Book Review: Hard Choices


The opening line of this book is as follows:

“Singapore’s economic success masks some uncomfortable truths about life in this city-state.”

The text is very neatly organised into three sections:

I. The Limits of Singapore Exceptionalism
II. Policy Alternatives for Post-Consensus Singapore
III. Governance and Democracy: Past, Present & Future

The chapters cover a wide range of topics, from economics, to inequality, to land mass / population challenges, housing policies, democracy, meritocracy, as well as the concept of defining a national identity.

I like how most of the chapters have a distinct two-part feature, in terms of first explaining the issue at hand before offering viable and constructive solutions.

For instance, Chapter 9 explains why the trend of increasing income inequality in Singapore is worrisome.

Far from it simply being an issue about money, the authors cite an academic paper which correlates a high initial level of high inequality with the decreased likelihood of establishing social programmes that enhance social trust. And why is social trust important? Because it leads people to be “more inclined to have a positive view of their public institutions, participate more in their civic and political organisations, [and] to be more tolerant of [others].”

Historian Thum Ping Tjin’s chapter, “The Old Normal is The New Normal,” is a condensed version of Singapore’s political history (dark events included). This chapter is notably hard-hitting for it demonstrates how the lesson of history is clear — that “only democracy, dissent, and diversity can offer the leaders and ideas required to meet Singapore’s challenges.”

In Chapter 12, Donald Low analyses what went wrong for the PAP during the 2011 General Election (GE 2011). He writes that the Singapore population has become “more demanding of transparency [and] accountability.” Wise advice is laid out, such as how high ministerial salaries contribute towards the weakening of political discourse which is “not conducive to mature, reasoned public debate of our policy problems.” The chapter also suggests that political reforms “founded on the virtues of fairness, equality and resilience” will help sustain Good Governance.

Donald Low ends off the book on a personal as well as social note. He concludes:

“As a liberal, the policy and institutional changes I wish to see are those that would make Singapore a more just city-state, one that prioritises the well-being of its citizens over narrow measures of economic progress.”

The biggest strength of Hard Choices is the diplomatically critical tone throughout the writing. The style is moderate and objective without being too inaccessible to the general reader with an interest in Singapore’s politics and/or policies.

It is this consistency throughout the chapters which renders the writing as effectively persuasive, in terms of why Singapore needs to undergo vital and constructive change in terms of governance. This happens to coincide with a new generation of Singaporeans that are “empowered by the internet and social media,” which as Mr. Low and Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh write in the preface, has enabled citizens to “openly question many of the PAP’s long-held assumptions and beliefs.”

I would definitely recommend Hard Choices to people who may find “anti-government” or “anti-establishment” websites a bit too critical. I believe more than a few Singaporeans would be able to appreciate the book’s presentation of a wide range of pertinent issues, along with real alternatives that should be considered for the betterment of the nation and its citizens.

After all, it’s hard to argue with cool hard logic.

* * *

More Information:

Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus (Amazon)
Hard Choices (NUS Press)
Hard Choices (Kinokuniya)
Hard Choices (Review by Howard Lee / TOC)

* * *



I. DONALD LOW is Associate Dean (Research and Executive Education) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Donald Low Online: LKYSPP | Facebook


II. SUDHIR THOMAS VADAKETH  is author of Floating on a Malayan Breeze: Travels in Malaysia and Singapore. He also writes for a variety of publications, including The Economist and Yahoo! SG.

STV Online: Website | Facebook


III. LINDA LIM is Professor of Strategy at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michian, where she also served as director of the 53-year-old Center for Southeast Asian Studies.


IV. 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.

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

14 Characteristics of Fascism


+ + +

Fascism (definition): “A totalitarian philosophy of government that [assigns] to the state control over every aspect of national life.” (TWT)

+ + +


SOURCE: Lawrence Britt / Free Inquiry

[Infographic / Summary followed by Full Text]



Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism: Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia*. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

* View “Singapore: The Politics of Inventing National Identity,” by Stephan Ortmann
(PDF download).

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights: Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause: The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military: Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism: The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media: Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security: Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined: Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected: The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed: Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts: Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment: Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption: Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections: Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or (character) assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

SOURCE: Lawrence Britt / Free Inquiry

+ + +


a) Censorship in Singapore (Wikipedia)

b) Excerpts from “Anti-colonialism. . .Operation Coldstore” (Thum Ping Tjin)

c) Is this not a mockery of democracy? (Singapore Recalcitrant)

d) Hushed Fascism, Singapore-Style (Chris Ho / Facebook)

e) Political Abuse of Psychiatry (re: Amos Yee)

f) Singapore Blogger Faces ‘Financial Ruin’ (re: Roy Ngerng / Forbes)

g) Teo Soh Lung (on “fighting back with words”) and SDP / CSJ (on “accountability“)

h) Jolly Hangman (re: human rights abuses / Alan Shadrake)

Political Abuse of Psychiatry (Amos Yee)


Image by stimu1us on dA.

A short excerpt (#1) on the subject of political abuse of psychiatry, viewed in the context of 16 year-old Amos Yee’s current prison-in-remand situation (Points #2-5).

1) “Psychiatric confinement of sane people is a particularly pernicious form of repression.

Psychiatry possesses a built-in capacity for abuse that is greater than in other areas of medicine. The diagnosis of mental disease allows the state to hold persons against their will and insist upon therapy in their interest and in the broader interests of society.

In addition, receiving a psychiatric diagnosis can in itself be regarded as oppressive. In a monolithic state, psychiatry can be used to bypass standard legal procedures for establishing guilt or innocence and allow political incarceration without the ordinary odium attaching to such political trials.”
(– Wiki)

2) “Amos has always been a chirpy, confident and very vocal child. He is also very creative, and would spend an endless amount of time on something which he sets his mind on.

But my son is a different person now. . .I wondered why my son, who is here to be assessed if he has autism, is kept here in the same block as those who are mentally ill.

[Block] 7 is where they keep the truly mentally ill patients, and those who have committed crimes or offences and who are also mentally unsound. It is also where my son is being held.”
(TOC: A mother visits her son at IMH)

3) “The entry of heavily shackled Amos Yee from holding room to dock in Court No. 7 on 23 June 2015 cuts a very depressing sight. No longer the cheerful teenager who looked and smiled confidently at the gallery, he walked slowly with his head bowed. It was painful to see this young person’s spirit reduced to such a sad state by our judicial system. He sat in the dock, head bowed most times.

The ill treatment that Amos suffered during his remand must be highlighted. Amos’ mother said that he was interviewed by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors etc over two weeks. Such interviews took place during the one hour community time when a prisoner is allowed to socialise and enjoy a bit of sunshine. It is the only time a prisoner looks forward to in a long and boring 24 hour day. Yet the prison authority has to be sadistic by arranging interviews during this one hour. I can only conclude that such arrangements were deliberate, aimed to break his spirit. Indeed Amos spirit is broken for he no longer reads and is tired because he cannot sleep with 24 hours lighting in the cell and cell mates who harbour resentment against him for having to sleep in a cell equipped with spy cameras.

A prisoner in remand is very often worse off than a prisoner who is serving sentence. He is left to himself whereas the prisoner serving time has regular activities to fill his day. He can attend educational or vocational courses and is allowed to spend time with other prisoners. Amos Yee’s special treatment by being locked up in a cell with 24 hour close circuit cameras means confinement within the four walls for 24 hours with one hour outside his cell. 24 hour lighting ensure that the mind is disorientated. A prisoner will inevitably suffer insomnia for he cannot sleep well.

Some observers are happy that Amos is now remanded at IMH for another psychiatric assessment. This is so sadistic. Why is the report by the State appointed psychiatrist, Munidasa Winslow that Amos might be suffering from autism spectrum disorder insufficient for the court to make a decision? Is there a necessity for the judge to order another report just to confirm or dispute Winslow’s report? What is the intent besides undermining the expertise of Winslow?

It is depressing that a bright young lad is made to suffer in this way. Is this our world class judicial system?”
(Teo Soh Lung)

4) “UN Human Rights Office calls for the immediate release of Amos Yee in line with its commitment under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

5) “Amos Yee’s medical condition is autism and not derangement and it is insanity on the part of the authorities to put this vulnerable teenager in a block together with adult patients suffering from derangement.”
(Former ISD Director, YSW)

6) “And the police told me: ‘Quickly sign this, then we don’t have to take any responsibility if something happens to you.’”
(Notes From Prison by Amos Yee)

+ + +


UPDATE / 27 June 2015: Signed. “Petitioning The Singapore Government Drop the Charges Against Amos Yee!” —

Responsibility and Accountability (Mt. Kinabalu)


[Above Image from Yahoo]

Several students and a teacher from Tanjong Katong Primary School were killed in the recent Sabah quake.

I was quite shocked to read an overly defensive comment which compared climbing Mt. Kinabalu to “walking up Bukit Timah Hill.”

For starters, a “hill” is defined as “a naturally raised area of land, not as high or craggy as a mountain.” Mt. Kinabalu is 4,095 m while Bukit Timah Hill is 164m. A comparison of maps between the mountain and hill also show the difference in terms of scale and associated terrain.

A seismology expert, Dr Mohd Rosaidi Che Abas, 54, said the threat of an earthquake in Malaysia cannot be ignored, including “Sabah and Sarawak [which] are located close to the earthquake zone of South Philippines and North Sulawesi.”

Earthquakes have erupted at Mount Kinabalu every year for at least the past 10 years, and the route has been described as a very rough trek.


[Image from Redwire Times]

Some comments from people who have been on the mountain before:

1) “I climbed the mountain before. I must say I was shocked for a school to embark on such an expedition trip for primary students.” — Randy Chong

2) “I was there on 5-6 may this year. I personally think this is a bit challenging for young children of such ages. Deepest condolences to victims’ families. — David Chia

3) “My 39 yr old daughter went there two weeks before the quake. She said she would not approve if any of her kids would want to take the expedition. What information was given to parents that made them approved their kids for this expedition?” — Mr. A

I have read quite a few comments which say that the authorities cannot be blamed for a natural disaster.

It is true that people cannot be blamed for the actual occurrence of the earthquake. The question is why young children are being approved to be sent to this mountain for “school excursions” when this area is a known danger zone.

Take for example, texting and driving. Just because a person drives and texts once and doesn’t get into trouble, doesn’t mean they’ll always have luck on their side. A tragic end sometimes comes sooner rather than later, and it is especially tragic when the situation is avoidable. Why would any parent want to put their child in a risky situation in the first place?

Some quotes by parents which reflect this view:

1) “People are saying no one could have predicted the quake and that it could well have struck Disneyland Tokyo. So we shouldn’t criticize the school or ask for a ban on such overseas excursions. I beg to differ as a parent. . .No incident doesn’t mean there will never be one. Try telling those grieving parents, ‘Accidents bound to happen, lah!’ And why in the world are primary school kids climbing mountains overseas?”
Andrew Tan

2) “PM Lee, I urge your good self and MOE to review allowing our primary school children to embark on such perilous trips. In our days, excursions were none other than Pulau Ubin or St John Island. Even though this is a natural disaster, the burden of failing their parents are simply too great on the teachers and schools.” — Lance Foo

3) “Please instruct MOE to seriously review school excursions for primary school kids. They are too young to go for such high risk adventures. It is tough for parents to say no to enthusiastic young children who don’t understand the risk involved. There are many other ways for leadership development. There’s an appropriate age and time for different types of school trips.” — Kareen Leow

4) “I sincerely urge MOE to commission a thorough review on the countries and necessity of such trips for “whatever valid reasons.” I am 100% sure if PM commission MOE for a COI, there will be 101 ways to improve on it.” — Freddy Choo

The MOE’s website states that there are several measures in place to enhance road safety around Singapore schools, as well as safety in the conduct of school sports, safety during hazy days, tree safety, and fire safety. This page on guidelines and procedures on school excursions (adapted from MOE Guidelines) states that “the authority to approve such excursions [and/or field trips] is delegated to principals.”

This was not an excursion organised by parents as an out-of-school overseas trip. If it were, then the responsibility for the safety of the children would fall on the parents and not other authorities who approved the excursion.

The website of The Department of Education and Training (Victoria, Australia) clearly states a policy to “ensure [school] excursions are planned and approved appropriately.” It goes on to say that the excursion planning and approval process should take into account “the suitability of the environment and/or venue for the excursion,” and the “assessment of excursion risks” in terms of safety, emergency and risk management.

A quick glance at the Dutch ministries states that The Ministry of Security and Justice is responsible for justice and public safety in the Netherlands.

Minister for Education Mr Heng Swee Keat’s and PM Lee Hsien Loong’s public statements on the matter — despite their emotional appeal — leave much to be desired.

A government’s job is to govern (i.e. to make and administer the public policy and affairs of a state). Singapore’s ministers are among the best paid in the world.

Surely they can thus be expected to be responsible and be held accountable when it comes to governance.

PAP: 7 Deadly Sins


[‘Greed’ image from Dante’s Inferno]

+ + +

Intro to the Seven Deadly Sins.

A semi-satirical overview of the 7 deadly sins in Singapore’s history of governance.

1-7: Lust | Gluttony | Sloth | Envy | Greed | Anger | Pride (click to jump to section)

+ + +

1. Lust

Definition: Lust is a feeling of an intense desire in the body.

1) In 2012, the director of the Central Narcotics Bureau, Mr. Ng Boon Gay, was accused by Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau of obtaining sexual favors from a female vendor working for two information-technology suppliers in exchange for furthering the “business interests” of her companies. He professed his innocence but acknowledged having had sexual relations with the female vendor.
(Source: WSJ)

2) A court convicted Peter Lim, the commissioner of the Civil Defense Force, of corruption involving sexual favors in exchange for government contracts. Lim was dismissed from the Civil Defense Force and was sentenced to six months in prison.

3) Speaker of the House Michael Palmer resigned as Member of Parliament for Punggol East after revealing he had an extramarital affair with Madam Laura Ong, an ex-employee of the People’s Association working in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
(Source: AsiaOne)

4) Former Ministry of Education (MOE) scholar Jonathan Wong Wai Keong was sentenced to five years’ jail for having sex with a minor. Wong, who was convicted for possession of child pornography in Britain in 2010, faced a total of 10 charges – seven for having sex with a 15-year-old girl, and another three for committing indecent acts.
(Source: Yahoo!)

5) In 2010, an investigating panel said that the former principal of Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Dr Ong Teck Chin, behaved inappropriately towards a male teacher.
(Source: AsiaOne)

6) Former grassroots leader and teacher Chua Ren Cheng, 33, was jailed for three months after he admitted having paid for sex with an underage prostitute. 44 were charged by the police for the same offence in a list that included a former grade school principal, member of a prominent family, an ex-Straits Times reporter, and a police superintendent.
(Source: Yahoo, Bloomberg, Everything Also Complain)

7) Spencer Gwee Hak Theng, a deputy public prosecutor, was charged in court with having sex with an underage Vietnamese girl, who was 16 at the time of the offence.
(Source: AsiaOne, UTAT)

8) RUMOUR / GOSSIP: Before he became Home Minister, PAP member of parliament K. Shanmugam had an affair (with a woman) that led to messy divorce proceedings.
(Source: Thanks to Vivian, UTWT, Gopalan Nair)

+ + +

2. Gluttony

Definition: Excess in eating and drinking.

1) “Food is the purest democracy we have.” (Source: K. F. Seetoh)

2) “Singaporeans can easily identify ourselves with the love of our food.”

3) “With HDB prices going through the roof and costs of COEs exploding, you’d think to say our economy or what’s left of it, right? But alas, no. The hot topic is the design of hawker centres of the future.”
(Source: Belmont Lay)

4) When it comes to tourism, Singapore punches above its weight, with nearly 14 million tourists visiting the island in the first eleven months of 2014. And as a result of a long-term plan by the Singapore government, many of them come for the food.
(Source: NPR)

5) [Hawker] centres are a true blue heartland space for Singaporeans to congregate, eat, bond and reflect, on mostly gossip, life and loves. It’s a national plan that helps politicians reach deeper into the hearts and homes of their constituents. No complaints thus far.
(Source: HuffPo)

+ + +

3. Sloth

Definition: Sloth is a failure to do things that one should do. Incorporates inertia and a resistance to change.

1) Central to PAP leaders’ thinking on the role of government was their view that [the] government in Singapore controlled all instruments and centres of power and did not allow the growth of political pluralism.
(Source: Vasil, 1992)

2) Observers say the current crop of leaders will resist any change to the status quo that has for decades insulated them from criticism, particularly as they face a new generation of voters with a different vision for the future. . .independent film-maker Martyn See said Lee’s death is expected to lift “the culture of fear that has dogged Singapore civil society for decades” but expects the government to resist any pressure toward greater freedom.
(Source: Yahoo)

3) The myths [for public policy] matter because they reduce the ability of the Singapore government to pursue pragmatic and creative solutions to [challenges].
(Source: Hard Choices, NUS Press, Pg-28)

+ + +

4. Envy


i. Envy is a longing to possess something achieved by another (Dictionary).

ii. Contempt and gloating are kinds of ‘reverse envy’. While we envy those with higher stature, we feel contempt for those with lower stature (EmotionalCompetency).

1) The dictator of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, died recently, to nearly universal praise in the West for the way he built his country into an economic powerhouse. Columnist Richard Cohen thinks that [America has] “authoritarian envy” because “too much democracy” keeps government from being able to do what it needs to do.
(Source: Patheos)

2) In Lee Kuan Yew’s massive From the Third World to the First: The Singapore Story, 1965-2000, there is only one country that he positively seems to envy: Hong Kong. In his view, the Singaporean “[could] not match the Hong Konger in drive and motivation.”
(Source: Econlib)

3) ‘Guard against politics of envy': MP Zakir Hussain. Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Josephine Teo is troubled by what she sees as a growing trend here: the labelling of certain Singaporeans as part of an elite. The elite include two groups: the rich and Singaporeans who have won government scholarships.
(Source: ST, 4 Dec 2006)

4) “Maybe it made lesser mortals envious and they thought maybe [senior civil servant Tan Yong Soon] was a little bit boastful.” — Charles Chong, MP
(Source: SDP, Lucky Tan)

5) The opposition to high ministerial salaries is more than just a reflection of public envy. It is a manifestation of a deeper malaise over the widening gap in wealth between the people at the top and the average Singaporean workers.
(Source: RealClearWorld)

+ + +

5. Greed

Definition: An inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to material wealth.

1) Then came the third generation PAP leaders who continue to carry on blithely the astronomical ministerial salary tradition and their so-called service to the people. As long as their motivation is their whopping salaries, the distinction between greed and service to the people is at best indistinguishable.
(Source: Singapore Recalcitrant)

2) This is greed without compassion. This is a government that has its heart and its priorities wrong. This is a government that has placed greater emphasis on corporate profits and GDP growth compared to taking care of our aged, our sick, and our needy.
(Source: SGPolitics)

3) The lack of direction and strategic vision of the current PAP and their selfish greed to accumulate more wealth for themselves while allowing the rest of us Singaporeans to suffer is unforgivable and disgusting.
(Source: TheHeartTruths)

4) While Alvin Yeo’s conduct is shocking, I am not surprised at the low standards set by PAP MPs and their seemingly insatiable greed. . .the PAP’s philosophy has been one of vastly overpaying Ministers to ensure that they remain loyal to the leadership and are prepared to ignore whatever principles they may once have had.
(Source: Kenneth Jeyaretnam)

5) From political office holders to top civil servants (excluding most rank and file) and grassroots, the PAP is about insatiable greed. Ordinary Singaporeans will continue to suffer because the PAP has only been able to entice the greedy to ‘serve’. Greed is so entrenched in the PAP that Singaporeans’ well-being now depends on the removal of the greedy PAP from our government.
(Source: Philip Ang)

6) Right now, [Singapore is] a haven for mega-rich tax evaders, cold-minded, calculative opportunists and those of the “greed is good” school of thought.
(Source: Yahoo)

7) “Uniquely Singapore: Honest greed of the PAP Government.”
(Source: ex Chersonesus Aurea)

8) A local entrepreneur told an audience of 500 pre-university students: “Greed is not evil. Greed oils the wheels of commerce. Greed gives you the will and motivation to succeed.”
(Source: ST, June 1993)

9) The PAP [is] seen as a greedy government.
(Source: Debating Singapore, Pg-52)

10) The NKF fiasco [is] about greed and power. It is about the idea that the political elite must be paid top dollar — no matter how obscene those amounts are and regardless of who suffers.
(Source: Dr. Chee Soon Juan)

+ + +

6. Anger

Definition: Inordinate feelings of hatred and anger. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and violence.

1) [The Catherine Lim affair points] out the potential of a strategy of assuming the feminine role deliberately. . .to make a strongly argued point without incurring the state’s full-blown violence.
(Source: Kenneth Paul Tan)

2) In parliament, Goh Chok Tong described Catherine 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.” Goh raged against Lim, employing a battery of [violent metaphors] to reinforce his point.
(Source: Kenneth Paul Tan)

3) In LEE’S LAW: How Singapore Crushes Dissent, Lydgate demonstrates that the misuse of democratic power can be as brutal and suppressive as a dictatorship.
(Source: Chris Lydgate)

4) As an incentive for voters to support the ruling party, the PAP tied votes directly to the eligibility for Housing Development Board (HDB) estate upgrading plans. As then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong warned, “You vote for the other side, that means you reject the programmes of the PAP candidate.”
(Source: Terence Chong, 2009)

5) In 2015, Jason ‘Cookie’ Tan, believed to be a grassroots leader at Telok Blangah, made a physical and sexual online threat directed at 16-year old Amos Yee.
(Source: The Online Citizen)

6) “Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac. . .anyone who takes me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters.” — LKY
(Source: Malay Mail Online)

7) In 1989, journalist Dennis Bloodworth described Lee Kuan Yew as “bloody-minded and ruthless with his adversaries. He stomps them into the ground.”
(Source: Malay Mail Online)

8) In 2011, MM Lee Kuan Yew warned Aljunied voters they would have to live and “repent” for the next five years if they voted in the Workers’ Party (WP) team at Aljunied GRC.
(Source: Yahoo)

9) “I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy.” — LKY on JBJ
(Source: Devan Nair)

10) “But if you are a troublemaker. . .it’s our job to politically destroy you.” — LKY
(Source: BBC, The Diplomat)

+ + +

7. Pride

Definition: Believing that one is essentially better than others; failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others.

1) One common form of attack by the [PAP] ruling party is to bring libel suits against critics, putting them on the defensive and contributing to a culture of self-censorship. [One] of Lee’s young questioners said the tactic “gives the impression that the PAP is arrogant and even a bully.” (Source: NYT)

2) “The ruling party is taking Singapore down the route to North Korea where only homage and tributes are allowed to be expressed to the Great Leader.” — Tan Wah Piow (on Lèse-majesté Singapore style)
(Source: The Online Citizen)

3) It shows the arrogance of the PAP leaders in wanting to assert their political dominance in Parliament to the exclusion of the opposition. . .is this not a mockery of democracy?
(Source: Singapore Recalcitrant)

4) “Do you want 3 meals in a hawker centre, food court or restaurant?” — Vivian Balakrishnan (when queried on the issue of public assistance)
(Source: The Online Citizen)

5) It is not simply arrogance when the PAP claims that poverty does not exist in Singapore or blames poverty on the individual’s laziness or misfortune. Its strategy of stigmatising poverty absolves the Government of any obligation.
(Source: SDP)

6) “There is a particular brand of Singapore elite arrogance creeping in. Some civil servants behave like they have a mandate from the emperor. We think we are little Lee Kuan Yews.” — Ngiam Tong Dow
(Source: Constructing Singapore, A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy)

7) “. . .the extremely snobbish mindset among the rich and powerful elites (who can forget the brash youth who once said “Get out of my elitist uncaring face”?).”
(Source: Jentrified Citizen)

8) “If you don’t include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society. . .So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That’s a problem.”
— LKY at National Day Rally, 1983
(Source: Guardian, SDP)

9) “I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP.”
— LKY (Source: Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy)

10) “I never killed [my political opponents]. I never destroyed them. Politically, they destroyed themselves.” — LKY
(Source: NYT)

11) “Supposing I’m now 21, 22, what would I do? I would not be absorbed in wanting to change life in Singapore. I’m not responsible for Singapore. . .Why should I go and undertake this job and spend my whole life pushing this for a lot of people for whom nothing is good enough? I will have a fall-back position, which many are doing — have a house in Perth or Vancouver or Sydney, or an apartment in London, in case I need some place suddenly, and think about whether I go on to America.” — Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997
(Source: LKY)

12) “We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.” — LKY
(Source: Salon)

+ + +

End Notes:

1) In almost every list, pride is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. (Wiki)

2) “Pride goeth before a fall.” (Christian; Buddhist; Islam; Hinduism; Confucius; Taoism)

+ + +

And an image from Demon-Cratic (“where the devils wear white…”):


Book Review: Dare to Change


The dedication of Dare to Change is a memorable one:

“Dedicated to: all the political detainees who struggled for democracy and all Singaporeans who long for openness, humanness, and justice for our nation.”

Dare to Change is Dr. Chee’s first book (published in 1994). Do not be fooled by the book’s slim size — the content is possibly more relevant than ever, and would still be eye-opening to people who are not familiar or conscious of Singapore’s political system and situation.

Over the course of seven clear and concise chapters, the reader is given a substantial evaluation of the PAP government’s authoritarian policies on the nation.

The main message of the book is apparent from beginning to end: that change is imperative if Singaporeans are to be allowed to “lead their own lives” in order to achieve a higher “quality of life.”

In the first chapter, Dr. Chee writes that society would be more robust if the Government did not compartmentalise and pigeon-hole everyone into its grand scheme of things. He also makes the argument for a country needing a society that is “courageous in its participation of the nation’s politics,” if that country is to be stable and successful in the long run.

In the next chapter, Dr. Chee puts forth the notion that the biggest fear of the PAP could be the “thought of having to share political power with other parties,” as well as having “non-political organisations form a proper check and balance system.” He writes that “if the control of power is all that the ruling party cares about, Singapore is in for a very unpleasant journey into the future.” Fast forward a couple of decades since the book was first written — has the journey been more pleasant or unpleasant, with socioeconomic forces such as rising inequality, stagnating wages, and a growing foreign population?

Two chapters are dedicated to the economy and distribution of wealth and resources. Dr. Chee mentions that funds for public welfare in 1994 amounted to about 1% of total government expenditure compared to an international average of 30%. He also points out that the Prime Minister of Singapore gave himself a monthly salary of $96,000 at the time, while the government carefully studied whether a man who was unable to look after himself deserved $150 a month.

The closing chapters give a comprehensive overview to major violations to Press Freedom and the Rule of Law. The local press is described as having been “reduced to a mere mouthpiece for the government,” with a note that totalitarian and dictatorial regimes have long used censorship and the restriction of information to “subjugate their people.” Dr. Chee notes the role of the ISD in the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy, and points out that physical abuse and torture “cannot be used by leaders to justify ends” in a society which claims to “have a sense of civility and decency.”

Dare to Change does not strike me as being written by a “dud” or “near psychopath” (to mention a couple of colorful adjectives Lee Kuan Yew reserved for Dr. Chee Soon Juan). The content reflects common sense logic throughout. A list of alternative solutions are presented at the end of the book along with the rationale on how these changes are beneficial to the country (this is the inspiring “appendix” section at the back of the book, which is like an ultra-summarised version of the book’s contents).

The book ends with the underlying hope and motivation to create more openness and progress in Singapore in the long-term. This gently reminds the reader of a quote which features at the start of the book:

“We cannot resist change.”
— Goh Chok Tong, 1994
(Prime Minister, Singapore, 1990-2004)

* * *


DR. CHEE SOON JUAN is a politician and political activist from Singapore. He is currently the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, Dr Chee has been arrested and jailed more than a dozen times for his political activities, mainly for repeatedly breaking Singapore’s laws requiring organizers to obtain a police permit before staging political demonstrations or making public speeches on political issues.

CSJ Online: Website | Facebook (CSJ) | Facebook (SDP)

* * *

More Information on Dare to Change:

Amazon | NLB | SDP | Excerpts

Excerpts from “Dare to Change”


Excerpts from “Dare to Change”

by Chee Soon Juan (1994)

Link: Amazon | NLB | SDP

* * *

Excerpts from Book:

1. There is no guarantee that the same Government that has led Singapore into prosperity cannot become corrupt and ineffective in future. . .if Singaporeans continue to behave in an uninterested manner, the tendency for the Government to abuse its power will become greater. (Pg-15)

2. An overpowering state-elite with a subjugated mass has proven time and again to be the worst formula for a country’s long-term prosperity. (Pg-25)

3. Singaporeans are constantly told how to behave in a certain manner. . .any one who dares to challenge the authority is quickly labelled as “bad” and discredited. (Pg-32)

4. Perhaps the closest definition [of “Asian democracy”] is the one provided by the PAP itself: a political system consisting of one dominant party and several small fringe parties with no turnover in the government. (Pg-39)

5. What do we make of the notion that there should be no change in the Government of Singapore? The frighteningly curious thing is that shouldn’t the citizens be the ones to determine this instead of the PAP? If this premise of no turnover in government is accepted it would logically follow that the PAP is legitimate in using every means, constitutional or otherwise, to stop its political opponents. (Pg-40)

6. It would make much sense for [opposition] camps to pool their resources together with the ultimate and overriding objective to entrench the Opposition in Singaporean politics. (Pg-49)

7. The Prime Minister of Singapore gives himself a salary of $96,000 a month. . .meanwhile, the PM studies carefully whether a man who is unable to look after himself deserves $150 a month. (Pg-74)

8. Of late, the Government has been strongly advocating Confucianist values. Embedded in the teachings of Confucius is respect and care for our elderly. However, judging from present policies and actions, it is clear that the Government has no intention on practising the sage’s preachings. (Pg-78)

9. [Singapore Inc.]: The PAP runs the country like a corporation with the Party leaders as employers and the citizens as its employees. (Pg-90)

10. In 1992, a study by business professor Alwyn Young from the MIT compared Hong Kong’s economy with that of Singapore’s. He showed that while Hong Kong got richer by becoming more efficient in its use of its labour, capital, and technology, Singapore became richer by taking more and more money from its citizens through taxes and forced savings. (Pg-97)

11. At a time when the nation requires individuals of innovation and creativity to help it stay ahead in an increasingly competitive world, the PAP’s heavy handed approach and tight control in governing the country produces a generation of people who are averse to risk-taking. (Pg-105)

12. David Marshall, Singapore’s former ambassador to France, described Singaporean journalists as “running dogs” and “poor prostitutes” of the Government. (Pg-109)

13. It is dangerous for any government to control the circulation of information within a country. . .totalitarian and dictatorial regimes have long used this tool to subjugate their people. (Pg-116)

14. In a society which claims to have a sense of civility and decency, physical abuse and torture cannot be used by its leaders to justify its ends. . .Every citizen of this country is born with a set of rights which cannot be removed at the whim of the Government. (Pg-138)

15. “I think what prevents Singapore from being a home to people is the lack of freedom of speech. Think about it this way. What is the difference between living in a hotel and living in a home?”
— Dr David Chan / NUS (Pg-139)

Source: “Dare to Change,” by Chee Soon Juan (1994)

* * *


DR. CHEE SOON JUAN is a politician and political activist from Singapore. He is currently the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Recognised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, Dr Chee has been arrested and jailed more than a dozen times for his political activities, mainly for repeatedly breaking Singapore’s laws requiring organizers to obtain a police permit before staging political demonstrations or making public speeches on political issues.

CSJ Online: Website | Facebook (CSJ) | Facebook (SDP)

* * *

More Information on Dare to Change:

Amazon | NLB | SDP | Review