Is she sincere? What are her intentions? Well, I thought it would be good to run a little X-ray over her statements and see what the truth is.
Dear Kirsten – if you’re reading this – in your reply, and in the video from 2016, you keep going on about “democratic processes” that you’re allegedly fighting to defend or restore in Singapore.
You seem to have forgotten about the most important one: the ELECTIONS.
It’s the public vote at the ballot box that is the cornerstone of democracy and democratic change – not “social activism” of self-righteous complainers who think they know better than everybody else.
Democracy, first and foremost, serves the choices and desires of the majority. The laws circumscribing activities of minority groups – people who, quite demonstrably, have failed to garner broad enough support – are established by the democratically elected parliament of the country.
By claiming Singapore is not democratic because it does not allow you to do what other countries – in a completely different reality – would, is simply an attempt at hijacking democracy by a tiny group you represent, to serve your interests.
That you have a dozen parties to choose from and that opposition leaders say all sorts of things (usually rather preposterous) with no retribution whatsoever, shows that your opinions would not be off-limits as well. But they have to be voiced in line with the established legal order which, for half of a century, has been supported by most Singaporeans.
Unfortunately, instead of engaging in it honestly you’re trying to portray yourself as some sort of a trampled dissident. That is, of course, perfectly understandable, because conniving people in your corner of the stage love to exploit perks of imaginary victimhood for their own goals.
You don’t care about public opinion – and so, by extension, democracy. In the very video from 2016 you say how Singapore is simply in the early stages of the Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan:
“…the first stage, he calls them “Normal Times”, which is when there are problems in society but not acknowledged. Most people think that life is okay, it’s fine, the public are quite unaware of problems. […] So perhaps Singapore is in a Stage 1 to 3, sort of… most people don’t think there’s a problem but there’s growing discussion, growing activism and civil society, and maybe that’s the stage we’re at.”
What you are implying here is that people are happy only because they are somehow unaware of the problems that you and your “enlightened” bunch see.
That they simply do not know they should be unhappy, so your progressive activism is supposed to open their eyes to the injustice they are allegedly surrounded by.
You then continue your sweeping summary: “And if that’s the stage we’re at, then it’s okay, it doesn’t mean that we’re hopeless, it just means that we are less mature than civil society in other places and it’s up to us to understand the reasons for that, and understanding that, how we then build to the future stages.“
This is an absolutely revolting example of condescension from somebody with few meaningful achievements of her own – to suggest that most Singaporeans are merely blind minions of the PAP and the society as a whole is not as ‘mature’ as elsewhere – simply because it doesn’t accept your diagnosis.
On 500,000 Protesters
In your sob reply you deny the allegations that you want Singapore to be like Hong Kong with half a million people in the streets and that you simply gave it as an example of an incorrect metric to judge Singapore by. Well then I ask you to explain this part of your presentation:
“…a social movement is not 500,000 people [in the streets]… it’s all the work that goes into potentially one day having 500,000 people in the streets.”
And then you continue: “And that work is as, if not more important, than getting huge numbers to attract the media attention, because the groundwork, that foundational work is what sustains the network after the 500,000 people go home.”
So you’re quite clearly acknowledging that the goal of social activism you espouse is to, eventually, build parallel structures of influence over state affairs not only to get thousands of people to the streets but to retain the strength of your unelected network of pressure even after they disband.
So it is very much about getting people to the streets – and a lot more besides.
Throughout your presentation you’re referring to Moyer’s Movement Action Plan as a blueprint to follow and, as quoted earlier, you said that Singapore is somewhere at stages 1 to 3 and, thus, is less mature. Your goal is to follow along with the Plan, is it not? Then let’s see what happens during Stage 4:
You, yourself posted the image along with the transcription of your video. Do you not know what you present and what the consequences of it are?
Every democratic country relies on a legal framework legislated by the parliament and institutions that are run by democratically elected representatives – not an unelected network of self-righteous activists financed by questionable donors.
So you’re not calling for more democracy but rather for legal guarantees protecting a shadow-group of your own – which is unelected and effectively expects to be unopposed by anybody, while having all the liberty to tear into the authorities which – unlike you – are forced to subject themselves to public judgment every 4 to 5 years.
On Hong Kong
You further try to defend yourself: “A video of a speech I delivered in 2016 (emphasis because this is really important) was edited out of context and spread around to claim that I wanted Singapore to be like Hong Kong in 2019 (told you it would be important), where protesters are engaged in pitched battles with the police, and teargas chokes the streets.”
What about riots in 2016?
Admittedly, it was a relatively small incident, in which a few hundred people took part, rebelling against the government crackdown on unlicensed street food vendors during the Chinese New Year. That said, it was hijacked by political activists who violently clashed with the police. It shows a degree of lawlessness that is accepted in opposition to the authorities that surely is not evidence of a more “mature civil society”.Secondly, in your complete blindness you fail to acknowledge that today’s sad state of the matters in Hong Kong, with violence and vandalism tearing through the city is a direct consequence of earlier disobedience campaigns from 2014, which you referred to in your talk.
You’re trying to cherry-pick – that you’re in support of X but not in support of Y – even though Y is a direct result of X.
Besides that, who are you really trying to fool when the course you co-organized, which was to run at Yale-NUS in 2019, was supposed to screen documentaries about Joshua Wong?
If you wanted to distance yourself from the lawlessness Hong Kong is experiencing today, the last person you should reference is Demosisto’s leader. And yet you and your partners made him one of the main figures of your planned events.
On George Soros
You write: “We’ve received foreign grant money, but we received it following applications through the proper channels, and we don’t take money if the funder wants to influence or control our editorial or operational decisions.”
The problem is not in that George Soros’ or anybody else’s foundation is going to tell you what you write. The problem is that you already write what they want you to write and the money is a lifeline they extended to you to keep you and your rather unpopular views afloat.
On Being Accessible
You claim: “New Naratif also operates with remarkable transparency: PJ and I are highly accessible, be it through email or regular open meetings, online or off.”
And yet neither of you “free speech” advocates allows comments on your public posts – most frequently aimed at Singapore – on your personal Facebook profiles. What are you afraid of exactly?
On Mahathir and Malaysia
You claim: “Later that year, we were subjected to yet another round of harassment and abuse online after PAP MP Seah Kian Peng accused us of having invited Malaysian prime minister Mahathir to intervene in Singapore’s domestic politics.”
Well, let’s see what was said about it:
You met with Mahathir and Tan Wah Piow, who later said the following:
When asked what he thought the Singapore government’s reaction to the meeting would be, Tan replied: “I think they will be very concerned, not because I met with Dr Mahathir, but the fact that the prime minister is prepared to share his views about democracy and to enhance the development of democracy in the region.
“And that Malaysia is now shining this beacon which is probably stealing the limelight from Singapore. I think that’s what worries them. Singapore is becoming (an) outdated, archaic society with its dominant party controls.”
That you originally refused to be named in association with this meeting rather proves even you had second thoughts about it and its broader implications to your public image.
And that PJ Thum happily presented Malaysian PM with a book that tries to argue Singaporean society is built on myths nurtured by the controlling state, serves as another symbol of your allegiance.
Especially since it happened when Mahathir was turning the screw on Singapore with increasingly more hostile demands.
Let’s remind ourselves of the timeline of events between the two countries last year:
- 5th of June – newly elected Prime Minister of Malaysia, the good old Dr. M, has announced his intention to scrap the deal to build a High-Speed Rail Link between KL and Singapore
- 24th of June – Mahathir revives the old water dispute calling existing deal “too costly” and “manifestly ridiculous”
- 5th of July – Johor’s minister suggests the local government wishes to increase the price by as much as 1600%
- 29th of August – Malaysian PM brings back to life another of his ludicrous ideas – the 3rd bridge to Singapore.
A day after that announcement and completely disregarding the on-going disputes in which Mahathir attempted to intimidate your home country, you went to meet, praise and ask him to intervene in Southeast Asian affairs.
In the moment of the most serious stand-off between the two countries for many years, you decided to side with the Malaysian leader who assaulted the last water agreement – fundamental to Singapore’s existence. And you’re shocked and upset for being labeled as “traitors”?
Though I have to say that as blunders go this one is in a class of its own. That after what you’ve done there is anybody in Singapore still listening to what you have to say is a miracle.