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Why I paid good money to help keep my political rival out of jail.



I recently found the following article on the popular alternative political website The Temasek Review.  Written by blogger Gen Ji, it deals with Dr Chee’s conviction.

….. the deafening silence from the other local opposition parties with regards to the verdict. Unlike the chorus of condemnation and messages of solidarity that one might expect to find in other countries, the lack of response from the other local opposition parties is a testament to how poisonous the relations are between the opposition parties in Singapore. So far, only Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the youngest son of the illustrious and noted democracy advocate J.B Jeyaretnam (who was himself extremely close to the SDP Secretary-General) and current leader of the Reform Party has spoken out against the ruling and pledged funds to keep him out.” *

On January 31st, I had written a post on my personal Facebook page entitled, “Here’s why I’ll be contributing to Soon Juan’s fund!” **. I had expected that this would act as a catalyst for other Opposition leaders to follow suit but I was wrong. Unlike the blogger quoted above, I see no evidence that the silence is a testament to how poisonous the relations are between the opposition parties.  However, the failure to respond clearly opens the opposition up to criticisms of poisonous behaviour and is damaging to all of us in many ways.

The motives for the deafening silence are a matter for speculation but we cannot rule out the fear factor. There is of course an ever present, substantiated fear that by showing unity and commenting on the sentence we will be accused of questioning the integrity of our judiciary or even of scandalising them.  Alan Shadrake’s recent conviction is a perfect example of why you wouldn’t want to do that.

Action for defamation is also a very powerful whip for authoritarian governments to crack.  It is a line drawn in sand on the beach. With each tide it becomes harder to see where that line is drawn but it is there and we prefer not to move rather than to risk unwittingly crossing it.  The penalties are too severe.

My own father was very familiar with those penalties. He lost his profession, his place in parliament and was subsequently bankrupted, despite a Privy Council ruling reversing the judgement. After his death and at his funeral thousands of people expressed their regret and feelings of guilt at not standing up for him when he was alive. We seem to have learnt nothing from our history.

Even the so called free and independent press of advanced democratic nations succumbs to this fear of defamation suit  and self censors rather than run foul. The governments of Sovereign Nations are usually swift to act when restrictions are placed on the free flow of their goods across borders, contrary to the rights enshrined by the WTO.  Restriction on the free sale of newspapers and their advertising is a basic restriction on trade yet the media corporations receive no support from the trade delegations in their respective governments.  Is it any wonder then, that we find it so hard to combat the restrictions?

One reason Parties may be silent is the hope that if they shut their eyes and hide under the bed covers, the bogey man may pass them by. This is a foolish hope. One thing we know from history is that when you sit silently by whilst the authorities take your neighbour away, they will come for you next. Each time there will be less resistance, fewer voices to speak out.

It matters not a jot whether you support the SDP, (Dr Chee’s Party) or whether you like or dislike him personally or indeed whether like me you are a fiercely competitive political rival. What matters is that we have free and fair elections here in Singapore and to do that we need to uphold the principles of Voltaire often paraphrased as “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” ~

We must continue to demand those basic freedoms of expression guaranteed in nearly every other advanced Nation in the world. Absolute, unchallenged authority leads to a government of ‘yes men’, flabby thinking and decisions hurried through parliament without proper debate. And without freedom of expression we are prevented from putting up an effective challenge to those ‘yes men’.

So if the rest of the world is silent, if the foreign Press self censors, if our own Press is State controlled, who will speak for us? We must speak for ourselves. We cannot rely on International NGO’s. Our only defence is openness and strength in numbers. We must show that the will for democracy comes from within.  If the other Secretary Generals and Party Leaders were to join together and donate to the fund thereby keeping Dr Chee out of jail, we would send a very clear message indeed.   I also call on my colleagues to come together and to pen and send out a joint statement. Before it is too late! This is a golden opportunity for all The Opposition parties to demonstrate unity of purpose whilst maintaining our individual ideologies and present a real challenge to the behemoth that is the PAP.

*http://www.temasekreview.com/2011/02/04/noted-democracy-icon-dr-chee-soon-juan-is-going-to-prison

**http://www.facebook.com/#!/kenneth.jeyaretnam/posts/150637384989692

5 Comments »

  1. Hi Kenneth im an adult now and I can see the sacrifices your dad made, and now you.. I wish I could have lent support but unfortunately I was only an apolitical kid back then. It is atrocious what legal weapons could have done to people in that time, and it still is! I wish parliament had more ballsy people who ‘get it’ to question the status quo, like you. But they all just wanna keep their rice bowl, their term, their multi-million dollar salary! Please run in more political elections, I believe you present a valuable voice for Singaporeans.

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  2. Yes, we need Opposition Unity more than ever. we must ensure that there are no 3 to 4 cornered fights in the coming GE against the incumbent PAP government. There is no need to unite under one Opposition Party for the time being as “many heads are better than one”. If the Opposition manages to gaarner 2-thirds majority, then it is not too late to try to form a coalition government. I believe that with basically the same interests, the Opposition Parties can achieve this.

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  3. Before we talked about political freedom & free speech/press, we must all have a strong sense of self-responsiblity, self-reliance as well as economic freedom. The fact that the national papers are still seeking Singaporean’s views on what the “GOVERNMENT’ can do to allay the problems & fears of inflation (ST dated 12 Feb 11) does not signal well for those who yearn for individual & political freedom. When ‘papa & mama’ are still ditching out ‘pocket money’ signals that we’ve not grown up yet…….sad & pathetic.

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  4. A true son of Singapore. I salute you.

    A society that condones the ruler of the day to freely demolish or punish severely fellow citizens simply because they expressed alternative views, has no future.

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  5. Kenneth, your convictions, your dad’s and Dr Chee’s are valid to the utmost. I like the name of your Blog ~ ‘Reinventing the Rice Bowl’ ~ mainly because we have been stuck in this fearing for the loss (of our rice bowls) for so long that we drastically need a revamp of what we define as our rice bowls.

    Like your analogy of the line in the sand exposed to ever-increasing water tides, pent-up public frustration will definitely build to Self-Initiative on our part in the forthcoming elections since it has been pent up for decades and mainly because people have sharply experienced first hand the mistakes of having a political monopoly to govern what is ….our Home. I believe in having a well monitored system (not dictated) of Free Market economics to achieve what Dr Goh Keng Swee said in 1960 defined good government ~> the achievement of “Economic prosperity AND Public Welfare”. We need good erudite moral men, not simply good yes-men scholars, to excel on both fronts as a nation. Especially when the latter are a ship/team that can’t truly see where we’re headed when all are now profusely tying up knots in each of their respective “specialized”fields and not cooperating to tie up the entire shoelace comprises our entire existences as Citizens of our Home.

    The Right to choose is Right.
    Currently, many capable members of a better Crew are waiting in the docks to be chosen to board the governing ship Singapore that has unfortunately run ashore instead of being on the high(er) waves of the seas we were in 1984 when the Old Guard were around.
    Reform is indeed on the map. We just need to choose this destination.

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