“Dr Chee has stood for elections thrice – and lost badly all three times, once receiving just 20 per cent of the vote,” the Minister of Social and Family Development (MSF), Chan Chun Sing, wrote in his letter to the Huffington Post on 15 January protesting that the US-based website was giving “considerable but undeserved attention and space” to Dr Chee.
Mr Chan then went on to list Dr Chee’s alleged shortcomings, dating back more than 20 years, and haughtily concluded:
“It is because of these and other failings that Dr Chee is a political failure.”
Mr Chan’s remarks deriding Dr Chee’s supposed “failure” as a politician have been met with equally derisive reactions from the public towards Mr Chan – they point out that Mr Chan himself is “wet behind the ears” politically, having only entered politics in 2011 through a non-contest in the Tanjong Pagar GRC, helmed by former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.
Some say Mr Chan should not be making fun of Dr Chee when he himself “has not won a single vote”.
Be that as it may, Mr Chan’s definition of what constitutes “political failure” is interesting.
One of the qualifying criterion, Mr Chan’s letter makes clear, is the lack of electoral victory.
Mr Chan points to the fact that since Dr Chee took over the helm of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), the party hasn’t won a single seat. But such an argument is quite strange – for the failure to win any seats is not only limited to Dr Chee. In fact, besides the Workers’ Party (WP) and the SDP under Chiam See Tong, no other political party, save the PAP, has won any electoral seats in the last 50 years.
Does that mean that all these political parties and their politicians are “political failures”?
Is winning the only criteria in what defines success, even in politics?
Dr Chee’s contribution to Singapore’s political landscape also includes that outside of electoral politics, no?
But let’s stay with Mr Chan’s definition of a “political failure”.
If winning elections is a criteria, wouldn’t the label of “political failure” then apply to Mr Chan’s colleagues in the PAP as well, those who have failed to win in elections.
For example, Desmond Choo who has lost twice in Hougang. It is a fate which also befell Mr Choo’s colleagues in the PAP such as Andy Gan and Kenneth Chen.
Are these men also “political failures”?
What about those PAP MPs who have “coattailed” more established and senior ministers in GRCs and went on to win? Are they “political success” stories?
And what about those who spent their entire political career, or at least a major part of it, as MPs without ever having won a single vote outright in an electoral contest?
In fact, Mr Chan’s predecessor MP in his own constituency of Tanjong Pagar is one such example.
Koo Tsai Kee entered politics at the 1991 General Election. His first foray was a no-contest. His team, led by Lee Kuan Yew, was declared victors by a walkover. It was the same outcome in the next elections in 1997. In fact, it was the same for the next two elections.
2001: 2006, when Mr Koo “contested” the elections for the last time: Would one consider Mr Koo, who did not win a single vote outright in any election throughout a span of 15 years, a “political success” story?
Mr Chan’s own first foray into electoral politics was also in Tanjong Pagar GRC, and it was also a walkover, no-contest, “victory”: What then really defines success in politics? While we ponder on that and ask ourselves if Mr Chan’s attacks make sense, let us also remember that there is an (unspoken) gentlemen code of ethics, if you like, which is encapsulated in the maxim: don’t kick someone when he is down.
By Mr Chan’s own derision of Dr Chee, the former clearly holds the view that Dr Chee is no “weighty political figure in Singapore.”
In fact, Mr Chan said that Dr Chee “is nothing of the kind.”
Yet, if that were so, should not Mr Chan then be the gentlemen and not kick someone whom he himself (Chan) already sees as a “failure”? Why kick someone who is already down?
Mr Chan’s letter of personal attacks and condescension is thus regrettable. Indeed, it is most unbecoming of a minister.
And also, lest we forget, it is also unbecoming of a minister, writing in his official capacity as a leader and representative of Singaporeans, to write to a foreign media outlet to launch such personal attacks against another Singaporean, even if he disagrees with him.
Mr Chan’s letter to the Huffington Post, in case we have not noticed, says nothing of the things which Dr Chee’s articles to the same website spoke of – income inequality, for example.
In short, not only was Mr Chan’s letter an attempt at knocking someone who is already down, it is also going for the man and not the ball.
If this is how our future leaders are going to behave, then I am afraid they are not going to inspire a new kind of society – one where failures of any kind are not derided, or used to score cheap political points.
Dr Chee’s response to Mr Chan’s hubristic letter is a mature one. (Read it here.)
“It is disappointing that the younger generation of ministers like Mr Chan has not set a new direction for the conduct of politics in Singapore instead on relying on that of a bygone era,” Dr Chee said.
Yes, very disappointing indeed.
You really have to drag Dr Chee’s name through the mud again all because you feel Huffington Post was giving him too much space because it published two articles from Dr Chee?
Singaporeans who look up to Mr Chan as a potential future prime minister may go away with the idea that winning is what defines success. Thus, Mr Chan’s letter of derision may not do any damage to Dr Chee, but to Singapore society.
And that is entirely regrettable.
Recent remarks from government ministers to the various alternative accounts of our history is disheartening, to say the least. If this is how the debate on our beginnings is going to proceed, I am afraid we may end up with nothing more than personal invective being hurled by the government, and nothing more.
For that is how the “debate” has gone so far.
I wouldn’t even call it a debate, actually. I would call it whiny and desperate defences, devoid of any real or meaningful and productive discussions.
The government’s actions so far are namely two – one; ban, censor, prevent, any alternative accounts from reaching the masses. The ban on Tan Pin Pin’s film is an example.
Of course, the authorities say it is not actually a ban because students can view it, and private screenings of the film are also allowed. But this, the authorities do not seem to realise, makes a mockery of its own reasons for the ban in the first place – that the film poses “a threat to national security”. What kind of government allows a film (or anything, for that matter) which poses a threat to national security to be made available to the masses, especially our students?
So, it is clear the authorities have rubbished their own assertions.
Two; it has resorted to personal attacks to obscure the call for evidence to substantiate its claims made about our history, in particular to the security swoop which detained more than 100 opposition members in Operation Coldstore in February 1963. The government has, instead, chosen to avoid and ignore such calls from Singaporeans, historians and former detainees.
The prime minister, for example, had even mocked what he described as “revisionist” historians for their academic credentials, instead of presenting facts to back his claims. And just yesterday (14 Jan 2015) Minister of State, Sam Tan, accused these “revisionist historians” and their “proxies” of lacking “intellectual honesty”.
Mr Tan, like PM Lee, has presented no evidence to back up what they say, whether in reference to the historical facts, or to who these “proxies” of the “revisionist historians” are.
In other words, the ministers seem to be swinging wildly in perhaps the hope that something will hit.
In sharp contrast to the petty and infantile name-calling of the government, the historians, the former detainees and even ordinary Singaporeans have all – civilly, I might add – taken it upon themselves to do their research and to take time and effort to write these down and share their findings and views with others online.
The latest to do so is Dr Poh Soo Kai , who was in the thick of the situation more than 50 years ago. I’ve had the privilege to meet and listen to Dr Poh speak on several occasions. He is a soft-spoken man. And the word which lingers in my head after hearing him is “gentleman”. And you can see this in the way he calmly writes about our past, about what had taken place back in 1963 and prior.
His is quite unlike the uncouth name-calling of PAP ministers.
Dr Poh is a founding member of the PAP, and also of the Barisan Socialis, and a former detainee under Operation Coldstore. He is a practising medical doctor who continues to practise at his clinic which he set up in the 1960s with the late Dr Lim Hock Siew, Singapore’s second longest detainee (19 years).
Do take some time to read this fascinating background to not only why Lee Kuan Yew had to instigate the arrests of more than 100 of his political opponents, but also the larger context in which the British and the Malaysians had to go along with the scam.
For example, Dr Poh writes in “Battle for Merger Revisited, Part 2“:
“Even Lee Kuan Yew saw that the way ahead for him politically was to take on the appearance of an anti-colonial fighter though he recognised that his future rested firmly with the British.[ii] Chin Peng in My Side of History (2003) revealed that Lee had contacted the CPM for support when the PAP was being formed. At that time in 1954, Lee was fully aware that Samad Ismail was a communist, yet he appointed him the pro-tem chairman of the PAP at its inaugural meeting at Victoria Memorial Hall.”
In brief, while the PAP government, now as in the past, castigates and accuse the opposition Barisan Socialis of being part of a communist conspiracy to overthrow the government in Singapore through armed struggle, the PAP was in fact itself deeply in cahoots with the communists.
This is borne out in historical records and is not disputed, even by the PAP.
But instead of engaging in deep and meaningful debate on our history which will enlighten and even empower Singaporeans with a shared sense of national identity in this our 50th anniversary, the PAP government has instead chosen to attempt to discredit others through name-calling, and mocking of researchers’ personal academic qualifications.
It is truly unfortunate for Singaporeans that the Government is also at the same time denying them access to historical records, such as Cabinet Papers, which will no doubt cast much light on what the Lee Kuan Yew government discussed in private about the alleged communists and indeed of Operation Coldstore itself, and in particular its real reason for the security operation.
Singaporeans deserve a substantive debate, and not the vain and childish attempts at avoiding the real questions of our history.
The PAP government should stop its unproductive behaviour, including its unconvincing excuses not to release secret documents which will help Singaporeans understand their past.
It is shameful behaviour, especially in the year when Singaporeans are called to celebrate its nationhood.
The following is the content of an email I sent to several ministers on 18 October 2013.
I write to express my deep concerns about the mainstream press promoting and stoking racism and xenophobia in their reports.
On 18 October, Minister for Manpower, Tan Chuan Jin, said, in reference to complaints about discriminatory job advertisements:
“It is important to not stoke up hate and ill will as some are doing. It does no one any good.”
Indeed, over the years, especially the last few, the government has taken pains to remind and urge Singaporeans not to fan the flames of hatred, in particular through racist or xenophobic expressions, among our people.
It is therefore with great concern that we are seeing such postings in the mainstream press which the government had described as “accurate, timely, and balanced” and “professional”.
On the same day that Mr Tan urged Singaporeans “to not stoke up hate and ill will”, The New Paper carried this on its front page: Read More…
What stood out for me with regards to the Fair Consideration Framework, announced by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on 23 September, were these two lines in the ministry’s press release, attributed to Mr Tan Chuan Jin:
“The framework is not about ‘Hire Singaporeans First, or Hire Singaporeans Only’. What the government is doing is to help them get a fair opportunity.”
The same minister had said, in May, that like TAFEP, he preferred to use the “moral suasion approach to tackle the issue of discrimination at the workplace.”
Mr Tan “was quick to add that for now, the Government prefers to stick to its approach of persuading companies to change. It “is working for us”, he said, as the root cause of discrimination in Singapore is employers’ mindsets.”
His latest about-turn seems to imply that the “moral suasion” route in fact is not working, but at the same time, he is reluctant to introduce legislation to protect Singaporean workers – and is only willing to pussyfoot around the matter by introducing instead a “framework”. One which he at the same time has to reiterate is not about “hire Singaporeans first”.
There are several things about the above two latest sentences in the MOM statement which are disturbing.
One, that the minister needed to clarify that the framework is not about hiring Singaporeans first. For all intent and purposes, the framework is indeed about hiring Singaporeans first, in fact. How else could it be? If it were not, then why even bother to go through this whole exercise?
Or is the minister saying that all he wants employers and businesses to do is for them to just “consider” Singaporeans first only? Like, you know, all you need do is to think this in your mind, the 2 weeks advert on the MOM Jobs Bank notwithstanding.
Her son died in prison 3 years ago under very controversial circumstances – and she has been hoping for some explanation into the truth of how he died.
As the matter is now before the courts, I shall not say too much about the case itself. However, I will give my two cents about the entirely deplorable statement by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on 13 September 2013.
The statement was issued in response to the Writ of Summons served on the government, through the Attorney General, on 12 September, by lawyer for the family of Dinesh Raman Chinnaiah, the 21-year old who died in Changi Prison on 27 September 2010.
The writ sought aggravated damages from the government, and laid out the family’s version of the events which took place on that fateful morning in Changi Prison. The writ says that several prison officers had “intentionally assaulted” Dinesh Raman and caused his death. Read More…