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As Singaporeans Increasingly See the Light, the Arc May Be Starting to Bend

I have frequently accused Lee Hsien Loong and his family of corruptly using state resources to stay in power and promote his and his wife’s financial interests. Of course he only stepped into his dad’s shoes and inherited a system that was set up to protect his interests. This system has been so successful in perpetuating the family’s hold on power and its financial interests that it has been copied by many totalitarian states worldwide including Communist China. All power centres funnel up to LHL or his wife who between them control most of the economy through Temasek and GIC as well as a web of statutory boards and other corporate entities like Changi Airport Group and SingHealth. They also control Singaporeans’ housing through HDB and their savings through CPF. All media is state media and the few online publications that strive to maintain a sliver of independence are hemmed in with restrictive laws designed to starve them of capital and income and ensure that they rigorously self-censor, as when The Online Citizen (TOC) removed one of my articles after the Editors, Remy Choo and Kumaran Pillai, received a midnight phone call from Shanmugam.

I have frequently pointed out how state resources have been used to fix elections, most notoriously in 1997 when JBJ was denied victory in Cheng San after a combination of threats to withhold HDB upgrading and MRT stations from the residents, propagated through state media, and actual criminal offences under the Elections Act perpetrated by Lee Hsien, Loong, PM Goh Chok Tong and Tony Tan.

 

More recently I have pointed out that it is corrupt for Lee Hsien Loong to use state resources to intimidate and silence critics, in particular by the dusting off and weaponising of the archaic law of criminal defamation, as in the recent trial of Terry Xu from TOC and Daniel De Costa. Back in March 2012 I wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) entitled “Challenging Singapore’s Defamation Laws” in which I said:

As The Wall Street Journal is aware, my father, Reform Party founder Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, was sued numerous times for defamation, culminating in being bankrupted over a few words in an article published in the Workers’ Party newspaper that he did not write and in a language (Tamil) whose written form he did not understand. This resulted in him losing his seat in Parliament and not being able to stand again before he died, which was of course the key objective. Since then it has been clear that defamation suits are too useful a tool for the ruling party to give up.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been quick to use the defamation tool himself in the past, having sued a number of international publications. He has also sued numerous individuals, including my father. In the 2011 election Mr. Lee said that “in the heat of an election campaign…you will find unwise speeches being made, which is why sometimes, after elections, you’ve got court cases to deal with.”

It is encouraging that people came forward to donate money to pay off Democratic Party Secretary General Chee Soon Juan’s fine and keep him out of jail during the election. This gives some small hope that the tactics the People’s Action Party leaders employed in the past will no longer work.
I have put the last sentence in bold because it explains why LHL has now shifted to using the resources of the state and the collusion of his tame AG, former personal lawyer  Lucien Wong, to prosecute his opponents for defamation. While a civil suit worked well when he sued impoverished blogger, Roy Ngerng, whom he was able to get sacked from his job and publicly smeared by his employers, it appears to be working less well against Roy’s mentor,  Leong Sze Hian, who has received significant donations from many individuals in Singapore including LHL’s brother. Testifying in court clearly did LHL some reputational damage. A criminal prosecution has innumerable advantages, allowing LHL to use the coercive power of the state and the fear of imprisonment rather than mere financial penalties and probable bankruptcy. I wrote about this recently in “An Archaic and Repressive Law Corruptly Misused”The latest use of LHL’s new weapon is seen in the threat to prosecute Singapore’s only human rights lawyer, M. Ravi, for criminal defamation.
Many of the insights I brought to the analysis of Singapore’s economy and the PAP’s manipulation of economic growth statistics, as well as of the way in which the Lee family control the levers of power over the last ten years have become commonplace currency among the Opposition. People suddenly become much bolder about asking questions about the reserve and the real surplus rather than the wayang of the Budget, why taxes had to rise, lacklustre productivity growth, the appointment of relatives and cronies to senior positions and more willing to call a spade (like state media) a spade after I raised these issues. The Workers Party even plucked up courage to ask a relatively timid and indirect question about Ho Ching’s salary in Parliament after I prodded them to on a joint trip to Armenia in 2018 (though the question was met with arrogant stonewalling and falsehoods from Lawrence Wong who claimed Temasek was a private company).
In the latest example of this encouraging trend Li Shengwu, LHL’s nephew, has spoken out in a Facebook post against his mother’s 15 month suspension by the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon:
Lee Hsien Loong has no shame about using state resources to settle grudges against relatives. He should resign now, rather than continuing to undermine the rule of law in Singapore.
Of course the way the blinkers have suddenly fallen  from Li Shengwu’s and his family’s eyes and their apparent conversion to democracy and accountability only after losing out in a dynastic power and money struggle can be questioned. Nevertheless it is encouraging. As Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

 

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