser on the Internet?”
— Calvin Cheng (Jan 2015)

Rebuttal:This smug Calvin is not the only idiot in town. He is a boon to the opposition — his silly pieces do not do Oxford University proud. Why wasn’t Ello arrested for his blast against the Muslim religion?”
Comment (Jan 2015)

+ + +

QUOTE #6: “Chee Soon Juan’s reply to Minister Chan [Chung Sing] is completely nonsensical and disingenuous, rebutting a point that was never made. Nowhere did Min. Chan call Chee a failure. Min. Chan called Chee Soon Juan a POLITICAL failure and that’s a fact. Even by the most stretched definitions, I don’t see how Chee could possibly be called a ‘political success’. ”
— Calvin Cheng (Jan 2015)

Rebuttal:I consider Calvin a success too. He single handedly proved the NMP system is a joke.
— Eric Chionh (Jan 2015)

+ + +

QUOTE #7: “Faith in our legal system and our police force underpins our hard-won social harmony and stability. By inciting people to question this and shaking the faith in the pillars of our society, these [half-wit] dissident-bloggers and websites are plainly speaking, inciting sedition.”
— Calvin Cheng (Mar 2015)

Rebuttal:Mr Cheng, I am concerned about the state of your mental health. Best regards.”
Lim Yong Chin (Mar 2015)

Rebuttal:But Mr Cheng, I notice you haven’t specifically said if you believe [what I mentioned about other parties putting anti-PAP flyers into people’s mailboxes] would be legal. Are you doubtful?
Ng Yi-Sheng / Singapore Literature Prize Recipient (Mar 2015)

+ + +

QUOTE #8: “I tell you what freedom is. Freedom is being able to walk on the streets unmolested in the wee hours in the morning, to be able to leave one’s door open and not fear that one would be burgled. . .These are the freedoms that Singaporeans have, freedoms that were built on the vision and hard work of Mr Lee, our first Prime Minister. And we have all of these, these liberties, while also being one of the richest countries in the world.”
— Calvin Cheng (March 2015)

Rebuttal:There are at least three elementary mistakes that Cheng makes in his piece that allow for it to be a very useful case study in logic and politics classes. The first, and the most obvious one, is that he has mistaken security for freedom. The second mistake that Cheng makes is that Singapore never had to sacrifice freedom for security, and democracy for an effective government.”
Donald Low / Associate Dean at LKYSPP (Mar 2015)

Rebuttal: “We are a country where Human Rights are seen as luxury. The security that is achieved in Singapore is not secured by respect and understanding, it is achieved through ignorance and fear.”
Rizzy Khaos / Blogger (Apr 2015)

+ + +

QUOTE #9: “Amos Yee will be charged in court. The kind of freedom he exercised is exactly the kind of freedom no civilised society needs. Insulting another’s religion, and trying to incite hatred during a time of national unity and mourning. And so, in order to secure the freedom of our civilised society, this boy should lose his.”
— Calvin Cheng (March 2015)

Rebuttal: Are we such a petty and insecure people that we have to demand blood whenever someone insults us on the Internet? Your own words, Calvin.”
— Joshua Chiang / Former TOC Editor (March 2015)

+ + +

QUOTE #10: “There is no such thing as total anonymity on the Internet. Troublemakers can be found and will be found. Troublemakers can set up new websites but they will similarly be hunted down. I do hope that the 2 editors of TRS already charged will be handed lengthy jail sentences as a warning and deterrence to others who may have similar intentions.”
— Calvin Cheng (May 2015)

Rebuttal: “Calvin Cheng will surely be greeted with strong approval by the PAP government. He is trying to scare the people. I will suggest that he try something more intelligent. Unless there is a legitimate ground, most notably a terrorist threat, I don’t think you can just walk into another country and hunt down the foreign sites. Don’t embarrass yourself, Mr Calvin Cheng!”
— Dosh / TRE Comment (May 2015)

+ + +

QUOTE #11: “Kudos to the NAC. More grants should be revoked from those who publish objectionable content. Taking tax payers’ money to publish content the majority don’t agree with is a social sin.”
— Calvin Cheng (May 2015)

Rebuttal: Because [it’s about] Operation Spectrum. Nobody likes to talk about Operation Spectrum.”
— Acedia Nazrul Amri Tristitia (May 2015)

+ + +

QUOTE #12: “The self-radicalisation of the ISA-detained youth by ISIS propaganda is worrying. People like Alfian Sa’at for example need to be careful of their irresponsible rhetoric. . .the Government should watch commentators like Alfian Sa’at closely and if red lines are crossed, the use of the ISA on these domestic agitators should not be ruled out.”
— Calvin Cheng (May 2015)

Rebuttal: Self-radicalised Oxford-educated PAP zealot Calvin Cheng hopes the government will invoke the ISA on playwright Alfian Sa’at.
— Martyn See / Filmmaker + Blogger (May 2015)

Rebuttal: “If anyone is behaving in a traitorous manner, it is this abomination called Calvin Cheng for constantly and insidiously trying to turn Singaporeans against Singaporeans who dare to speak up on social political issues. He has made a serious and unfounded allegation against Alfian Sa’at and he should apologise if he has any conscience.”
— Min Zheng / Jentrified Citizen (May 2015)

Rebuttal: “The scary thing is not just what Calvin Cheng posted. The scary thing is also that he is probably not the only one in the pro-PAP camp who, in their increasing and blatant arrogance, think like this.”
— Andrew Loh / TOC Founder (Post #1 + Post #2)

Rebuttal: “CC: You claim that you had sought legal advice from a senior counsel and that Alfian should take proper legal advice instead of advice from armchair lawyers. Well, I happen to be a lawyer too, Calvin. And I think you’re in pretty serious trouble.
— Respect Singapore (May 2015)

Rebuttal: I believe I speak for Oxford when I say we are ashamed that a graduate of this institution would suggest using detention without trial to silence an honourable man.”
— Thum Ping Tjin (May 2015)

Rebuttal: In other more important news, my short story collection Corridor has been republished by Ethos Books. And contrary to what Calvin Cheng would like to insinuate, it’s not on ISIS’ reading list.
— Alfian Sa’at / Playwright (May 2015)


CALVIN CHENG was a Nominated Member of Parliament in Singapore. He currently serves on the Ministry of Communications and Information’s Media Literacy Council, and the Media Development Authority’s Board for The Singapore Media Festival.

Calvin was formerly the Head of Elite Models for the Asia Pacific region. Calvin is also a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

CC Online: Facebook | Wikipedia | LinkedIn | Parliament SG

Excerpts from “Scandalising the Singapore Judiciary”


Excerpts from “Scandalising the Singapore Judiciary”

by Tsun Hang Tey (2010)

PDF Link to Journal Article: | Ebscohost

* * *


1. 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).

2. Scandalise: To dishonor and disgrace (TFD).

3. Jurisprudence: Legal system.

Extracts from Article:

1) [This article] hopes to open up a new line of debate over the extent to which it is ‘rule of law’ or ‘rule by law’ that is adopted in matters where criticisms of the ruling party and its leaders in Singapore are involved.

2) Scandalising the Singapore judiciary [is] an archaic phrase which embodies ‘any act done or writing published calculated to bring a court or a judge of the court into contempt, or to lower his authority’.

3) The Singapore courts have dealt firmly with these contemnors through the contempt of court committals, shaping a jurisprudence that places [emphasis on] maintaining good public perception of its ‘integrity and impartiality’, at the expense of freedom of political speech and critical reporting.

4) It is said that the rationale behind the law of contempt is ‘not to vindicate the dignity of the court or [judge], but to prevent undue interference with the administration of justice’, as well as to preserve public confidence in the integrity and competence of the judiciary.

5) The 11 November 1974 issue of Newsweek magazine that was alleged to have had the effect of scandalising the court of Singapore. . .ended with the shocking allegation – that ‘in the courts in Singapore it makes a vital difference whether it is the government or the opposition that is in the dock.’

6) Christopher Lingle, the author of an article published in the International Herald Tribune was convicted [of] contempt by scandalising the court [by] suggesting that the Singapore judiciary was ‘compliant’ to its government.

7) [The Singapore judiciary] has failed to undertake a searching or meaningful analysis of the issue of the permissibility of derogation from the constitutional right of free speech, and has also failed to appreciate the importance of achieving an appropriate balance between the social benefit of preserving its integrity, and the freedom to report critically.

8) The Singapore judges have sworn to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution’, [where] the purpose of the Constitution is in protecting and guaranteeing the rights of citizens. Where freedom of speech and expression is considered to be a basic human right, it is all the more important that the courts provide a proper rationale for derogation of such a right.

9) It is common to observe the courts citing from other judgments without giving much input into the rationales and reasons for doing so. . .the rigour and depth in the reasoning employed in judgments pertaining to other areas of the law seem to be lacking in contempt of court judgments handed down in Singapore.

10) One’s right to freedom of speech and expression can be abrogated rather easily – so long as the criticism made is ‘scurrilous abuse’ or ‘excites misgivings as to the integrity, propriety and impartiality brought to the exercise of the judicial office’, one would be found guilty of scandalising the court.

11) It does not matter if one had made such criticisms honestly in exercise of one’s recognised right to freedom of speech and expression. Such an approach amounts to the imposition of a strict liability offence and renders the right to freedom of speech and expression almost obsolete (at least with regard to criticisms one can make of the courts). This renders the recognition of the right to freedom of speech and expression superfluous and meaningless.

12) While the court will expressly recognise a right to freedom of speech and expression, it will be quick to note that such a right is not absolute and subject to multiple limitations.

13) While no right can be absolute, the courts ought to engage in a rigorous analysis to find the right balance between the competing interests, and before setting down limitations on the rights it is sworn to protect.

14) The rights of the people should be given its maximum space and recognition, for the entire purpose of rights is to guarantee the fundamental liberties of the people. If such rights were to be curtailed and limited right from the start, there is not going to be much to guarantee and uphold.

15) An accused, regardless of whether he or she was justified in their statements, would be found guilty as long as the statements scandalised the judiciary. Therefore, in effect, no one can make any adverse comments on the judiciary, regardless of the extent of truth there is in the comments. This is an untenable position for it amounts to a derogation from the right to freedom of speech and expression without a proper justification, and it may potentially assist judges who do not act in the best interests of justice.

16) This right to criticise is explained by Lord Atkin in Ambard v A-G of Trinidad and Tobago [[1936] AC 322]:

. . .no wrong is committed by any member of the public who exercises the ordinary right of criticizing, in good faith, in private or public, the public act done in the seat of justice. . .Justice [must] be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments, of ordinary men.

17) See article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.

While Singapore is not a member of the Human Rights Council in the United Nations, it has obligations with respect to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

18) Recent developments indicate that the law enforcers are swiftly and decisively enforcing Singapore’s law of contempt against contemnors exhibiting behaviour of various types, namely, contemptuous blogging on the internet and the writing of insulting emails to judges (as seen in [Mr Gopalan Nair]; the wearing of T-shirts imprinted with images of a kangaroo dressed in a judge’s robe while appearing at [the] Supreme Court courtroom; and the Attorney-General’s committal for contempt proceedings [for] three allegedly contemptuous articles published in Wall Street Journal Asia in June and July 2008).

19) Harsh allegations made by a range of international bodies in questioning the integrity of the Singapore judiciary:

What emerges … is a government that has been willing to decimate the rule of law for the benefit of its political interests. Lawyers have been cowed to passivity, judges are kept on a short leash, and the law has been manipulated so that gaping holes exist in the system of restraints on government action toward the individual. Singapore is not a country in which individual rights have significant meaning.
— The New York City Bar Association (1990)

Source: “Scandalising the Singapore Judiciary,” by Tsun Hang Tey (2010)

PDF Download: | Ebscohost

* * *



Prof Tey obtained first class honours from Oxford University and practised law in Malaysia before being hired to teach at NUS Law faculty. Prof Tey entered the legal service in the Supreme Court as a Justice Law Clerk during the tenure of then Chief Justice Yong Pung How. Prof Tey went on to become a District Judge, after which he returned to academia at NUS Law Faculty.

In 2011, Tey decided to go ahead with publishing a number of articles highly critical of Singapore’s judiciary without approval from the ISD. “I am no longer willing to self-censor,” he wrote. “I certainly do not want [to] compromise my intellectual honesty.”

Of the 2014 sex-for-favours case against him, Tey maintains that the case was politically motivated from the start.

Tey Online: TOC | Yahoo | The Monthly (AU) | Legal Consensus (Tey’s book on Singapore’s judiciary) | Singapore Consensus (Tey’s articles)

Tey’s Court Actions: NUS | Singapore ICA (to show how high-handed and well-coordinated the executions were)

Excerpts from “Marxists in Singapore?”


Excerpts from “Marxists in Singapore? Lee Kuan Yew’s Campaign against Catholic Social Justice Activists in the 1980s”

by Michael Barr (2010)

PDF Link to Journal Article: Ebscohost

* * *


1. Conspiracy: A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.

Extracts from Article:

1) Singapore’s ruling elite runs a finely calibrated system of social and political control based on a mixture of monitoring and repression by the state, and self-monitoring and self-restraint by all elements of civil society.

2) In response to the challenges [of a fresh upsurge of social justice activism and dissent], LKY created a fanciful narrative about a “Marxist conspiracy” to overthrow the state. . .this article uses archival, oral, and secondary sources [to study the] motivations of the government — which essentially means the motivations of Lee Kuan Yew.

3) The comprehensive display [at Singapore’s Internal Security Department Heritage Centre] has one glaring omission: there is no mention of Operation Spectrum, the smashing of the supposed Marxist conspiracy in mid 1987.

4) The conspiracy was so shadowy that when one of the detainees protested during interrogation that he did not know anything about a conspiracy and did not even know half of his supposed twenty-one co-conspirators, he was told with a straight face that he was “an unconscious conspirator,” and he might as well admit it.

5) According to a former journalist who was working at The Straits Times in 1987, not a single person in the newsroom remotely believed the charges, but they had no choice but to report the government’s story as fact. (Note: Read Bertha Henson’s blog about the matter — TOC.)

6) The official amnesia is perhaps a convenient cover for the fact that there never was a conspiracy, Marxist or otherwise. Then prime minister Lee almost admitted as much in confidence at the time when he told the Catholic archbishop of Singapore, the late Gregory Yong, that the detainees themselves were of minimal concern to him. He dismissed them as “do-gooders who wanted to help the poor and the dispossessed.”

7) . . .Lee Kuan Yew personally orchestrated the exercise to try to guarantee what he understood to be the elements essential to the stability of the regime beyond his impending (or so it seemed) retirement.

8) [The authors of the Church and Society series] “criticis[ed] the Government on various secular issues…[and] accused the Government of emasculating the trade unions and enacting labour laws which curtailed the rights of workers.” This hardly amounts to conspiring to overthrow the state.

9) [The Catholic activists] had no reason to doubt that they would remain under the protection of Archbishop Gregory Yong. The first of these beliefs lasted until the early hours of 21 May 1987, when ISD officers awakened and arrested the activists; the second, until 3 June 1987, when the archbishop told the priests associated with the movement that he would not defend them if they were arrested.

10) [Historical records reveal that LKY managed the detentions in] the face of significant reluctance on the part of his Cabinet colleagues, and [there] is strong evidence that he did not really believe there was a Marxist conspiracy and was certainly not interested in or worried about the detainees themselves.

11) There is no room to doubt that this was a personal campaign, micromanaged by Lee in every respect.

12) [Goh Chok Tong’s] account depicts Cabinet members being dragged inch by inch into becoming complicit in taking the decision to act, but never coming up with any better reason for conviction other than that the accused were engaged in “some nefarious activity.”

13) S. Dhanabalan [said that the detainees] were “not on the verge of overthrowing this government or starting a revolution.” We know from subsequent developments that in fact he was very unhappy about the detentions.

14) Evidence shows that Lee never believed that the detainees were part of a Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the state. . .despite these statements he concluded the meeting by asking “the Church leaders whether they were satisfied that Vincent Cheng was involved in the communist conspiracy” based primarily on Cheng’s “admission” of this charge, which had been elicited under torture.

15) Lee’s stated reason for the detentions during these meetings was that he was concerned by the activities of the priests associated with the movement [Fr. Edgar D’Souza, Fr. Patrick Goh, Fr. Joseph Ho and Fr. Arotcarena].

16) Lee demanded the complete submission of the Catholic Church to his will. Records of both afternoon meetings on 2 June show Lee personally pressuring and coaching Archbishop Yong for two clearly stated purposes: first, to ensure that the archbishop did not give the impression that he had been pressured by the government into supporting the government’s actions, and second, to avoid giving the impression that Lee personally had been heavily involved in the archbishop’s decision-making process.

17) [The priests and Church] were displaying a capacity to operate across many levels of society with great independence and a strong sense of invulnerability.

18) In 1986, only a year before the detentions, the Law Society had used its role as the professional association for solicitors to criticize a government bill (the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act) because it threatened journalistic freedoms. . .in the words of Wong [Kan Seng], “Public policy is the domain of the government. It is not the playground of those who have no responsibility to the people.” . . .one of the detainees of 1987, Teo Soh Lung, was a prominent office holder in the Law Society throughout 1986 and 1987 and [after] the first month in detention, her interrogators completely lost interest in her involvement with the Catholics (specifically her work on behalf of foreign maids) and focused exclusively on her role in the Law Society.

19) [The] archbishop must have realized that in the eyes of the government, [the] real offense of these Church workers was not any supposed involvement in a Marxist conspiracy, but the blurring of the line between politics and religion, just as the Law Society was blurring the lines between “politics” and professional responsibility during the same months.

20) The capacity of activists to cross social and institutional boundaries (for instance, from church to campus to shop floor to the media) challenged the government’s monopolistic control over the public agenda.

21) LKY knew perfectly well that the Catholic Church had been instrumental in bringing down the Marcos regime in the Philippines and that it was taking a leading role in the democracy movement in South Korea. . .Lee probably had only a vague, two-dimensional understanding of the issues involved, but he was not one to view such a pattern of events complacently.

22) The documents show that the combination of these international and domestic perspectives generated in Lee’s mind a scenario in which, at the very least, the movement posed a short-term threat to the ruling elite’s monopoly on political discourse and power just when he was planning his retirement. Lee responded by using these detentions to set tighter limits on public dissent through two new mechanisms: the imposition of legislative controls to remove the capacity for such blurring of the lines in the future and the encouragement of a culture of self-censorship and self-monitoring to avoid future clashes with the government.

23) . . .the beginning of a new pattern whereby the Church supervised its own repression. Remarkably, it was the archbishop, not the government, who suppressed publication of the 14 June 1987 issue of The Catholic News — an issue that contained a defense of the detainees and a statement of support by the archbishop himself.

24) Lee Kuan Yew must have expected public skepticism about the accusations against the detainees to undermine the government’s credibility, but he was clearly prepared to bear this cost in order to establish a firm pattern of effective authoritarian rule that he could be confident would outlast his premiership. This he did by imposing a pattern of tough love both on society [and] on his successors in government.

25) As a direct consequence of this episode, the Catholic Church in Singapore lost both its independence and a vibrant element of its social conscience.

Source:Marxists in Singapore? Lee Kuan Yew’s Campaign against Catholic Social Justice Activists in the 1980s,” by Michael Barr (2010)

PDF Download: Ebscohost

* * *



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

* * *


1) Remember or forget? The 1987 “Marxist conspiracy” (Alex Au; 2009)

2) 2,500 pray at Mass for detainees (Function 8; 2012)

3) 23 years after Operation Spectrum: Ex-detainees recall mental and physical abuses (SG Rebel; 2010)

4) Today in history – remembering Operation Spectrum (TOC; 2015)

5) Fighting back with words! (Teo Soh Lung FB; 2015)

6) Interview with Thum Ping Tjin about Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore – Part 3 (TOC; 2015)

Importance of History


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

* * *

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

+ + +

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

+ + +

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

+ + +

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

* * *

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

* * *


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