Ministers and Spouses


As netizens say: “Marry-tocracy!”

Thanks to some industrious netizens for help with this list. Links below for verification.


// UPDATE (8 Sept 2015):

Thanks to a reader for submitting the following tip (Ng Chee Khern and spouse). Will move this to ‘other relatives‘ post soon (since Ng Chee Khern technically isn’t a minister).


Perm-Sec (Defence Development) Ng Chee Khern’s wife is Elaine Ng (nee Neo Poh Choo). This is mentioned in Page 16 of this PDF document and in The Straits Times (2009).

Elaine Ng started out in the public service as a research analyst in the Defence Ministry. She became the CEO of the National Library Board (NLB) in 2011.

In 2014, she admitted she “did not expect the matter to blow up so much” (re: the NLB’s banning of three gay penguin children’s books).

As of July 2015, the police are investigating possible wrongdoings in relation to procurement at the NLB after the Auditor-General’s Office (AGO) flagged lapses in its annual report. NLB spent about S$7.3 million in FY2012/13 to acquire and maintain its e-resources collection.

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“Even if he wants to [disagree with LHL on ministers’ salaries], his wife will stop him. When the salary is so high, which minister dares to leave?”

— Ngiam Tong Dow (2013)



1. PM Lee Hsien Loong married Ho Ching in 1985. Ho Ching’s dealmaking ambitions span the globe; she started her career as an Engineer with the Ministry of Defence of Singapore in 1976.

2. Lee Hsien Yang is the brother of Lee Hsien Loong. Lee Hsien Yang is married to Lim Suet Fern. Ms. Lim is Singapore’s Managing Partner for Morgan Lewis law firm.

3. Tharman Shanmugaratnam is married to lawyer Jane Yumiko Ittogi. Ms. Ittogi is a partner at Shook Lin & Bok and board chairman of the Singapore Art Museum.


4. Teo Chee Hean is married to Chew Poh Yim. A 2008 press release stated that Chew Poh Yim was NTUC FairPrice’s Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications and General Manager of NTUC FairPrice Foundation. Chew Poh Yim is a SingHealth board trustee (2009, 2013; current).

5. Goh Chok Tong is married to Tan Choo Leng, who was a former patron of the National Kidney Foundation.

6. Ong Ye Kung (Sembawang GRC candidate; 2015) is married to Diana Kuik Sin Leng. Mr. Ong was a former top civil servant and Principal Private Secretary to PM Lee Hsien Loong.


Gripes over burst bathroom water pipes in DBSS flats at Centrale 8 (by Sim Lian). Source: ST

Ong’s wife, Diana Kuik Sin Leng, is the executive director of Sim Lian (owned by the Kuik family). Sim Lian has undertaken over S$2 billion worth of contracts, including public projects for the Housing Development Board (HDB), DBSS flats, and other government projects.

It is interesting to note that the Government did not consider the potential conflict of interests when it invited a Sim Lian board director to also sit on the board of HDB.

7. Sim Ann (MP, Minister of State, former assistant director at Ministry of Health and Ministry of Home Affairs, and former director of National Population Secretariat) is married to Dr. Mok Ying Jang, Group Director of Corp Services at Health Sciences Authority (a statutory board of the Singapore Ministry of Health).

PM Lee Hsien Loong has known Sim Ann’s mother for 30 years.

A forum post has some details on Sim Ann’s grandfather being executed in the People’s Republic of China for treason. Will update this section if there’s more info on this in future.

The archive is still available in the China national archive.

Now Sim Ann, his granddaughter, is selling out Singaporeans — it should not be a surprise as it seems treason runs in their family blood line.

Sim Ann’s sister is Sim Min, 34, who was awarded a Monetary Authority of Singapore scholarship. Her brother Sim Kai, 31, is also a President’s Scholar.

Daughter of executed Prisoner PRC ID number (XD4429372J) – Choo Lian Liang
Father – Sim Hock Kee

This is a family of nation betrayers.

Source: Helium

8. Former MP Dr. Seet Ai Mee was married to Dr. Seet Lip Chai for almost 30 years. Dr. Seet Lip Chai was the former chief medical officer of the Singapore Armed Forces Medical Corps.



9. Dr. Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Defence, is married to Prof. Ivy Lim Swee Lian, CEO of Singhealth.

* Reader Tip: Something interesting about Ng Eng Hen. He joined PAP in 2001. In 2002, he was appointed as minister of state for 2 ministries. In 2004, he was promoted to full minister. That was also the year his wife, Ivy Lim, was promoted to CEO of KKH.

10. Grace Fu is married to technopreneur Ivan Lee Boon Hong.

11. Heng Swee Keat is married to Chang Hwee Nee. Mr. Heng was Principal Private Secretary to SM Lee Kuan Yew from 1997 to 2000, a Director of SingTel Optus, and a Director of Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. from July 4, 2003 to July 30, 2010. Ms. Chang, a President Scholar, is the former Deputy Secretary (Policy) of Ministry of Education and a member of various public institutions and organisations such as A*STAR Board.

12. Josephine Teo née Yeo Li Min is married to Teo Eng Cheong, former AVA board member and CEO of International Enterprise Singapore (a government agency).

13. Tin Pei Ling is married to Ng How Yue. Mr. Ng was former Principal Private Secretary to PM Lee Hsien Loong. Tin Pei Ling was a former senior associate at Ernst & Young.

14. Desmond Choo is married to civil servant Pamela Lee. In a 2012 PAP article, Desmond Choo mentions that Pamela Lee was in the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

This 2013 document lists Pamela Lee as the “Deputy Director” of the MOM (Workplace Policy and Strategy  Division).


“Pamela Lee HuiYing,” PSC Scholar (Overseas Merit Scholarship; Cambridge University / Economics). Source:

This document says that “Pamela Lee HuiYing” was a PSC Scholar (2002), who was awarded an Overseas Merit Scholarship to Cambridge University to study Economics. This matches with Pamela Lee’s LinkedIn Profile (link and screenshot). The LinkedIn profile states that Pamela Lee has been Deputy Director of the MOM since 2011, and that she is an alumnus of Raffles Girls’ and Hwa Chong Junior College.

* TO BE VERIFIED: That this “Pamela Lee” is the spouse of Desmond Choo. Personally, I’m 90% sure it is the right Pamela Lee.

15. Dr. Aline Wong is married to Prof. John Wong. Dr. Aline Wong was elected Member of Parliament at four successive General Elections. Photo of the Wong’s from Singapore Tatler.

16. Hri Kumar Nair is married to Dilys Boey. Dilys Boey was Tin Pei Ling’s former boss at Ernst & Young.

Catherine Lim, Excerpts


Dr. Catherine Lim wrote “A Great Affective Divide” 21 years ago, a sharp and eloquent critique of the PAP ruling party.

If only leaders had heeded her advice.

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Excerpts from Selection of Articles by Catherine Lim

Excerpts #1:

1) It is no secret that while the PAP Government has inspired in the people much respect for its efficiency and much gratitude for the good life as a result of this efficiency, there is very little in the way of affectionate regard.

2) While the PAP ideology remains the same, the people have not. Higher education, a more affluent lifestyle and exposure to the values of the western societies, have created a new generation that is not satisfied with the quantitative paradigm but looks beyond it to a larger qualitative one that most certainly includes matters of the heart, soul and spirit.

3) The absence of this affective dimension in the PAP framework is what has alienated the people from their leaders. It is easily seen that the main criticisms levelled against the PAP point to a style deficient in human sensitivity and feeling – “dictatorial,” “arrogant,” “impatient,” “unforgiving,” “vindictive.”

4) In other countries, political parties come and go, but the country remains the rallying point for the people’s feelings. [In] Singapore, the Government has become synonymous with the country. Indeed, Singapore is often seen as the creation of the PAP, made to its image and likeness. Hence, dislike of the PAP, even though it does not translate into dislike of Singapore, effectively blocks out any spontaneous outpouring of patriotic emotion. The best evidence is in the attitude towards the national flag. Singaporeans continue to be reluctant to put it up in their homes on National Day for fear of being thought PAP supporters and sycophants.

5) If loyalty towards the country is blocked, it has to be directed elsewhere. In Singapore, it is directed at the good life which the country has come to represent. It has been wryly described as the new religion of “moneytheism.”

Source: A Great Affective Divide,” by Catherine Lim (1994)

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Excerpts #2:

1) The fear in Singapore is a special, almost unique kind, for it is self-imposed. Its most obvious form is self-censorship.

Source: A Climate Of Fear In Our Society?,” by Catherine Lim (2010)

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Excerpts #3:

1) The PAP is incapable of reinventing itself.

2) Reinvention would require the opening up of one crucial area that the government is determined to have tight control over. This is the area of political liberties — open debate, criticism, independence of the media, public assembly, street demonstrations for the cause, all of which are taken for granted in practising democracies.

3) Pointing out the case of the 16 political detainees who called upon the government in September last year to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the allegations said against them, Lim noted that the petition was promptly dismissed and no further action was taken.

“I thought that the government had missed a fantastic opportunity to show Singaporeans that it had the honesty and courage to face up its past excesses or to take responsibility for them,” said Lim.

Source:Yahoo News: “PAP incapable of reinventing itself: Catherine Lim” (2012)

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Excerpt #4:

You transformed little, obscure, resource-poor Singapore into one of the most successful economies in the world. If today Singapore is described in breathless superlatives—‘best’, ‘richest’, ‘cleanest’, ‘brightest’—it is all because of you.

If only you had done so without so much human cost. If only the high ranking of Singapore in international surveys on economic development were matched by a similar ranking in surveys on human rights.

Source: If Only—To The Memory Of Lee Kuan Yew (1923–2015)

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Excerpts #5:

1) The exuberance, boldness and defiance of the young voters, operating in the new media world of instant, dazzling communication, could be infectious enough to have an unstoppable snowball effect, engulfing other groups of voters, including even those normally sympathetic towards the PAP.

2) [Political] reform there must be. For only then can Singapore come into its own, only then can it claim to be a successful society in every sense of the word, and take a proud place among other societies in the world.

Source: My best hope lies in the young Singaporeans (2012)

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Excerpts #6:

1) We are in the midst of a crisis where the people no longer trust their government, and the government no longer cares about regaining their trust.

2) There are [clear] signs that the present situation has reached crisis proportions, that it is not just an affective divide, not just an emotional estrangement between your PAP leadership and the people. How did this crisis arise in the first place? With utmost respect, Sir, I must point out that it is ultimately your inability or unwillingness to listen to the people.

3) While you see yourself as simply going by the rules, Singaporeans see you as the PAP juggernaut ready to mow down the little people in its path.your PAP leadership and the people.

4) . . .even if it meant an apology and the need to make amends, that would have been a gesture large and empathetic enough, to win over even the most vocal critics. It would certainly have begun the process of creating, for the first time in the history of the PAP government-people relationship, a nexus of understanding and reciprocity.

5) In the absence of the people’s trust, effective government is virtually impossible, as every leader knows.

Source: An Open Letter to the Prime Minister (2014)

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Snapshot with Catherine Lim (2015)

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

Catherine Online: Website | Wikipedia | Interview | Kenneth Paul Tan on Catherine Lim

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More Info:

1) Catherine Lim: Political Commentaries

2) Catherine Lim: Newspaper Features

3) On Respect and Elitism (FB Comment, by Neo Swee Lin)

4) On PM LHL’s lack of sincerity and humility (100+ likes in 2 hours / FB Comment, by Edrei Valath)

5) Funny Comment by an ardent admirer of Catherine Lim


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


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

by Thum Ping Tjin (2013)

PDF Link to Journal Article:

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

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

Extracts from Article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDF Download:

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

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

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

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


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

by Kenneth Paul Tan (2009)

PDF Link to Journal Article:

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

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

Extracts from Article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDF Download:

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

Kenneth Online: Facebook | | LKYSPP | Interview


Snapshot with Catherine Lim (2015)

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

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

Hong Lysa / Operation Coldstore


I saw a picture of Dr. Hong Lysa the other day, which reminded me of one of LKY’s quotes:

On his iron-fisted governing style:

“Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no way you can govern a Chinese society.”

“If you are a troublemaker… it’s our job to politically destroy you… 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.”

Source: The Guardian

This is a quote from a 2014 blog post by Dr. Hong:

“That Operation Coldstore was necessary for national security is at the very heart of the PAP myth; it is also the Party’s original sin.”

Source: Dr. Hong Lysa / mini myna

Dr. Hong Lysa is one of the editors of The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore, published in 2014.

I have yet to make the following clenched fist gesture in my lifetime during a speech or conversation. Maybe when I’m a bit older…


Left LKY image from The Age | Top LKY image from Vulcan Post | Dr. Hong Lysa image from The Online Citizen

I read rather slowly (but thoroughly) these days. I have read a few essays in the book so far. I am grateful for the historical and factual accounts that provide a record of what happened during this dark chapter of Singapore’s political history, written from the perspective of individuals who were directly involved / detained / arrested.

I might make another quick post soon featuring an interesting snippet from one of the essays in the book (update: here).

I. More Information:

1) Book launch : 50 Years of Operation Coldstore (Singapore Rebel)

2) S’pore’s 50th anniversary – time to have open dialogue on Operation Coldstore (TOC)

3) They do say the darnest things: What a to-do about Operation Coldstore (Dr. Hong Lysa)

4) Operation Coldstore book (Buy @ Select Books)

5) Operation Coldstore book (Buy @ Kinokuniya)

II. Dr. Hong Lysa (short bio from Operation Coldstore book):

Hong Lysa, formerly with the History Department, National University of Singapore, continues with her research interests independently. She is coauthor of The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and its Pasts (2008). She is a founding member of the e-journal s/pores: new directions in Singapore studies ( and comments on when matters relating to history are raised in the local press.

Separating Myths from Reality


* Thanks to FMT for featuring this as their highlight story.

During this time of mass sympathising, I think it is important to keep certain things in perspective.


1. Both Sides of the Historical Narrative

I’ll preface this with a recent comment I saw on Facebook:

“Dear friends, it is important for all of us to hear all sides of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy. ‪#LKY‬ has done many things right but history will record both sides of the narratives.”
(– Hani Mohamed, founder/CEO of Alertist)

I downloaded The Straits Times’ special 24-page edition to mark the life of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I have also read several local as well as foreign publications praising LKY’s reign, chiefly for leading the country from a “third world” state to one of economic prosperity.

I noticed one comment on a Politico article which brings some objectivity into remembering LKY’s legacy (comment edited for grammar):

“The worst and inhumane DISRESPECT for anyone who has passed away, is to simply laud only the good things, without noting also the bad things in their lives, and framing all of these in a proper context fitting for this person as a HUMAN BEING, however larger-than-life this person may be. History is for Objective Balance!”
(– Johnathan Li)

It comes as no surprise that a lot of the details from the darker side of Singapore’s history have been left out of the eulogies for LKY.

For instance, in Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, T.J.S. George writes that “only the PAP possessed weapons with which to fight battles for the people’s minds.” LKY’s techniques in the early 1960s were described as then chairman of the Barisan as “Legal fixing.” (Perhaps that is where PM Lee Hsien Loong got the term “fixing the opposition” from.)

In that same book, LKY is described as applying “the free employment of authoritarian methods to eliminate all opposition,” because in his mind, no one else in Singapore “could be right.” What he achieved was a “one-man party and a one-party state.” His old comrade-in-arms, Lim Chin Siong, was denied trial or right of appeal and sent to Changi jail for seven years, of which some time was spent in solitary confinement.

Political insiders in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur claimed that “Lim was fed drugs which induced depression and self-destructive tendencies” (also mentioned in an Amnesty Report and a political detainee’s account). Let us also not forget Dr. Chia Thye Poh, detained for 32 years and left with poor health, Former Solicitor General Francis Seow, Former Magistrate JB Jeyaretnam, Tang Liang Hong, Tan Wah Piow, Chee Soon Juan, Teo Soh Lung, Dr. Poh Soo Kai, Dr. Lim Hock Siew, and countless others who were repeatedly imprisoned and/or bankrupted for being perceived as a real threat to the PAP’s hold on power.

Even with this knowledge, I found myself semi-enthralled by the halo effect certain mainstream media outlets have granted LKY, by portraying him in a saviour-of-Singapore, saint-like manner.

The thing that snapped me out of my enthrallment were presentations about LKY’s loving and caring side as a father and husband. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a model father and husband, I find it outrageous that this type of portrayal spares no thought for the political detainees/exiles — who had been LKY’s fellow Singaporean citizens — whose entire lives and ties with their family and homeland were majorly disrupted because of one man’s ruthless beliefs and access to state apparatus.


LKY supporters justify his actions by saying that everything he did was for Singapore’s survival, to take it from a “third world to first world country.” He was also a shrewd, clever and pragmatic politician who had to (by his own words) do what was correct.

T.J.S. George adds that LKY “seemed convinced from the outset that anyone who opposed him was an enemy of Singapore,” so in that sense, it can be viewed that LKY was “protecting the country” from people he viewed as enemies.

2. For Whose Survival?

LKY may have viewed himself as The Right Man for the job, but that doesn’t mean it was fair to

1) use the law to incarcerate and intimidate opponents because he could, and

2) that it’s correct to explain away such actions as “simply something that had to be done” to ensure the future “success” of Singapore.

How can it be guaranteed that any of these political opponents would have been political failures, when none of them were given a chance to prove their mettle and implement their own vision? Depending on which side you’re on, it wouldn’t be wrong to categorise such actions as cruel, underhanded, and a significant cost to human rights.

Some people might say that concepts like democracy, human rights, and fair play, are too “idealistic” for the arena of politics. Real life just doesn’t work that way, so we, the people, have to just live with it.

The more I study LKY’s (and by extension, the PAP’s) behaviour and actions, the more it seems like certain things were implemented to ensure “the PAP’s survival.” Would a government who truly cares about its citizens have such an aggressive foreign talent policy?

Kenneth Paul Tan, the vice dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said:

“It cannot be just the government leading the way forward. The people have to be as much a part of this, so a new social contract can be forged which can be legitimate to all.”

If one reads between the lines, one could even infer that the current social contract is not “legitimate to all.”

The Straits Times is widely known by discerning Singaporeans as a government mouthpiece.

Presenting a one-sided view of history is dangerous, because if we have knowledge of some of LKY’s past actions and choose to justify those cruel actions as “necessary,” what type of effect does this kind of outlook and behaviour have on the rest of The Cabinet and Government of Singapore, and further down the line, on the mass populace?

It brings to mind Chris Ho’s recent post about the shameless brazenness of the government and how this is creating a more aggressive, callous society at the ground level.

It also brings to mind Alfian Sa’at’s recent poem, on “the other side of the news” that isn’t reported during this time of national mourning.

It breeds an outlook that is desensitised and inhumane — never mind if your fellowmen are suffering, never mind if they are poor, never mind if they can’t seem to get their act together and get ahead in life financially. It’s their fault, life is nothing but a rat race, and “economic prosperity” justifies everything at the end of the day.

It’s up to each of us to decide what matters most at the end of the day, whether “the end justifies all means” is the right type of outlook to take, and whether a lack of compassion in the name of power and economic success are values we aspire to uphold.

Speaking of “economic success,” we should also ask ourselves who chiefly benefits from this much-lauded national prosperity.

3. Separating Myths from Reality

Propaganda can be defined as:

Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. (– Google)

We elect governments officials whom we are made to believe can be trusted in being capable, “incorruptible,” and of integrity to handle the country’s affairs. No one in their right mind would elect an elite force to spread lies, half-truths, and/or mismanage funds while enriching themselves and their families.

It is up to each of us to make a collective, sustained effort to counter propaganda, so that government accountability is not reduced to a piece of fiction or a romantic pipe-dream.

I hope discerning individuals will be able to see through some of these myths that have been built up and propagated over decades, not because we want to “attack” a person or be “haters,” but because of the importance of being able to separate myths from reality. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to have an accurate version of history, which provides us with a real connection to a reliable, honest past.

If we don’t ask tough questions, we risk being brainwashed by state-supervised mainstream media propaganda. Furthermore, we risk being left in a permanently comatose and brain-DEAD state, from decades of propaganda which tells us what is the right story to accept — never mind if it’s really real or not.

Knowledge and awareness aid a society in moving forward. Learning from past errors or wrong-doings prevents the same things from happening again in future or being indefinitely prolonged.

How else could we ever be sure we are progressing in the right direction, if we can’t even tell if we’re standing on a secure enough foundation?

List of Detainees, Singapore


According to Mr. Teo Chee Hean, a total of 2,460 arrests were made from 1959 to 1990, of which 1,045 persons were detained under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (1959-1963) and Internal Security Act (1963-1990).

Mr. Teo also added that “many of these individuals and their families have put the past behind them and carried on with their lives over the past several decades.”

Screenshot of Webpage (20 March 2015):


Link: Ministry of Home Affairs

Table 14.1 (page 432) of The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore contains a list of 1,190 names of political detainees in Singapore from 1950-2013.


Edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa; 2013

I have added some pictures of the list here — for the full list, do check out the book (and some other links at the bottom of this post). You can also download a PDF with the list (PDF: List of Political Detainees in Singapore, 1950 – 2013).


Political Detainees in Singapore, 1950-2013 (Numbers 1 to 48); from “The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore (pub. 2013)”


Political Detainees in Singapore, 1950-2013 (Numbers 1181 to 1190); from “The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore (pub. 2013)”

On Page 489 of the book, historian Hong Lysa writes:

“We would thus want to emphasise a simple fact: the government has a duty to make public the names of the political detainees and information about their detention. The people have a right to know!” (– Hong Lysa)

Contrary to Mr. Teo’s statements in the second paragraph, Dr. Poh Soo Kai (Assistant Secretary-General of Barisan Sosialis; imprisoned twice under the ISA for a total of 17 years by Singapore’s PAP government; called LKY a “political pimp” in 1963) said in 2014:

“I have rebutted the High Commissioner’s first response of 18 December 2014. With reference to his second response of 22 January 2015, it would be flogging a dead horse no less for me to reply to his attempt at a ‘holistic’ reading of the archives. Quite clearly he is happy to display his understanding of how he uses historical documents and makes sense (or non-sense) of them.

The High Commissioner would do well to monitor debates in Singapore. Neutral third parties have emerged, with no stakes in the 1963 events except for the truth. Recent articles carried in “The Online Citizen” and “TR Emeritus” continuing series (now 7 parts) have effectively demolished each and every piece of his so-called documentary evidence by simply going through the sources he cited, and showing what they actually said.

I have every confidence that the aspiration for decency and humanity in ordinary Singaporeans will prevail and we will build a society based on solidarity and respect for human rights and democracy. It has been too long overdue!”
(– Dr. Poh Soo Kai)

A Yale-NUS student had this to say in Feb 2015:


[Full article at TR Emeritus]

“The rule of law in Singapore is a mockery, because the ISA, despite all the checks and balances, still allows for the detention of political opponents and social activists without an open trial. . .

[Ho Kwon Ping] does not speak for my generation today.

We will continue to speak out bravely against injustice and the ISA. We won’t forget the sacrifices of leaders and activists in the past. Most importantly, we won’t back down without a fight. Even Malaysia has recently abolished its own ISA. We will work for the day when Singapore abolishes this outdated and brutal piece of colonial history.”
(– Denny, Yale-NUS student)

During an event back in 2012, where over 400 people gathered to mark the 25th anniversary of ISA arrests in 1987-1988:


“People in Singapore are getting concerned [about] a lot of issues that matter to them, and are willing to stand and speak up for these issues…I think we will have a better civil society who will engage the government on issues that will matter to them.”
(– MARUAH president Braema Mathi)

“The turnout is beyond my expectations. I think the young people are the most important in the crowd. The younger ones may not know (about what happened).”
(– Teo Soh Lung, one of the 24 who had been detained)

A modest collection of links is listed below for more information on these (dark) chapters in Singapore’s political history.

Thanks to TR Emeritus reader, Mr. Chong Wen Wah, and TR Emeritus readers’ comments on a TRE post about Ms. Loh Meow Gong, which prompted me to compile some of the info here.

* * *

More Information:

1. Buy the Book: Operation Coldstore (Select Books | Kinokuniya | MPH)
2. Editors of the book (Dr. Poh Soo Kai | Tan Kok Fang | Dr. Hong Lysa)
3. Operation Coldstore (Wikipedia)
4. Operation Coldstore (Singapore Rebel)
5. S/pores (Community of Singapore ‘Home Scholars’)
6. “Which amounts to 80 arrests/year and 35 detentions/year, over a span of 30 years.” (TOC)
7. Function 8
8. That We May Dream Again
10. Reluctance to open official records discredits government’s rebuttal on ISA detainees
11. Detention without trial: Going beyond Coldstore? (Dr. Poh at TOC)
12. Conversation on FB post on political detainees (TR Emeritus)
13. PDF List of Political Detainees (PDF List: 950 – 2013)