PM Lee’s Crackdown on Any Whiff of Dissent Finds Some Strange Targets
LHL is now suing blogger Leong Sze Hian for sharing an article from Alex Tan’s State Times Review (the name of which incidentally Alex stole from me as I was the first to mock the Straits Times by calling it the State Times) insinuating that he was under investigation by US and other law enforcement agencies for allegedly assisting Najib launder money from 1MDB in return for Najib signing secret agreements.
The PAP Government has seized on this as an opportunity to extend the work started when they closed down The Real Singapore (TRS) in 2015 and jailed its owners for the archaic colonial-era crime of sedition. MDA blocked Singaporeans’ access to the State Times Review website. Alex Tan stopped publishing his blog and now just has a Facebook page. Facebook has so far resisted pressure from the Government to take down Tan’s posts In my last article “Mark My Words! The PAP Are Coming After Your Last Free Space (Social Media) Next“, I said that Edwin Tong’s attendance at a UK Parliamentary hearing to hold Facebook to account would give the PAP a figleaf to bring social media to heel or to restrict Singaporeans’ access to it.
I am not a fan of Alex Tan’s, He was a protege of Lina Chiam in the Singapore People’s Party and then came over to Reform Party on loan to stand in Ang Mo Kio in the 2011 GE. Reform Party expelled him after the GE as he had made physical threats in the office in order to get his contributions returned to him which may account for his antipathy towards me. He is an angry young man prone to rash judgements and hysterical behaviour which have got him into frequent trouble. I did have some sympathy with the fact that he was brought up by a single mother in poverty and I admire his willingness to speak up against the PAP whatever the personal cost.
But until now I have always considered Alex Tan to have more courage than Leong Sze Hian. “Uncle” Leong, as he is known, has attracted a following among Singaporeans for his short blogs which critique Government statistics. Part of his popularity stems from the fact it appeared (until now that is) to Singaporeans that liking him seemed safe and unlikely to get you into trouble. He is seen as concentrating on what Singaporeans call “bread and butter” issues and not challenging the divine right of the PAP and the Lee monarchy to rule forever.
However, despite his claims to have several degrees, he frequently makes basic statistical errors. He has never been scared of plagiarizing others including myself, as when I ill-advisedly gave him some information and found out he had rushed out a blog without crediting me as the source. He told me that he was asked by my dad to be Chairman of Reform Party but had turned it down because he was not prepared to take the risk.
He seemed to be Roy Ngerng’s and Han Hui Hui’s puppet master and the moving force behind Roy’s blog “The Heart Truths”. Leong spoke at all the CPF protests but when Roy and Hui Hui were arrested for disrupting another PAP function mysteriously double booked with their event, Leong conveniently managed to be resting some distance away because he had by a remarkable coincidence fallen ill. I have always been suspicious of his motivation and suspected that he might even be a mole given his unwillingness to stand or to join any political party. In the last GE he paid Han Hui Hui’s deposit so she could split our vote in Radin Mas. This gave PAP-controlled academic institutions an excuse for excluding Reform Party from public events to which other political parties were invited on the grounds that our share of the vote was lower than some of the other parties. Clearly supporting democracy is less important to him than undermining the only real Opposition in Singapore. However his plans backfired when I deliberately avoided standing in Radin Mas and stood in West Coast instead.
Given his unwillingness to stick his neck out and his ambiguous motivations it is surprising that PM Lee has chosen to sue him, particularly as he is unable or unwilling to sue Alex Tan in Australia where the latter resides. While it is clearly libellous without evidence to suggest that there was a secret agreement between Najib and LHL in which the latter assisted the former in laundering money in return for concessions to Singapore from Malaysia, it does beggar belief that the Singapore authorities and intelligence services did not have some inkling of what was going on at 1MDB given that a significant portion of the money allegedly stolen ended up in Singapore bank accounts. And Mahathir himself has questioned why Malaysia signed some one-sided deals with Singapore, including giving up the land and in particular the historic railway terminal owned by Malaysian Railways. Singapore only took action against money laundering after the US Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit in July 2016 seeking to seize 1MDB’s stolen assets and using the pseudonym “Malaysian Official No.1” to refer to Najib. Despite the lawsuit LHL allowed himself to be photographed with Najib in that infamous durian-eating photo from around the same time. As PM, LHL must have been privy to any intelligence Singapore had about Najib’s nefarious activities.
LHL’s hypersensitivity on this subject does suggest he is worried. As he did with Roy, he has used his Press Secretary, paid for by the taxpayer, to handle the media over his personal lawsuit when he should be paying for the services of a PR agency. As I said when he sued Roy, a PM should not be bringing personal lawsuits when he has substantial influence over judicial appointments. The proper thing would be to wait until he leaves office or to just issue a statement. Another question is whether MDA, which told Leong to take down the post two days before a letter of demand arrived from Davinder Singh (my father’s old friend), is working as LHL’s own personal private detectives and assisting him in pursuing defamation suits. That would be an abuse of power.
With the next GE fast approaching PM Lee is clearly taking pre-emptive action against anyone who thinks that Singapore is in for a dose of Malaysia-style democratisation. Singapore’s tame and fearful non-State controlled media have been either closed or are being sued while offshore websites have been restricted. The legitimate furore over foreign interference over Facebook’s facilitation of Russian meddling in US elections and the Brexit referendum is providing cover for an authoritarian crackdown on social media, And even people like Leong who believed they were safe by confining their criticism to economic and social policies are being sued even when they are merely sharing posts. It will be interesting to see how quickly Leong can raise a million dollars or two to fight this lawsuit. Will it be as fast as Sylvia and Pritam?
LHL’s choice of target is bizarre unless his logic is that suing Leong so swiftly he will deter anyone else from coming out before the next election. Leong merely shared an article that may have been defamatory. However he has stuck to criticism of social policies and CPF and has shied away from any direct attack on the Lee family or other PAP Ministers. I have been much harder hitting in my attacks on what would be considered corruption in other countries such as LHL’s appointment of his wife to be head of Temasek and the fact that her remuneration remains undisclosed. Yet so far no one has threatened to sue me.