Monday, September 7, 2015

Singapore Democratic Party Chee Soon Juan's volte face on democracy

update: Sept 07, 2015
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The former Chee Soon Juan that I knew, before 2008 was a different man from what he is today. Chee Soon Juan is a highly educated and knowledgeable man, no one can doubt that. In the past he argued quite rightly that Singapore parliamentary elections made no sense if people did not have democracy, which they don't. In Singapore the citizen has no rights, he cannot speak publicly without a permit. And permits by the way are never allowed.

If he does speak, he faces a defamation action, contempt of court charges and litany of other trumped up charges and dismissal from employment as was seen as recently as this year when Roy Ngerng a blogger was sued and dismissed from his job as a hospital worker.

The Singaporean is not allowed to peacefully protest in public, cannot organize demonstrations and cannot engage in any political activity against the ruling PAP party without facing consequences. Additionally the entire press is state controlled and the courts are mere Kangaroo courts and a rubber stamp for the ruling government's wishes.

In the past Chee Soon Juan rightly knew that unless these fundamental denials of democracy are first redressed, elections mean nothing. He knew and rightly so that first you have to give democracy to the people before anything else. Arguing about specific issues such as the flawed immigration policies, the high cost of living and other grievances must come together with the question of democracy which has to take center stage before anything else.

In the past I admired Chee Soon Juan because, unlike the entire population of Singapore who lived in fear, he put his actions where his mouth was. Up to 2008, over many years, he was repeatedly arrested for deliberately violating these unjust laws and was imprisoned at least 10 times for his actions. At this time Chee was my hero. Then I thought to myself, here was the man who would change Singapore for the better and bring freedom to the people. Because it is through freedom that every other transgression can be addressed, and without it, the island will continue to be the Fascist state that it is today.

I respected Chee soon Juan for his stand. Here was a man who believed, as he himself always said and continues to even now that one has to act according to one's beliefs, and not pander to popular ignorance to gain power.

This was Chee Soon Juan of before.

Since 2008 Chee did a complete volte-face from his earlier beliefs and proclamations. His civil disobedience completely stopped. Not only that he completely purged anyone in his party that held these views. You must have heard of Gandhi Ambalam, who was his party chairman for many years. Gandhi stood with him, shoulder to shoulder, on all those protests and like Chee was imprisoned many many times. Gandhi Ambalam suffered with him.  Suddenly some time after 2008, we have never heard of Gandhi Ambalam again. Knowing Gandhi, it is impossible to believe that he resigned from politics on his own.

Chee kicked him out because he was not prepared to abandon the belief and principle of civil disobedience  for democratic rights. Gandhi continued to believe like Chee of the past, that forcing the government to give democracy for the people was the right thing to do, and if protests and demonstrations have to be done, they should be done.

This however was not in line with the new Chee Soon Juan who now decided that that fighting for these fundamental rights should take second stage for the expediency of entering Parliament. Obeying populist ways, which is to accept the servile life of a peasant to enable victory at the polls was all right after all.

Gandhi was not the only one to be kicked out. I remember the young  Seelan Palay an activist who was arrested a number of times with Chee for his civil disobedience against the denials of civil liberty. He too walked shoulder to shoulder with Chee. He too suffered with Chee for his beliefs. Suddenly we see no more of Seelan Palay. Seelan like Gandhi was a man burning with a passion for democratic change in the island. Since his views are no longer in line with the new Chee Soon Juan, he too was purged. He is nowhere to be seen.

And then we have Kai Xiong. Kai Xiong too like Seelan Palay was arrested for his civil disobedience against unjust laws denying fundamental human rights and arrested on a number of occasions. After 2008, he was seen no more.

And then there was Vincent Wijayasinghe. He too was highly educated with a Masters degree from England. Although he could have easily joined the PAP and succeeded in highly paid jobs, he didn't. Instead he chose a career of non profit charity work and correctly chose Chee's SDP to serve. He too was his right hand man, prominently displayed as a leader of the party and contested the last elections. But then suddenly he made the error of his life. He publicly disclosed that he was gay. That was the end of Wijayasinghe. One more thing that Chee didn't want is for his party to be associated with anyone gay. Chee calculated being gay too was on the list of no noes when it comes to pleasing the Singaporean electorate. Wijayasinghe promptly announced that he was resigning from the party and we have never heard of him again.

I too was closely associated with Chee Soon Juan's Singapore Democratic party. I too believed that Chee was right in believing that the first job in a Fascist island such as this was to bring democracy through civil unrest. In 2008 I was in Singapore and held there for 6 months during my run in with the Lee government over a blog I wrote, for which I was imprisoned, and I spent a great deal of time with Chee and his party members. In fact the subject of my imprisonment was for criticizing the judge who bankrupted Chee!

I even volunteered to distribute leaflets on several of protests at this time. Some of my pictures distributing leaflets with Chee are still seen in the Internet. After my return to the US in November 2008, I noticed a distinct coolness in my dealings with Chee. I used to write to the Singapore Democrat, his party newspaper but after 2008, Chee refused to publish any of my letters.

I then wrote to Chee wanting to know the reason why I am being abruptly cut-off to which he said that his party members do not want anything to do with me, as I was seen to be confrontational and not to the liking of the government. He said he had to comply with their wishes.

When I responded by saying that it is he who should decide what is good for Singapore and he should not merely comply with the wishes of his party members, to which he said it was not possible.

I concede that that I am now an American but I was nevertheless born in Singapore and much more a Singaporean, even more than the average citizen. I have a much bigger stake in the island, having been arrested several times during my life there for my political activities, repeatedly disciplined by the Singapore legal profession for my opposition to the regime and not least contesting 2 national elections in the island. Therefore I am not just an ordinary American but much more of a Singaporean than the average citizen you meet in the island.

Today Chee Soon Juan is no longer the man who said the sonorous words that one should act according to what is right, regardless of the popularity or otherwise of the cause. If the demand of democracy is fundamental, which it is, one should fight for it, regardless of whether or not the people disapproved. There can be no question that without democracy, Singapore will continue the way it is, nothing better than a Fascist state. This fact is incontrovertible.

A great man stands up for one's beliefs regardless of whether it is popular or not, even if the whole world is against him.

It is wrong to allege that Singaporeans are so daft as not to realize the need for democracy. Only the ignorant would believe that all that is needed is to correct the misguided policies of the government and then everything will be all right. It will not. The people would continue to live in fear of this government without their rights, and the chill down their spine to question the government would mean that for time eternal the government can continue to do whatever they want as they have done for the past 50 years.

I have been following Chee Soon Juan's speeches at the rallies now going on in the elections. His speeches are no different from any other opposition party. He talks of the usual complaints of massive immigration, loss of jobs, the high cost of living and the inability of citizen's to draw their retirement funds. At the very end of his speech, almost in passing, he makes short shrift of the need for democracy, where he glosses over it, saying that without it the elections makes no sense.

The pre-2008 Chee Soon Juan would have made demand for democracy the center stage, the mainstay of his speech. The post-2008 Chee Soon Juan on the other hand joins the bandwagon of other opposition parties, all subdued and suppressed by fear, carefully avoiding the main malaise of the island, which is the lack of democracy.

I would have respected Chee Soon Juan much more, even if he was alone is his endeavors, standing and protesting the lack of democracy and going to jail for it. I still believe that street demonstrations will ultimately bring about democracy, much quicker than any of these pretended fake elections would ever produce.

I still believe that even if the average citizen is unable presently to see the truth in civil disobedience and the need to force democracy, they have sufficient education and intelligence to ultimately see the truth in it and follow anyone in such a cause.

But alas, Chee Soon Juan is not the man today to put his actions where his mouth is. I have no doubt that even today, he understands correctly that without freedom and democracy, the people would continue to be the slaves that they now are. But because he is more concerned in getting into parliament at any cost, even against his own beliefs, one cannot say unreservedly say that he is a man who will stand by his beliefs at all costs. He will not.

The Singapore Democratic Party would be a much better one if it embraced everyone who wished to be part of it, even if their philosophy does not completely square with the beliefs of Chee Soon Juan. But the party today only accepts people who unconditionally accept the ways of Chee Soon Juan, which is to give up civil disobedience and not appear confrontational to the PAP, so that the PAP  will not oppose your political participation.

It is as if Chee Soon Juan like his other opposition colleagues in the other parties have accepted that the Lees were Gods and only those whom they approve are suitable for political office.

Besides the purging of those he does not like, he refuses even experienced politicians from standing for office and instead fields greenhorns whom we have never heard of.

James Gomez is a highly educated member of his party who contested the last 2 elections. There is no doubt Gomez wanted to contest. Chee has not fielded him this time. There is no doubt that if he was elected his wide knowledge and experience would benefit the electorate far more than the several newbies who have cropped up from the woodwork.

The only reason I can think of is Chee's belief that Gomez may not win because of his debacle with the authorities in the former elections about a form which he had falsely accused the election office of receiving but in fact had not. Chee should have fielded Gomez at the elections because he is the right man, not because he might not win due to the possible skullduggery of the government.

And then we have Jufrie Mahmood, the Chairman a very experienced politician who has suffered greatly for his courage in opposing the regime. He too was not fielded, possibly once again because he may not win, not because of his abilities which are unquestionable.

In the end, I can say this of Chee Soon Juan. There is no doubt that he believes in democracy and would fight for a better Singapore. There is also no doubt that he is a highly read individual. But he is not a man that I would walk with in a political cause because I do not know what would be his stand with his followers the next minute. He is a man of expediency and the expediency being to get into Parliament at any costs. And if it is necessary to betray his supporters and his colleagues in order to achieve it, he will.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean by birth
American citizen
San Francisco, California
Tel: 510 491 8525

No comments: