Sunday, December 02, 2007

PAP and the Economic Imperative

Will local politics change?
In the end, it is the economics that will dictate

Loh Chee (Today 1st Dec 07)

THE year is 2030. Now, imagine a Singapore with no Group Representative Constituencies (GRC), no defamation suits, no one-dominant party and personality.
This is what the young people who attended a session three weeks ago with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan seem to want. And the youngest Minister in the Cabinet seems prepared for such a scenario.
"I'm not so obsessed with whether or not the PAP wins elections, what I am more interested in is the quality of candidates," said Dr Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, dismissing the suggestion that the People's Action Party (PAP) was fixated with one-party rule.
In fact, from a "purely national point of view", he felt that youth should even take up opposition politics if they do not want to join the PAP.
Responding to a comment on how the ruling party and the opposition trip over themselves in claiming credit for improvement works in opposition wards, the Minister also urged the youth to look beyond the political "wayang".
"The PAP plays games, the opposition plays games … while all these games go on, make sure nobody loses out.
"My point is not that we will not change. We will change but make sure that even as we change, that we understand the consequences … and are prepared," added Dr Balakrishnan, who reiterated that Singapore's political stability is a cornerstone of its success.
For a party that has forged a formidable reputation for the way it crushes political opponents, Dr Balakrishnan's words would get the optimist excited.
They would, at the very least, imply a tacit acceptance by the PAP that there is space for opposition politics.
Not so fast, said a political analyst, who applauded Dr Balakrishnan's "good statesmanship" in answering the way he did. But that is not the way the PAP "runs or plans things", she added.
"They play to win. If out of enlightened self-interest, the PAP changes the rules of the game then we have a whole new ball game," said the analyst.
Sceptics could even interpret Dr Balakrishan's answers as a clear slight on the quality of the opposition and how it would stay that way. And that if Singaporeans want more opposition in Parliament and more relaxed rules on public speaking, they have to be prepared for political instability and loss of foreign investments.
But the giveaway was this comment by Dr Balakrishnan: "Can we afford not to change? If the change is necessary for our survival or prosperity, then we must."
The political landscape is set for changes, if, and only if, the PAP Government sees their necessity in sustaining and promoting economic growth — not social progress.
Never mind if it means losing a few seats to the opposition as long as it serves the economic objectives. Never mind political diversity, it's the dollars and cents that matter.
But therein lies the conundrum. While economic and social objectives can be neatly compartmentalised in the early days of nation building, they become increasingly intertwined and untidy as a society matures.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, most Singaporeans had little choice but to stay and build up the Republic's economy.
Today, people uproot themselves to other countries when they disagree with Government policies or feel left out of the political process.
Which is why Singapore's political system has few options but to progress.
First, the playing field has to be level — a perception that is certainly lost on Singaporeans.
While politics is a dirty game everywhere, it has to appear to be fair and just.
The security sweeps — Operation Coldstore in 1963 and Operation Spectrum in the 1987 — against alleged communist movements had set back the two strongest opposition parties, the Barisan Socialis and the Workers Party, of the respective periods, albeit if it was an unintended outcome.
And while rules of the game apply equally to all, the opposition parties are still playing catch up while stuck in a vicious cycle: They cannot attract better candidates unless they make inroads into the government and vice versa.
While the elected presidency, in principle, guards against a rogue government by holding the key to the national reserves, hurdles must be put in place to prevent inept politicians from entering Parliament in the first place.
But such safeguards should be in the form of an independent media, strong civil society movement and Singaporeans' own critical thinking, not artificial barriers such as election deposits, the GRC system or the threat of defamation lawsuits.
While the GRC system was established with the stated intent of ensuring minority representation, it has inadvertently become an impediment not just for opposition parties but crucially, for aspiring independent politicians, who do not want to be tied down by the baggage of existing parties.
It has also deterred political competition by cutting off smaller political parties, while allowing larger ones to consolidate themselves.
In the 1984 elections (the last General Election before the GRC system was introduced), candidates from nine political parties and three independent candidates contested the polls.
In the 2006 GE, candidates contested under four party banners and there were zero independent candidates.
Given such statistics, it is not difficult to draw a link between these artificial hurdles and why fewer young Singaporeans are willing to enter politics — when their choice is limited to joining the PAP to have a more than half chance of winning.
By Dr Balakrishnan's own admission, "politics in 2030 cannot be politics in the 1960s".
"In 2030, if you are the Prime Minister, do you think you would have the same authority, overarching stature of someone like our Minister Mentor Lee (Kuan Yew)?" he added.
The days of personality-driven politics are long gone and future electoral battles would be about national policies as much as local politics. Opposition politicians banking on fiery rhetoric should be advised to back it up with sound policy alternatives.
The implications of a "collegiate" type of leadership, as Dr Balakrishnan put it, point to a more effective consultation process both within and without the government.
When no one person wields an inordinate amount of influence, diversity of views would flourish but it also makes it harder to push through policies — an argument that the PAP has made in support of one-party rule.
But while efficiency could be increasingly compromised, effectiveness need not. And that can only be ensured when there is a healthy process of political debate and consensus building, where opposing voices are satisfied that they have been heard even if the final decision goes against them.
The Government's aggressive drive for new citizens would pose political ramifications in time to come.
While these citizens would want to preserve the state of affairs that attracted them here in the first place, they are also the ones who would not be tied down by historical baggage when the situation turns for the worse.
In other words, in the event of a national crisis, new citizens would be the quickest to vote the government out, while Singapore-born voters bank their faith on the PAP's track record.
Which is why the PAP may find it worth its while to lose a few seats in the future — if only to keep an increasingly sophisticated electorate happy.

My comments:

The Economic Imperative


Loh Chee Kong has done all of us a favour by getting Dr.Balakrishnan to crystalise for us the government’s bottomline for political change.

If Balakrishnan is to be believed (and I do know him to be an honorable man- after all he is a medical doctor), and if he does indeed speak on behalf of the PAP’s stalwarts, then true political plurality may not be a pipe dream. And hopefully it may not be far away.

Economic imperative in Medicine

If we take the medical sphere as an example, the Ministry of Health has more or less removed barriers against advertisements for medical services. For many years, doctors could not even mention their specialties in newspaper interviews as this would be misconstrued as advertising which was deemed unprofessional. The thinking then was that if one was good, one’s reputation amongst peers would naturally attract referrals.

In recent years, doctors get the unwritten message that so long as an action helps Singapore become a medical hub, it would not be frowned upon (unless it is blatantly stupid or unethical). In other words, so long as the economic imperative is served, almost anything is possible.

Obsession with economic imperative

I have also heard that a certain elderly man is still as obsessed about Singapore’s economic survival as before. He still goes around scouting for talented Singaporeans to recruit into his fold. The aim again is the economic imperative. Somehow it is hard to imagine this elderly man saying as Balakrishnan has said, “"I'm not so obsessed with whether or not the PAP wins elections…” Maybe those close to this man should mention that Rousseau said, “If Sparta and Rome perished, what state can hope to endure forever?”

If Words not matched by Deeds = Hollow words?

Assuming that the whole leadership thinks like Balakrishnan ( just that some dare not speak as openly as he for reasons of self-preservation), there is a dis-connect between their words ( or intentions) and their deeds.

If opposition politics of the less boisterous sort, could in the long term be helpful from a “purely national point of view”, why use rules and laws to prevent the organization of seemingly innocuous activities such as the WP outdoor cycling event?

Ministers should know by now that they can talk all they want, but only when their actions match those words, these words will forever ring hollow.

Anyway, Loh Chee Kong, nice piece of journalism. We look forward to more from our journalists.


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Singapore's inflation rate- Worse to come?

Hi Friends,

Of late, we have had a slew of shocking news about inflation rates hitting 16-year highs and even political leaders confirming that this would peak at 5 per cent early 2008.

This comes as no surprise to any of us. External factors like the US $100 oil barrels coupled with recent GST hikes to 7% and increased ERP rates of up to $5 (third hike in 2007,no less), must inevitably translate to higher costs of doing business and hence higher prices.

The mismatch in the supply and demand of residential and commercial properties certainly did not help to keep rentals down!

What is worrying is that most of us see this as only the beginning of an unhealthy upward trend and are not as confident as our leaders that this can be managed as planned.

In the recent parliamentary debate, the people were advised to choose cheaper alternatives to minimise the impact of rising prices. That is almost like Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France during the French Revolution saying,” Let them eat cake” when told that the peasants did not have any more bread!

Uncontrolled inflation arouses the spectre of hyperinflation like that of inter-war Germany ( see here & here) in the 1920’s. A loaf of bread that cost 2 marks in 1920, cost 430,000,000,000 (ten zeroes) marks in 1923. In pubs, Germans found that their second beer cost twice as much as their first, as prices rose hourly. When paid three times a day, workers hurried with their wheelbarrows of ever-depreciating currency to spend at the grocery before prices rose further. Those social upheavals were just what Hitler needed to get elected into power.

I admit that my anxiety is slightly exaggerated, but it is real. As are the concerns of our lower income citizens, who must once bear the brunt of yet another financial burden.

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Singapore's tragedy in Cambodia

Hi Friends,

This is a sad weekend for Singapore, especially for the grieving families of our five fine Singaporean rowers.

The five,

Jeremy Goh, 24;
Stephen Loh, 31;
Reuben Kee, 23;
Poh Boon San, 27 and
Chee Wei Cheng, 20

are amongst Singapore's ablest and best and have died while representing their nation.

We share their loss.

Deepest sympathies also for the comrades of these five. The whole crew must have bonded as one during their intensive training and their sense of loss indescribable.

Life is short, Singapore.

Live it!

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Official: 5 Singaporean Bodies Found
(Associated Press 25.11.07)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- The bodies of five Singaporean men who went missing when their boat capsized after a holiday race were pulled out of a Cambodian river Sunday, officials said. A sixth body, that of a Cambodian rower, was also found.

The Singaporeans' bodies were spotted floating downstream from the accident site in the Tonle Sap river in the capital, Phnom Penh, said police officer Mom Sitha, a member of the 150-strong search party.

"The bodies of the five missing have all been discovered," Mom Sitha said.

Grieving relatives gathered Sunday at Phnom Penh's Calmette Hospital, where the bodies were being brought for autopsy.

Mom Sitha said the bodies were located at four different sites, from less than a mile to 2.5 miles south of where the five disappeared after their dragon boat capsized Friday.

There had been 22 Singaporeans on the boat, which had just completed the 1,640-yard course in the traditional Cambodian boat race festival.

The Cambodian rower drowned after his boat capsized Friday, said Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management. He did not elaborate.

Although there were no deaths last year, there have been a handful of fatalities previously associated with the race, which attracts a huge crowd of onlookers. Chea Koeun, a deputy director of the national committee that organizes the festival, said this year's number of deaths was the highest ever and included foreigners for the first time.

The accident occurred as the Singaporeans decided to continue rowing from the finish line to shore, according to Cambodian officials.

Nhim Vanda said the festival organizers had offered to tow to shore all the boats of foreign competitors after they completed the race. But he said the Singaporeans declined the offer, saying there was "no need because we still had the strength to row."

When their boat approached a pontoon serving as a pier, it hit swirling water and overturned, Nhim Vanda said. Police boats were able to rescue only 17 of them at the scene.

Singapore's navy sent a team of eight to assist Cambodian authorities in the search.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a message to his Singaporean counterpart, Lee Hsien Loong, "conveying his shock and sadness" over the accident, Singapore's Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

The Singaporeans were among eight teams from neighboring Southeast Asian countries that participated in the annual event. The accident occurred on the first of three days of racing.
Some 440 colorful dragon boats, mainly from across Cambodia, were racing to celebrate Cambodia's annual water festival, which marks the start of the rice harvesting season and the time of the year when the Tonle Sap river reverses its flow from north to south.

Five missing S'pore rowers feared dead
(Straits Times 25.11.07)

By Judith Tan, IN PHNOM PENH and Liaw Wy-Cin , IN SINGAPORE

WHEN the search for the five missing dragon boat racers in Cambodia resumes this morning, chances of finding them alive appear to be bleak.

It would have been about 40 hours since the boat carrying 22 Singapore dragon boat racers capsized in the river on Friday.

Singapore naval divers will be using sonar equipment to comb the Tonle Sap River near the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, together with local rescue workers.

According to eyewitnesses, survivors and race officials, the Singapore team was making its way back to the starting point, after the race, when the tragedy occurred.

Instead of waiting for a boat to tow them back, the team had decided to row towards shore themselves.

When they were close to shore, a wave hit them, causing the boat to collide with a pontoon and overturn. Team members were sucked under the pontoon. Seventeen racers surfaced and five did not.

The missing five are: Jeremy Goh, 24; Stephen Loh, 31; Reuben Kee, 23; Poh Boon San, 27 and Chee Wei Cheng, 20.

It is believed that a combination of strong currents and fatigue after the race could play a part in the likely drowning of the five men. They could also have been knocked unconscious when the 500kg boat capsized in the 9m-deep water.

The racers were not wearing life jackets.

One survivor who declined to be named said the team panicked under water and the current was pushing them down, so they all kicked their way upwards. He was treated for bruises on his face.

Eyewitness Joey Paraiso said on television last night that the current was strong. 'It happened so quickly. The Singaporean rowers, one by one, floated and saved themselves. There were some railings that they were able to hold on to.

'They were not able to swim normally, so they just looked for something to hang on to... The current was a bit strong,' he said.

The race was held to celebrate Cambodia's Water Festival, which takes place each year at full moon to celebrate the changing of the Tonle Sap River course.

This year, more than 1 million people were expected to attend the three-day race, which is Cambodia's biggest annual event. There were 432 participating boats.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday expressed his sadness at the accident.

'I share the deep concerns of the families of the five Singaporeans. The Singapore Government will do all it can to provide the necessary assistance,' he said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan said: 'Our priorities are to find the missing, to provide comfort to family
members and then find out what happened.'

Relatives of the missing men flew to Phnom Penh yesterday afternoon. On arrival, they went to the site of the accident before going to a hotel to be briefed on rescue efforts.

A brother of missing racer Jeremy Goh, who declined to be named, said Jeremy left for Cambodia on Thursday and was due back tomorrow.

He said at Changi Airport yesterday: 'We're just going there to see what's going on and hoping for the best.'

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Musings about Opposition parties and such

Hi Friends,

I was browsing through’s article on Party politics- A little ground shift when I stumbled upon Singapore Musing’s article entitled Opposition: Some suggestions for it.

I highly recommend it as a worthwhile read for the weekend. Do ponder over it. What is your take?

My feeling is if:

1. the economy continues on its pro-business track and is managed carefully and continues to grow in decent digits,

2. there are no major scandals occuring in the inner circles of the ruling party,

3. the official media (print and broadcast) is kept under a short leash - to allow just enough sense of “press freedom”. The govt is not worried (yet) about internet.

4. no charismatic figure/s appear in the alternative party side

5. racial tension amongst races and between new and old citizens are kept under control,

then PAP is in a class of its own and opposition parties have to be content with bit parts of this drama called Singapore politics.

Having said that, all bets are off if any of the above conditions are not met.

WP’s Low Thia Kiang- master strategist? Co-opetition anyone?

The PAP can feel secure for at least 20 years (as promised by WP’s Low).

But I thought it strange for Low,an opposition party leader to reveal his lack of ambition so openly. Or is it just a strategy to make PAP complacent. Is Low really an expert strategist offering the ruling party co-opetition instead of head-on confrontation, hence securing WP’s long-term survival?

Whatever it is, WP is opting to avoid the Red Ocean scenario where rivals slash and kill in a sea of blood, but instead looking at a Blue Ocean strategy- a new paradigm. Perhaps a Japanese LDP style politics? WP as just another faction of the ruling clique. PAP(WP) faction as opposed to PAP (Main) faction? A watch-dog to make sure the ruling clique does its work or else...

Enough of all these fanciful musings- In the meantime, WP and the others can just sit and wait for the right moment. And while at it, ponder over the contents of the post below...

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Suggestions For Opposition Parties (22.10.07)

There often is an undercurrent of chorus regarding the dismal state of opposition parties in Singapore. While part of the reason is due to the uneven political climate faced by these parties. There are other factors that they ought to consider as well if they desire to have any credible, successful chance of winning seats and representation in parliament. These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, and more suggestions will be forthcoming in the nearer future.

1. Stop Fighting among yourselves.

In a majoritarian system of parliamentary democracy where the winner takes all and the winner really is the person who finishes “first past the post” - 50% plus 1 vote. The first thing opposition parties should do would be to quit their own internally divisive agenda and to unify themselves as one. Efforts to conglomerate and unite various minority factions in society should be the first serious activity that they do. An example would be the 4 way fight in Cheng San GRC in the elections several years ago. Having a four way fight guarantees the incumbent party a win. A similar analogy in United States government would be how a third party candidate (libertarian party, independent, etc) takes a higher proportion of votes away from the two front runners. For example, Ralph Nader is said to have taken more votes away from Al Gore than George Bush in the 2000 elections - leading the way for Bush to claim the presidency. Within the context of a single-member constituency, the seats that opposition parties often target, there should be ideally just two candidates headed up for such contests - one from the PAP and one from the Opposition. No more and No less. Cooperative Game Theory strategies are obvious when it comes to such instances of maximizing polling victory. With too much internal strife and politics among the various opposition parties that bridge across economic, social, political-action and ethnicity. Its time that you guys got your act together and worked as a team instead of horizontally oppressing each other.

2. Focus on Bread and Butter Issues.

While enviable and admirable. The constant focus on human rights and Singapore’s actions in the international arena should instead be appealing to voters instead. And in Singapore, appealing issues are JOBS JOBS JOBS, WAGES WAGES WAGES. Period. Enough of the talk shop regarding censorship, Singapore’s International Actions, Freedom of Speech issues and so on. While these issues are very important. They aren’t going to strike a rapport with the Median and Mean of voters where abstractions of international theory and political philosophy is far removed from their hand to mouth existence, the need for healthcare and survival and what matters close to their hearts. It is far more important to focus on physical and critical issues rather than abstract political and social theory. No doubt, its very ideal to speak about such matters. But to the average Singaporean that comes forth for the rally and compares both parties at a glance. It simply boils down to this - which party provides a better economic platform for that particular voter. Its no surprise that elections are often held during good economic times. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that elections held during a time of economic difficulty often result in worst votes for the incumbent party. To get the largest share of votes, one has to focus on the issues that matter to the largest portion of people within the electoral district. The other philosophies on the agenda that appeal to a much smaller and intellectual politically concerned voters can be co-opted into the party’s plan. But ultimately, go where your electorate desires you to go to. Your voters are very often taxi drivers, hawkers, fresh university graduates, new families and those who are below the mean/median of the economic ladder. Do your research on the electoral district you are challenging and provide solid action plans. Not empty promises. Details Determine Destiny, as they often say. And in many cases, the opposition party in Singapore is often found to be loud in voice, but small in real practical action.

3. Recruit Talent across Minorities and Ethnicities.

Opposition Parties cannot continue to put their strongest candidates in Single Party constituencies alone. Since race and ethnicity is a factor in politics wherever you go, it would be better for opposition parties to get their act together in co-opting good quality talents to formulate possible group representative slates that can credibly stand for election. The word is CREDIBLE. In Singapore terms, and as much as this embodies elitism in many forms. This would mean a relatively well educated, articulate and knowledgeable person. While race and ethnicity should not be a factor in talent. The reality in Singapore is that it is. So instead of complaining that it is difficult to recruit across racial and ethnic boundaries, take action early on to make up for the anticipated difficulty in the future. If the opposition can credibly put forth a group of candidates in many electoral districts on elections day. What happens is that even if they do not win, they will start to gain a measure of credibility among voters. You need group candidates who can speak well, converse well and can give proper and good answers to the crafty questions in politics. Instead of fear-mongering, propose solutions. Instead of complaining about the current standards of governance, propose addition measures that may make the current means better. Even if these ideas are stolen and “co-opted” into the winning parties plan later on. It will be a triumph for integrity and a signaling measure of public policy credibility. Politicians are supposed to fix problems for their people. So quit whining about the issues and start fixing them. If you are tired of million dollar salary ministers, then do a better job than them and charge less at the same time!

4. Take a less combative role in politics. Instead, go upon the co-operational route.

While some may see this as a form of selling out. If an opposition member or an opposition party desires CREDIBLE and a respected place both in elections and in parliament. He should instead of vigorously and violently opposing all measure in local politics, instead take a softer stance of cooperation. Martin Luther King was known as a great civil rights leader in the philosophy of non-violence. However, without a violent reaction or oppression from the police (non-violent crackdowns are the norm in Singapore - with warnings and implicit threats like video surveillance being the norm) it will be difficult to gain credibility among Singaporeans if the state-dominated media label’s one as a troublemaker or martyr. Booker T. Washington is famous for his Atlanta Compromise as a way for African-Americans to gain a step ahead in civil rights. While they were not yet equal, they were able to work within the system and gains some concessions slowly through the period of time. Without a violent reaction or crackdown on opposition politicians by the PAP government in Singapore, the concept of a non-violent means of social protest will not work. Non-violence worked extremely well in the United States because the authority of the states government could be relieved and overruled by the Federal Government (see Selective Incorporation of the 14th Amendment and the Bill of Rights). In Singapore you do not have this luxury of an independent judiciary that is free from the reigns of political pressure to rule in a free and open manner, especially in areas like politics. A good number of every-day Singaporeans have a high opinion of the courts in Singapore when it comes to commercial and other litigation areas. However, it is obvious that this might not be so in political arenas. Anyone desiring to know more can simply google or read the books by famous dissenters such as Francis Seow or Chris Lydgate. Instead of being seen as an antagonistic and hostile force in politics, the cooperational route has worked relatively well for people like Chiam See Tong, Low Thia Khiang and perhaps Steve as well.

5. Its not what you say. It is what they hear.

With a media that tends to favor the opinions of the government and is supportive of the government in Singapore. Opposition parties have to work much harder at building credibility as well. Especially among an “apathetic mass” of people in Singapore, we are highly educated in practical things - mathematics, engineering, medicine, law and so on. But not very well educated in other areas of the humanities like philosophy, politics, perhaps economics and psychology when you look at the population from a holistic perspective. While this might be a generalization, the important thing is that people tend to take what the Straits Times says - even if it is complete BS, for what its worth and use it as means to justify their personal political convictions. The availability heuristic in psychology would be a good explanation for this - with a populace that is not very familiar with the systems of government, the expectations of governance and politics in general, it will be difficult for them to relate to all the aspects of politics being discussed except in issues that they have a strong emotional attachment to - namely JOBS JOBS JOBS. MONEY MONEY MONEY. Economic Survival.

6. Get Young People Involved.

America’s Universities have been accused by republican lawmakers as the last bastions of marxism. Opposition Parties should stop treating youth as second class voters. There is no need for separate institutions to reach out to youth and young people. Get youth involved in the policy making process, the suggestion and feedback loop. Giving them a separate institution might be a nice idea to separate the idealism of young people from the reality of real world politics. But sometimes, actually in Singapore opposition political party terms - it might be more than necessary to put forth a grander dose of idealism and passion from the youth into the policy making process and the political argumentative formulations. The future of elections will not be decided by powerful or richer older segments of the population, but the youth, who are growing up into a different rapidly changing world and are exposed to western ideas, culture and have certainly travelled abroad and know what life in other parts of the world is like. The future and long-term viability of opposition parties will depend on their ability to educate, co-opt and ability to build credibility among youth. Again - while it is lovely to be able to talk issues of Fair Trade, Free Speech and Human Rights with them. Let’s go to what’s important to them. Jobs. Can the opposition parties come up with a credible solution to the whole “Relevant Experience” thing when it comes to getting a job? It seems that you can’t get a job without relevant experience and you can’t get relevant experience without job. Can the opposition parties in Singapore at least voice these concerns of everyday Singaporeans, especially young Singaporeans to the PAP Government and its brilliant ministers? This is what opposition politics needs to be - credible, articulate and knowledgeable about the concerns of their electorates. Instead of being merely a forum for idealistic talk shop pontification, its time opposition parties engaged issues of prior relevance in their discourse and quit treating young people as second class voting citizens.

7. Reach Out to the Youth

It is often said that Singaporean Youth are apathetic when it comes to politics. Why are they even apathetic? Simple. Have they been taught to consider a different perspective? An alternative? A Credible Alternative that does not denigrate into protests or non-violent action? Opposition parties need to do research on the youngest, most mobile and educated segment of the populace that will determine their political survival in the long term. Because they are inherently much more familiar with advancing technology. Reach out to youths using technology. A quick search on FaceBook in Singapore reveals that a good portion of Singaporeans are either “Moderates”, “Liberal” or “Very Liberal” under political views. The PAP, with its highly conservative rhetoric and panderings to the “older generation” under a confucianist ethic has easily separated its real world view of politics from the idealism enchanted by youth. This is a golden opportunity for youth to be educated about issues that they can feel more passionate about - issues of social change, justice, freedom of speech, gay and lesbian issues and their youthful concerns. In America, it is not unusual for 16-17 year old individuals to be actively involved in politics. Especially so when many of them can vote come the age of 18. National Servicemen fall into the category of youth too - as defined by the world bank to be individuals under the age of 25. Can opposition parties raise concerns for national servicemen? Such as issues of safety, issues of mental health, issues of transport and salary? Can opposition parties harness the latent energies of our national servicemen into politics? They may not be able to vote while they are serving. But come ORD. There is always the chance that reaching out to such youth can prove to be a powerful way of establishing credibility and gaining votes further down the road. The government easily alienates a good portion of national service youth during their times of service. Opposition Parties should harness their concerns and raise them in parliament or propose solutions to their duress of unfairness.

Ultimately, if opposition parties want to win representation in parliament someday. Its about time they cleaned up their act and started appealing practical issues to their electorates and champion a variety of solutions to the issues in politics. Opposition parties have to work harder in appealing to the youth of Singapore, because within another two electoral cycles, these individuals will have the capacity, mobility, knowledge and understanding and become a political force on their own. It is time to take advantage of the PAP’s appeal to “older Singaporeans” and “their loyal old voters” and to work aggressively in capturing the sentiments and issues of the youth. Additionally opposition parties need to work up on their issues of credibility. They need to field talented candidates that are well spoken, effective communicators and well versed in the solutions of public policy. Instead of working a fear-mongering or mud-slinging rhetoric or combative non-violent action, parties should be more cooperative while distinguishing their political views and solutions from the ruling party. Only time can tell if they are willing to work in unison to reach The Tipping Point and shift politics into their favor - even with a difficult political climate. Passion alone isn’t enough. It takes passion, determination and smart work to succeed in the battle it is for parliamentary representation.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Burma: Time for healing

Myanmar's Suu Kyi says 'time for healing' after meeting with govt officials

(AFP 10th Nov 2007)

YANGON : Detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is optimistic after meeting Friday with a military official and believes it is time for the "healing process" to start, her party said.
The pro-democracy leader also met with members of her National League for Democracy for the first time in more than three years amid hopes of a thaw in relations with the generals who crushed street protests against their rule in September.
Aung San Suu Kyi met with three senior party members -- Aung Shwe, Lwin, Nyunt Wai -- and spokesman Nyan Win before meeting with Labour Minister Aung Kyi, whom the generals appointed as a go-between following international outrage at their deadly crackdown.
"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she believed the ruling authorities have the will for national reconciliation," Nyan Win said in a statement read out to reporters after the meetings.
"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the bad events in September and October were sorrowful, not only for the NLD, but also for the government and the people," Nyan Win said.
"She said we have to work for the healing process first. We also discussed the necessary things to achieve the healing process," he said, adding that he could not release details.
Military leader Senior General Than Shwe had previously offered dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi but on condition that she drop her support for international sanctions, which have been further tightened since the September crackdown.
"Regarding these demands, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she will try to get a solution for these demands," Nyan Win said.
Asked to compare a previous meeting in 2004 and Friday's, Nyan Win said: "This time the discussion is more optimistic and more workable," adding that it was also Aung San Suu Kyi's view following her meeting with Aung Kyi.
"The main thing we discussed is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asked for suggestions from us regarding the dialogue process and we discussed the suggestions, Nyan Win said, adding he could not disclose details.
"We will continue to work with Major General Aung Kyi from now on," he said.
The meetings follow UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's six-day mission to Myanmar, which he said had led to progress towards establishing a dialogue between the military and the country's pro-democracy movement.
Aung San Suu Kyi, in a statement read out by Gambari in Singapore, said she was willing to cooperate with the military, which has ruled Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, for the past 45 years.
"In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the government in order to make this process of dialogue a success," she said.
It was the first such pledge since she was last put under house arrest in 2003.
Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of independence hero General Aung San, has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest at her lakeside home in Yangon.
She welcomed the appointment last month of Aung Kyi as the government's go-between, describing October 25 talks with him as "constructive".
"I expect that this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC (government) leadership can start as early as possible," said Aung San Suu Kyi, widely known as "The Lady."
Any dialogue with the military would be "guided by the policies and wishes" of her party, but she would also need to consult with other groups and ethnic minorities, according to her statement read by Gambari.
The Nigerian diplomat met Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday after warning the military against a return to the status quo that existed before the mass pro-democracy protests were put down.
His mission ended without a meeting with military leader Senior General Than Shwe, although the UN envoy met several officials and NLD members.
The pro-democracy protests began in mid-August after a massive hike in the price of everyday fuel, but escalated into the biggest threat to the generals in nearly 20 years when Buddhist monks emerged to lead the movement. - AFP /ls
My comments:
Hi friends,
I am glad that Gambari seems to be making some progress acting as a bridge between Daw ASSK and the junta.
I am pleasantly surprised that finally true reconciliation is not totally impossible without further bloodshed.
Let us not delude ourselves that the junta is just going to give up and leave the political sphere for ASSK's NLD to step right in. These control-freak dictators will use all their powers to ensure that their own interests are safe-guarded and protected.
This live drama is literally unfolding before our eyes. As they say, the plot thickens...
Akan datang ( Malay for "coming soon"). Stay tuned for the next episode.
Just happy for Burma and could not suppress my delight.
Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sarkozy's pay rise:French will flip if they know...

Hi Friends,

The French public reaction is expectedly negative to Sarkozy's doubling of his annual pay to S$480,000.

I wonder how they would react if they realise that this is but a fraction of what Singapore's political leaders earn.

I do not have our leaders' remuneration package ( maybe some kind soul can send me some data/links), but I remember it was a jaw-dropping, dumb-founding, obscene figure.
Anyway, France is France and Singapore is Singapore.

My memory is fading on this issue, but Singapore's leaders justification for these astronomical pay was one or all of these:

1.Market rate.
2.They are worth every cent of it
3.The total package is but a fraction of Singapore's GDP.
4.Idealism is dead, silly!
5.Cost-benefit analysis: They trade their loss of privacy for money,silly!
6.High pay prevents them from being corrupt ( yes they really said it!)
7.Other country's leaders are hypocritical ( and they are not) , as the former have hidden sources of income, go on lecture tours and write books after they leave office ( and they don't ?)
8.After Singapore's leaders leave the stage (if they leave the stage), they are not expected to use their past political influence to make money for themselves.

For the sake of readers who believe everything they read in our media, let me say that I believe that Singapore's leaders are not corrupt ( in the dictionary sense of the word).

Anyway, majority of Singaporeans accept their reasoning, so who am I to gripe about it, again?

I wrote about this hot topic in the not so recent past here


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

MPs grant Sarkozy huge pay rise (BBC)

The French parliament has decided to more than double President Nicolas Sarkozy's salary, to make it match that of the prime minister.
From 2008 Mr Sarkozy's salary will total 19,000 euros (£13,243; $27,453) gross a month, equivalent to what PM Francois Fillon earns. ...

Jokes, jibes and anger after Sarkozy pay rise

By Jon BoyleParis - President Nicolas Sarkozy came under fire on Wednesday for hiking his own salary by 140 percent while ordinary French people are struggling to cope with soaring prices for bread, milk and cheese.Lawmakers voted late on Tuesday to raise his salary from 8 457 euros to 19 331 euros a month or 240 000 euros a year, putting him on a par with his prime minister, Francois Fillon.

The government said the previous salary system was opaque, as the president drew on different funds to complement his official pay, and the reform would bring some much-needed transparency to the presidential budget ...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Non-repeal of 377A: Remember Rosa Parks and Don't Give Up!

Hi Friends,
I wrote this letter to the forum page today:
October 29, 2007
Dear Editor,

I refer to the ongoing debate on the non-repeal of Section 377A of Singapore’s Penal Code.

Though contentious and undoubtedly divisive, the debate was necessary and may prove to be cathartic.

By voicing our concerns about “gay” rights, Singaporeans from both sides of the divide are taking ownership of Singapore. Only when we truly care about this place, would we care to take a stand and either seek to change our laws or give justifications to keep the status quo.

Personally I feel that the jury is still out about the “nature versus nurture” origin of homosexuality and I am sure that the last word has not been said about it by far. But this has not prevented me from empathizing with gay Singaporeans’ plight.

I was especially disturbed that although heterosexual sodomy (ie anal sex) and oral sex have been decriminalized, these exact same acts between two men remain illegal. If this is not discrimination, I do not know what is.

Notwithstanding law professor, NMP Thio Li-Ann's attempt to explain away why such difference in treatment can justly be classified as “differentiation” rather than “discrimination”, I am not convinced that she is not just splitting hairs.

She also alluded to the “slippery slope” of the gay activists’ agenda and how gays would demand for ever more rights culminating in same sex marriages and child adoption rights.

Perhaps the exact fear was in the white bus driver who insisted that Rosa Parks gave up her seat to a white passenger on that fateful day of 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. If Rosa and people like her were allowed to sit as they pleased, the blacks may actually demand for equality and other rights! What a frightening thought!

Although it is uncomfortable and troublesome when other fellow human beings demand for equality and an end to discrimination, I hope that our parliament will lead rather than follow, and show that Singapore is on the way to being a progressive and tolerant society.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan
PS: Photo above is Rosa Parks being finger-printed after being arrested.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why No Singaporean question and no Singaporean marches.

Hi Friends,

I will be busy these couple of weeks. ( But not too busy to write a short post here)

I was pleasantly surprised to find 2 letters in the ST forum today which more or less reflect my views about the "apparent" Singaporean apathy and about active citizenry.

The "whack the opposition to pulp" method or more simply stated "reign of terror" method meted out by Singapore's first generation leaders is an anachronism- in fact it was not even appropriate during the rowdy 50's and turbulent 60's. Globalisation ensures that we are never going back to those dark days.

We must continue to press for greater freedom and choice, which also means greater latitude to express our displeasure ( or pleasure) on any issues which we see fit.

The right to peacefully organise for any cause is a right and not a privilege. That inevitably means the right to peaceful marches outdoors.

The government now appears like a hypocrite as while it tacitly supports the protesting Burmese monks ( who if they were in Singapore would have been arrested and treated as per CSJ) it persists in disallowing peaceful assembly in Singapore's own borders. A case of pot calling the kettle black?

My opinion is that when ( and not if) the government allows the right of peaceful marches, the novelty will wear off very quickly ( ala The Speaker's Corner) and only a small vocal minority ( probably the usual culprits) will be left trying (with difficulty) to galvanise the rest (the apathetic majority who prefers shopping) to join in the protests.

Nevertheless,the government should not be afraid to hear its own people's voice.

Cheers and Freedom to Burma,

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

1. Why there were few questions for MM Lee
(ST Forum 10.10.07)

AT THE recent ministerial forum at Nanyang Technological University, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew asked: 'Is there no Singaporean who wants to ask a question?' (ST, Oct 5).

I attribute the dearth of questions to two factors. Firstly, the education system in Singapore does not adequately promote inquisitiveness and critical thinking. As a parent, I still find that children are primed to absorb and regurgitate information, despite changes introduced by the Education Ministry.

Perhaps the generation that current teachers hail from is one which does not truly appreciate active engagement and expressiveness by students. It is still a talk-down culture: teacher teaches, pupils listen. If one questions too much, he is seen to be difficult or trying to be too clever.

While the Education Ministry may say that the pedagogy today is different, I would argue that schools in other countries have progressed faster in this area.
Secondly, the political culture in Singapore does not encourage one to speak up, let alone question. Due to Singaporeans' belief in the efficiency and stability of the Government, most are wired to accept that 'Government knows best'. The result is that we do not question as much as others.

This is compounded by what I see as an unhealthy 'upward-reverence culture'. One tends to 'revere' his supervisor or anyone seen to be of a higher status.
This culture does not encourage the openness required for the development of naturally inquiring minds. In fact, one who questions runs the risk of being perceived as uncooperative, and 'going against the grain' of being cohesive and efficient.

Therefore, the unquestioning Singaporean public behaviour is not a phenomenon. It is a culture characteristic of our nation. The positive side of this culture is that we are a cooperative and efficient people. We obey and move very quickly.

However, in the increasingly dynamic, highly competitive knowledge economy, it will become a problem. Singaporeans will lose out to their more expressive and confident foreign counterparts who would speak up without fear.

The same strong leadership that had overseen the development of our robust economy in the last four decades should now aim to maintain Singapore's competitiveness by fostering a new brand of economy, one characterised by open debate, lateral thinking and creativity.

That way, MM Lee will be kept much busier by Singaporeans in future forums.

Danny Lee Kwok Hoong

2. Non-violent demos can serve civil society well
(ST Forum 10.10.07)

AS A Singapore citizen working in London, I shared in the universal horror at the events that have occurred in Myanmar. To express my sympathies with its people, I participated in a 'Free Burma' demonstration on Saturday.

Several thousand people gathered outside the Tate Britain museum and donned red ribbons and caps, and marched through the political centres of London (Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square).

The participants were ethnically diverse, and ranged from old men in suits to parents with pushchairs. The demo was led by Buddhist monks but included Christian and Muslim individuals in religious dress.

The march took place over less than two hours, and caused minimal disruption as the streets were quiet on a weekend.

There was a small police presence but there was not the slightest hint of trouble. All present were respectful of the law and the needs of the public - the organisers even instructed us to remain quiet as we passed a children's hospital.
When the march ended at Trafalgar Square, various Myanmar individuals living in London expressed their gratitude that so many had turned out to express their solidarity.

This is an example of how non-violent demonstrations can contribute much to civil society. It united diverse Londoners, and allowed the sorrow that each marcher felt to be made into a shared, tangible experience.

Perhaps Singapore should be more encouraging towards its citizens and residents, with respect to public displays of unity.

Much has been made of the 'apathy' of our youth and the need to show a more gracious and compassionate society. A more permissive attitude towards public demonstrations may well be one way we can make significant progress towards our national aspirations in this field.

Jolene Tan Siyu (Ms) London, UK

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Havel, Walesa and Tutu:Living proof that evil does not always triumph

Hi Friends,

Reading the article below brings back memories of events that seem just a heart-beat away.

When Havel, Walesa, Tutu and Mandela stood up against the onslaught of tyranny, no one gave them any chance of success.

Yet, the Czech republic, Poland and South Africa are now free and democratic countries able to help other countries break free from their shackles of slavery, in whatever form they take.

Burma, take heart. Evil does not always triumph!

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

NB: Incidentally, Singaporean Chia Thye Poh was the second longest political detainee after my all-time hero Nelson Mandela.

Ex-Dissidents Hopeful for Myanmar

Saturday September 29, 2007 5:31 PM

Associated Press Writer

Lech Walesa and Desmond Tutu speak of solidarity. Vaclav Havel hopes for another ``Velvet Revolution.'' Wei Jingsheng warns of a bloody sequel to Tiananmen Square.
Some of the globe's most prominent former dissidents - acutely aware of what can go right and wrong when a repressed society attempts to shake off tyranny - see shades of their own past struggles in Myanmar's drama.
In interviews with The Associated Press and other media, they offered insight and advice to the Buddhist monks and pro-democracy protesters who have defied Myanmar's military government - and to the world leaders and ordinary people watching it all unfold.
``If there's not enough international pressure, and China offers support in the background, then there will very likely be in Myanmar something like Tiananmen Square: a big massacre,'' Wei, China's best-known ex-dissident, told the AP in a phone interview from the U.S., where he lives in exile.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed in 1989 when the Chinese army cleared the Beijing square of pro-democracy protests.
Wei, who spent 17 years in Chinese prisons for challenging the communist monopoly on power, called for more international pressure on Myanmar's ruling junta and on China for its perceived backing of the regime.
Walesa, who founded Poland's pro-democracy Solidarity movement and became the nation's first post-communist president, said the only hope for Myanmar's monks and activists was to stick together - and for the world to rally around their cause.
``My advice for them is to build their own internal solidarity and to make efforts to win international solidarity,'' he said in an AP interview.
But Myanmar in 2007 is markedly different from eastern Europe two decades ago.
Isolated under a regime that has crushed dissent for the past 45 years, the country formerly named Burma missed out completely on the wave of reform and revolution that swept through the world in the late 1980s.
In 1989, when Havel's followers packed Prague's Wenceslas Square to denounce a regime he famously mocked as ``Absurdistan,'' their sheer numbers and determination prevailed over truncheons and tear gas.
When demonstrators tried the same thing in Myanmar in 1988, thousands were gunned down.
``If they have no solidarity today, they will lose and will have to approach the issue many times again,'' Walesa said.
Yet ``even if they fail, the price (they pay) will speed up the process,'' he added.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who marshaled tens of thousands of workers in 1980s strikes at Gdansk's gritty shipyard, says the showdown in Myanmar has rekindled a little of his own old fire.
``Maybe I will join in, too,'' Walesa said. ``I will certainly do something because I cannot remain indifferent. ... I like to win.''
Fellow laureate Tutu, who won his Nobel Prize for his role in South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, was preparing to join a march in Sweden protesting events in Myanmar when he spoke by telephone to the AP Friday.
``In South Africa we had rolling mass action that covered the action taken by the people. We also had an alliance of faith-based organizations,'' Tutu said. In Myanmar, ``the important thing is that religious leaders have now put their lives on the lines and I admire them for that.''
Tutu said he would call on China to use its ``very powerful leverage'' on Myanmar's leaders. If China did not respond, he said he would join calls to boycott the Beijing Olympics.
Havel, the playwright-turned-president whose nonviolent movement toppled totalitarian rule in Czechoslovakia, said he's also ready to go to Myanmar if opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerges from longtime house arrest and takes power.
``You can't imagine how happy I would be to travel there as soon as possible,'' Havel, now 70, told the Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes.
Two years ago, Havel joined the Dalai Lama and other dignitaries to write a poignant letter decrying Suu Kyi's ordeal. ``Neither walls nor weapons can silence even the most isolated voice of courage and truth,'' it said.
But today, asked about the specter of heavy bloodshed, he responded: ``I am afraid.''
Tutu said of Suu Kyi: ``I hope she knows how much the world supports her. She is a remarkable woman.''
In another letter last week, Nobel literature laureate Nadine Gordimer, known for her works about the inhumanity of apartheid in her native South Africa, appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to do something ``in the name of shared humanity.''
``No one anywhere in our world who respects the sanctity of life, justice and the freedom of people to demand reconciliation of conflict through peaceful means can turn aside from the spectacle of Burma,'' she said.
Associated Press writers John Leicester in Paris, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, Celean Jacobson in Johannesburg, South Africa and Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic, contributed to this report.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

ASEAN's rebuke of Burma welcomed but more action needed

Hi Friends,

I welcome ASEAN's Foreign Ministers' condemnation of Burma.

Although ministers "expressing their revulsion" may seem like just words and a lot of hot air to many, it is unprecedented as ASEAN has a reputation for being an old boys club where politicians meet regularly in exotic resorts and pat each other on the shoulders with self-congratulatory compliments and a cup of tea.

I hope that this collective expression of regret is but a start of a proactive political bloc where member countries (including Singapore) which deviate from universal norms of human rights and decency are taken to task.

I know this is more an illusion than truth, but it is credible start. It is nevertheless only the start.

Let us watch carefully to see how ASEAN behaves if UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari comes back empty-handed ( or if he is allowed in at all) and when the despots of Rangoon continue to brutalise their own civilians.

Nothing short of full freedom and democracy and the military returning to the barracks would be acceptable to ASEAN as that is the bare minimum required by Burma's people. They deserve no less.


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Japanese journalist shot dead at close range: video (see above pictures)

TOKYO - MYANMAR troops shoved down a Japanese journalist and shot him dead at close range, television footage broadcast on Friday appeared to show.

Japan's Fuji Television showed footage of soldiers charging after demonstrators on Thursday as they clamped down on protests in Myanmar's commercial hub Yangon.

A helmeted soldier appeared to push to the ground a man identified as video-journalist Kenji Nagai, who was wearing knee-length shorts and sandals.

As the man lies sprawled on his back, clutching his video camera in his right hand, a loud bang is heard, with a soldier pointing a rifle right in front of him.

The soldier then races on, chasing after demonstrators.

Fuji Television said the footage showed that Nagai was killed intentionally, not by a stray bullet.

'This soldier probably pushed Mr Nagai first. This soldier then seemed to shoot him, judging from the angle of his gun,' Koichi Ito, a former member of the Japanese police's special rapid attack squad, told the private network, which did not say how it obtained the footage.

Nagai, 50, a video-journalist for Tokyo-based APF News, who had years of experience covering dangerous hotspots, was the first foreigner killed in Myanmar's crackdown.

Japan, which has cordial relations with Myanmar, has said it will protest the killing and investigate if he was killed intentionally. But it said it will not cut off aid to the military-run nation.

Chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said on Friday that a Japanese embassy doctor confirmed a bullet entered Nagai's body from the lower right side of his chest, pierced his heart and exited from his back. -- AFP

ASEAN calls on Myanmar to stop using violence on protestersPosted: 28 September 2007 0100 hrs

UNITED NATIONS : Southeast Asian nations rounded on fellow member Myanmar on Thursday, demanding the ruling military stop using violence against pro-democracy protesters after nine people were killed.

As security forces swept through Myanmar's main city on Thursday arresting hundreds in a brutal crackdown on the ninth straight day of protests, world outrage mounted with the US slapping sanctions on 14 Myanmar leaders.

UN leaders were told by Myanmar officials that UN chief Ban Ki-moon's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, would be granted a visa to visit the country.

"The secretary general has been informed that his special envoy will be welcome in Myanmar," spokeswoman Marie Okabe said. "He is pleased."

But ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has long had a policy of non-interference in the affairs of Myanmar, had unusually sharp words for its fellow member at a meeting at the United Nations.

"They were appalled to receive reports of automatic weapons being used and demanded that the Myanmar government immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators," Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said.

The ministers "expressed their revulsion" over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar "are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities," he said, after chairing the meeting.

They "strongly" urged Myanmar to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution and wanted the ruling junta to resume national reconciliation with all parties and work towards a "peaceful" transition to democracy.

The unfolding drama on the streets of Yangon has dominated the agenda of the UN General Assembly here, and prompted calls from around the world for Myanmar to lay down their arms.

At least 50,000 people, many of them youths and students, swarmed into Yangon on Thursday undeterred by the deaths the day before of at least four protesters, including three Buddhist monks, and repeatedly defied orders to disperse.

In six hours of chaotic protests, Myanmar state media said nine people were killed, including a Japanese journalist, and another 11 protesters injured including one woman.

US President George W. Bush on Thursday said the world must press Myanmar's military rulers to end the violent crackdown and urged the junta to cooperate fully with UN envoy Gambari.

"I call on all nations that have influence with the regime to join us in supporting the aspirations of the Burmese people and to tell the Burmese junta to cease using force on its own people, who are peacefully expressing their desire for change," he said in a statement.

The US administration also ordered a freeze on the assets of Myanmar's military leader and 13 other senior officials.

"We are today imposing sanctions against senior officials of the government of Burma," said Adam Szubin, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Beleaguered Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win had skipped the ASEAN meeting at the last minute, instead sending his representative Thaung Tun, a senior government official, an ASEAN diplomat told AFP.

Thaung Tun mostly looked down as Yeo addressed reporters afterwards in his capacity as chairman of the ASEAN standing committee.

Yeo also said Nyan Win had informed them Myanmar would issue a visa to Gambari, and said ASEAN ministers urged Myanmar to grant him "full access" to all parties, including Nobel peace laureate and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for most of the past 17 years.

ASEAN also warned Myanmar that the bloody crisis was having "a serious impact on the reputation and credibility of ASEAN."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said meanwhile the ASEAN stand was a victory for the thousands of demonstrators.

"This is a success for democracy and this is a success for the demonstrators in Myanmar," he told reporters in New York.

Japan, a top donor to Myanmar, had summoned the Myanmar's ambassador in Tokyo on Thursday to protest against the crackdown while South Korea urged Myanmar to refrain from suppressing the protesters.

The ASEAN ministers were scheduled to hold talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in New York later in the day. - AFP/de

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Burma’s despotic regime has crossed the line

Hi Friends,

Henceforth, I will refer to the nation of Myanmar in its original name of Burma as a sign of protest.

In my mind, I had drawn a line in the sand and this line is when the military regime uses brutal and lethal force to resolve this impasse.

The line has been crossed.

The news from Burma’s cities is that hundreds of monks have been arrested overnight, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved to a notorious prison, and many have been maimed or killed.

It is clear that this military dictatorship does not seek reconciliation through negotiations or dialogue.

Even economic sanctions do not work with the military leaders because they will always have the first bite of the country’s treasury’s “cherry” as they pass the resultant economic hardship to the people. This makes the people more disenfranchised and bitter. The people then rise up again only to be beaten into submission for another 20 years. The unending circle of life?

Is this the Burmese people’s karma? Although we are not the ones to wield the rods that beat the monks and nuns, we are just as culpable if we do not do our utmost to help them or bring attention to their plight!

What can we do? Or as one anonymous blogger commented on my blog (rather insultingly) that “talk is cheap” and that as Burma is but 3 hours flight away I should perhaps go there to provide medical cover for the protesters ( ? to show that I am more than just talk).

I take his point that we are helpless and what we can do now seem so futile. Perhaps he is the typical risk-averse Singaporean who cannot be counted on to support any cause unless the outcome is 100% certain. The risk-averse “rational” Singaporean?

Our politicians ( Singapore’s and ASEAN’s ) have already stated their views.

Foreign Minister and current Chairman of ASEAN said that Asean had to take a "very realistic position to keep Myanmar within the Asean family because it is in everybody's interest" to do so, including neighbouring China and India.

When asked what Asean would do if the junta became increasingly repressive, he said: "If national reconciliation is not possible and there is repression and violence where many people die, then it is a new situation all over again. Asean can issue statements and Asean can shed tears.

"But at that point in time, it will be a fight within Myanmar itself." Translated to street English- " You are on your own, babe"

Unlike our politicians, we can speak the truth and call a despot a despot- not worrying whether we will have sand when Indonesia starts the embargo of sand exports again nor worry that supporting peaceful protest in Burma will mean that we can no longer tell others to “mind their own business “ when they express support for Singapore’s own nascent pro-democracy forces.

All of us ordinary citizens of Singapore can speak the truth and we should.

Hear this ,Burma’s despots- "Please go back to your barracks. Let your people live peaceful, normal lives. Let them choose their own leaders by universal suffrage!"


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

NB: Link to's posts on the Suppression in Burma and why ASEAN and Singapore should take immediate action now!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Myanmar needs our support… but the silence is deafening!

Hi friends,

Some of us have heard of the Prague Spring.

It was in 1958 when the then Czechoslovakia, had a unique opportunity to liberalise politically even though it was still part of the communist Warsaw Pact.

Alexander Dubcek briefly wrested power from pro-Soviet politicians and from January till August of that fateful year, Czechoslovakians had illusions of democracy and political freedom.

This short-lived “spring” tragically ended with invasion by the Warsaw Pact forces. The rest of the world just stood and watched.

There are similar names of places and countries where thousands and even millions perished whilst the world just stood and watched.

Srebrenica, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sabra and Shatila, Soweto and now Myanmar?

ASEAN has used the excuse of the "principle of non-interference" to wash its hands off the affairs of the Myanmar people.

Are we going to just sit on our hands and wait for the makings of another “Killing fields” before guilt forces all of us to act?

Is it not exceedingly obvious that the vast majority of Myanmar people want to be freed from the yoke of oppression, represented by the military junta? They have been denied freedom and democracy for far too long.

Bloggers, your silence is deafening!

Are we content to just concern ourselves with narrow issues affecting our personal lives while barely 3 hours away, our South-east Asian brethren are fighting for their lives even while I speak?

For sure, any posts about gay rights (pro or against) or about CPF and longevity would get all of us hot under the collars, but not articles about poor and far-off Myanmar.

Sad but that’s life. Uniquely Singapore?

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

ASEAN under pressure to act as Myanmar protests mountPosted: 25 September 2007 1425 hrs (AFP/Channelnewsasia)

KUALA LUMPUR : Southeast Asian nations have long been reluctant to confront their reviled neighbour Myanmar, but as protests mount in Yangon, observers say they risk losing credibility if they fail to act.

In the 10 years since it joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Myanmar has proved a major headache for the budding democracies of the region, who have been admonished by the west for failing to press for reforms.

"By any normal global international standards, ASEAN hasn't done much. I suspect many of the policymakers in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore or Jakarta or Manila will admit to that," said Hiro Katsumata from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

"But this is not surprising because ASEAN needs Myanmar more than Myanmar needs ASEAN," he said, adding that the region feared the resource-rich nation could turn its back on the grouping in favour of closer ties with China.
In the face of the bravery of more than 100,000 people who stood alongside Buddhist monks in the streets of Myanmar's biggest city on Monday, regional governments are now facing loud calls to show their support.

"ASEAN can obviously do a lot more -- it's just a question of whether they want to. And with this internal protest and defiance of the people, it would be shameful if they kept quiet," said Malaysian lawmaker Zaid Ibrahim.

"They should use all their diplomacy and power and influence to pressure the regime," said Zaid, president of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus, which was formed in 2004 to push for democratic reform in Myanmar.

Zaid said he was sure that although the ruling generals had not yet done anything to halt a week of street protests led by the revered monks, they would eventually "hit back" and that lives would be lost.

"I would expect some severe reprisals and crackdowns and more brutality from the regime. I think this is inevitable and I think the people of Burma know this and I hope they will not be deterred by it."

So far there has been little response from regional governments except the Philippines, which said Monday it wants to see democracy flourish in Myanmar.

ASEAN secretary general Ong Keng Yong has merely said he hoped the protests will remain "peaceful and calm", and his predecessor Rodolfo Severino indicated that little else would be forthcoming.

"Very little -- they could deliver a statement," Severino told AFP when asked what options the 10-bloc grouping had.

"What else can they do? Send in troops? I don't think ASEAN's in a position to do that. I think this is something that has to be worked out by the government and people of Myanmar."

Stirred into action by the United States and European governments which were highly critical of its performance, ASEAN has come out with some unusually bold statements against Myanmar's military government in recent years.

But despite mutterings about introducing a mechanism to suspend or expel the military-run state from the 10-nation bloc, there has been no action to match the rhetoric.

Jawahar Hassan, director of Malaysia's Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said that with the stakes now so high, nations in the region are even less likely to intervene.

"If nothing is happening in Myanmar they can issue some strong statements because it would not be seen as supporting opposition to Myanmar," he said.

"But when all this is happening to have to be careful... ASEAN governments cannot be seen to be supporting any movement against the government which may turn out to be violent."

After years of saying that change in Myanmar must come from within, Southeast Asia is being warned that now that just such a scenario has presented itself, the region cannot stand idle.

"Certainly ASEAN will not look good," said Katsumata.

"Human rights and democracy are becoming important parts of global norms, so the slower the ASEAN approach is, the worse ASEAN will appear in the eyes of the international audience." - AFP/ir

Monday, September 24, 2007

Myanmar's brave Buddhist clergy and personal thoughts on peaceful protest

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing"

Edmund Burke

Hi Friends,

I am sure that few of the Buddhist monks participating in the protests against Myanmar’s military junta know who Burke is, much less heard of his famous “triumph of evil” quote.

It is fair to say that it probably matters little to them as they have already taken upon themselves the duty to save Myanmar by literally putting their own lives on the line. To them, enough is enough and the oil price hike was but the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

I had written previously about Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi here.

Peaceful protest justifiable?

For the detractors of peaceful protest -and Singapore has many, where do they stand?

Shall they still say that it is futile and counter-productive to protest? That the military junta should just be allowed to rule ad infinitum or until they see the folly of authoritarianism and give power voluntarily back to the people? "Wait Long" I hear some amongst us utter in Hokkien!

I suppose in a clearcut case like Myanmar, where the ruling elite do not have any intentions of having democratic institutions such as universal suffrage from free and fair elections, almost all of you (including so-called detractors) would say without any hesitation- "Go ahead and protest. We support your marches."

What about back home in sunny Singapore, where some of us seemingly live in a sort of blissful Utopia, oblivious to problems and issues facing other human beings within or without our national boundary? That it is unwise to allow peaceful protests?or That it is justifiable for any 5 people walking together for any cause to be hauled before our courts and be charged for being part of an “illegal assembly”? Just because most of us have 3 square meals daily, have we forfeited the right of free expressions?

So to protest in Myanmar is good, but to protest in Singapore plain silly?

Think about it! And while doing so do have a thought or say a prayer for the brave souls up north!

My Myanmar friends, live long and prosper! I support your just cause!

With sincerest wishes for a peaceful resolution in your troubled land,

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Addendum: The SIIA (Singapore Institute of International Affairs) has a niece piece untitled "The Last Stretch for Myanmar?" here .

30,000 rally as Myanmar monks' protest gathers steam (AFP 24 Sept 2007)

Thousands of Buddhist monks marched in Yangon on Monday, piling the pressure on Myanmar's ruling military junta after a weekend that saw the biggest show of dissent in nearly two decades.

At least 30,000 people led by about 15,000 monks clad in orange and rust-red robes marched from the holy Shwedagon Pagoda and past the offices of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

As the monks walked by chanting prayers for peace, NLD officials came to the sidewalk, clasped their hands and bowed in respect to the clergy, and then joined the marchers.

Many of the marchers fixed onto their shirts small strips of rust-red cloth, taken from the robes of the Buddhist monks.

Shwedagon Pagoda has been the focal point of protests by the clergy that began nearly a week ago, which have swelled to include thousands of civilians.

"We are marching for the people," one monk said to the crowd, and urged supporters to remain peaceful and avoid chanting political slogans as they snaked through the nation's commercial hub.

On Sunday, about 20,000 people, half of them monks, thronged the rainswept Yangon streets chanting prayers and shouting slogans, while other rallies took place across the country.

Some 150 nuns joined the rallies for the first time.

They were the largest protests in Myanmar since a 1988 democracy uprising led by students, which was brutally put down by the military, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters.
Two of Myanmar's most famous actors, comedian Zaganar and heart-throb movie star Kyaw Thu, came to Shwedagon early Monday to bring food and water to the monks, witnesses said.
Both men had spoken on short-wave radio urging the public to support the protests.

Myanmar's junta have so far kept their distance. Any violence against the revered monks in this devoutly Buddhist nation would spark an outcry, analysts say, and the generals are likely keen to defuse the crisis peacefully.

"If the military kills a monk or a layman, then the demonstrations will quickly spread," said Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmar expert based in Thailand.

David Mathieson, Myanmar consultant with New York-based Human Rights Watch, told AFP that civilians joining the monks in the numbers seen Sunday marked a significant escalation in the protest movement.

"I'm heartened by the fact that there hasn't been a violent crackdown by the authorities, (but) this is still an incredibly tense time to see how they react," he said.

In a surprise move on Saturday, armed police allowed about 2,000 monks and civilians to pray outside the home of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The women known here simply as "The Lady" stepped outside the lakeside home where she has been under house arrest for more than a decade and greeted the monks and supporters.

"Walking down University Avenue and going to see Aung San Suu Kyi is something that people have been secretly dreaming of. And they did it, and the army let them, and that is what is really remarkable," Mathieson said.

But on Sunday, riot police blocked the road leading to the Nobel Peace Prize winner's house, and a smaller group of monks were forced to turn back.

Extra forces were again deployed around the home on Monday, witnesses said.
Anti-government protests began after a surprise rise in the price of fuel on August 15.

Initially, prominent democracy activists led the rallies, but the generals cracked down, arresting up to 150 people, human rights groups say, and now it is the monks who are spearheading the marches.

Smaller rallies have also been taking place in cities in central Myanmar, in a bold show of dissent in a nation that has been tightly controlled by the military for 45 years.

The United States and European nations are also preparing to round on Myanmar at the annual United Nations General Assembly this week, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice branding the military leadership "brutal."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Singapore's other political parties- still alive and kicking!

Hi Friends

This article (below) in the weekend’s Today caught my eye just when I thought that the most interesting event in the past week was the subdued “black shirt” protest against the Annuitygate!

Things have changed (albeit at snail’s pace).

In the old days ( or like my kids will say ... when policemen wore pants), such articles would never have seen the light of day. Although Loh Chee Kong did not exactly say that he welcomed multi-party politics but at least he appeared rather neutral and even mentioned about the Privy Council’s judgement that ruled in JBJ's favour. ( Younger readers should read up on the Privy Council's deliberation- rather intriguing).

If my memory serves me right, it was coincidental that shortly after this saga regarding JBJ (and was it involving Wong Hong Toy too?) that Singapore’s judiciary system decided to cut its umbilical cords from its British origins and the Privy Council no longer served as our court of last appeal. If anyone has the facts or references please do post them for the benefit of our younger ones who missed the more colourful goings-on of the old days.

(Dr.Huang (18.9.07) someone has provided me with references to the above event here and here )

I whole-heartedly believe that a vibrant WP is good for the nation.

Nothing can really beat having good-ole competition in the marketplace!

More good years for all our political parties (including the SDP whom I believe also had not been lying down and just doing nothing ( read here)


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: Something I wrote about David Marshall here

50 years on ... what keeps Workers' Party going
Loh Chee Kong (15th Sept 2007)

HALF a century is a long time in politics. Very long if that is opposition politics. And an eternity if the politics happens to be in a country where the ruling party has been in power for 48 uninterrupted years, delivering an economic miracle and breathing life into nearly every corner of the physical, social, economic and political environment and fighting its rivals tooth and nail.
Then, how did the Workers' Party (WP) — put together by a pipe-smoking criminal lawyer called David Marshall on Nov 7, 1957, to promote workers' welfare — manage not just to survive but keep its parliamentary presence for a very long 26 years?
The answer may rest in the fact that in nearly every election, about a third of voters do not support the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), said Dr Terence Chong from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas). "Opposition parties have survived on the votes of this 30 to 40 per cent of Singaporeans," he added.
The permanent anti-PAP bloc aside, the WP has also been kept alive by the presence of leaders who were able to provide the party and its supporters with what was needed at that time.
Mr Marshall was an idealist who thought there was room for another party amid a highly-charged political landscape. The next WP leader, Mr J B Jeyaretnam, threw in his lot with confrontational politics at a time when the political scene was bereft of opposition politicians who exhibited a sense of bravado to take on the PAP heavyweights.
And now there is Mr Low Thia Khiang, who is a major departure from his predecessors with his non-confrontational style. He prefers to let his grassroots walking do all the talking — a strategy that has gone down well with his constituents voting for him in four successive elections, the last one with an increased majority.
In the late 1950s, Mr Marshall, who had quit the Labour Front, discovered that there was a niche to be carved between the two extremes of the political spectrum — the left-wing PAP and the right-wing Labour Front government. And the quickest way to do that was through the communist-infested trade unions. Thus, the WP was born.
Despite a bright start that saw the party winning four of five seats it contested in the City Council Elections, the WP lost support dramatically once the communists threw their support behind the PAP. As political historian Hussin Mutalib notes in his book Parties and Politics, Mr Marshall's centrist stance failed to woo the populace, "at a time when the agitative political climate was looking for more radical leaders".
Mr Marshall was to go on to win the Anson seat in 1961 but, two years later, he was forced out of the WP after the party disagreed with his "all-or-nothing" position on the merger with Malaysia. Mr Marshall had wanted Singapore to either seek a complete merger with Malaysia or seek its own independence.
Divided and shorn of its most prominent face, the WP went into disarray and Mr Marshall was trounced at the 1963 elections in which he stood as an independent candidate.
The party remained rudderless until 1971, when a flamboyant former District Judge by the name of Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam brought with him a group of English-educated professionals into WP's fold.
Armed with a 14-point manifesto that sought to "amend and repeal" some of the PAP's policies, the WP under JBJ — as he came to be known — was cheered from the fringes but failed to grab any parliamentary seats in an election just months after the leadership change.
The party tried to make an impression in the 1976 elections with its platform of "Towards a Caring Society". The campaign saw JBJ winning the highest percentage (40 per cent) of votes for an opposition politician but it was not enough to win him a ticket to Parliament.
JBJ was not to be denied five years later, when he won the Anson by-election, breaking the PAP's 15-year-old monopoly in the chamber.
He wrote a boisterous chapter in WP history during his term in Parliament when he made his presence felt, frequently engaging senior Cabinet Ministers, including Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in fiery debates.
But while his term in Parliament kept him in the limelight, his confrontational approach towards the Government led to his downfall.
Mr Jeyaretnam was forced to relinquish his Anson seat in 1986, when he was found guilty of false declarations of the WP's accounts — a conviction the Privy Council in Britain overturned but which was upheld here.
Still, he led a one-man crusade against the PAP. By roping in outspoken individuals who had an axe to grind, including former Solicitor-General Francis Seow, Mr Jufrie Mahmood and Mr Tang Liang Hong, the party established itself as the biggest — if not the loudest — opposition voice.
The exception was Mr Low Thia Khiang. Mr Jeyaretnam might rue the day he brought Mr Low into the party, since this set in motion a renewal process that indirectly led to his exit as WP leader.
Mr Jeyaretnam, who handed the reins to Mr Low in 2001, was bankrupted by defamation lawsuits while Mr Seow and Mr Tang fled Singapore.
Dr Hussin, in his book that was first published in 2003, argues the WP was often let down by the poor quality of its election candidates and its "spray-gun" approach against PAP policies. One exception was the WP's call for a "caring society" in the 1980s, which offered Singaporeans an alternative policy.
But even this platform was somewhat usurped by the PAP Government when then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong took the reins in 1990 and unveiled a vision for a "gracious society".
If Mr Jeyaretnam, with all his passion and fearless attitude, could not take the WP to greater heights, many doubted if the mild-mannered, Teochew-speaking Mr Low could take it anywhere at all.
After six years at the helm, Mr Low has proven his critics wrong. One need only look at last year's General Election to see how far Mr Low has helped to revive the WP's fortunes. Even the presence of Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong during the Hougang hustings in support of the PAP candidate and the dangling of juicy carrots before voters could not swing the votes against Mr Low.
Mr Low's restrained ways have reshaped the WP brand — moving it away from firebrand politics and, consequently, unnecessary and costly legal battles. His stoic approach to the PAP's attacks also won him fans.
While observers, such as Iseas' Dr Chong, have no doubt the WP, under Mr Low, is the strongest opposition party today, the key questions many are asking as the party celebrates its 50th birthday in November are: Where can it go from here?
The PAP — like any other ruling political party — cannot be expected to make life easier for the WP. For some observers, the WP may find succour in something beyond PAP's control — the forces of globalisation.
Dr Chong said: "As Singapore becomes more open, will there be a gradual resistance to globalisation among Singaporeans? Will the WP be able to take advantage of the inequalities and side-effects it brings?"
Even in this area, the PAP is unlikely to concede space with the Government already taking the high ground by introducing measures such as Workfare to provide relief to lower-income Singaporeans.
While the odds are stacked against the WP's efforts to make a major impact on national policies, there are signs the party have started to adopt an approach that may seem modest at first glance but could pay big dividends eventually. And that is its strategy of "going local".
That means working the ground — Mr Low reportedly attends as many funerals as he can in Hougang — and convincing the constituents that its members can do as good a job, if not better than, their PAP counterparts in running an estate and helping them solve their municipal problems through non-governmental means. But the biggest hurdle the WP faces is a ruling party that is likely to be tenacious in defending its ground vigorously. Still, as the hardline Old Guard exit the political stage, how the successive generations of leaders — brought up in an entirely different era — deal with the opposition will play a part in the latter's durability.
Like everything else in Singapore, it's results that matter. So, like JBJ's victory in 1981, securing the party's survival for another 50 years might hinge on the party winning a Group Representation Constituency.