Re-introducing the climate of fear

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The People’s Action Party government has essentially given up on engagement. This change of tack is becoming clearer by the week as more and more instances arise where ministers and members of parliament go out to bash citizens trying to raise issues or comment on current affairs. Staircase railings, face masks and who-knows-what small thing emerging tomorrow are considered serious enough issues to roll out the government’s big guns.

The impression one gets from recent events is that they have concluded that engagement is a “been there, done that and it’s brought us nothing but grief”.

Post-2011 general election, it was supposed to be the new dispensation. However, after the stinging loss at the Punggol East by-election, and shockwaves from Barisan Nasional’s  loss of the popular vote in Malaysia’s May 2013 general election — it got only 5,237,699, (or 46.5%) of the 11,257,147 votes cast for parliamentary seats — it must feel that not only will engagement produce no benefit, a livelier online scene is positively dangerous to their continued rule.

The promise of engagement has only encouraged Singaporeans to speak up, complain and criticise more loudly, the PAP must feel. Where are the polite words, respectful nods and humble suggestions for improving governance that engagement was supposed to bring?

Just the other day, I was speaking to friends, saying I am much more pessimistic about Singapore now than I was ten years ago. Then, there was the feeling that we could be on the cusp of change. Now, I think it is clear that the PAP cannot stomach the idea of a new, different Singapore. If we want change, it will need a very hard fight, because the prospect that there will be a new kind of PAP is receding rapidly. The party will use its entire might to prevent change.

Of course, I am not referring to any kind of change. Some changes that are not politically threatening to the PAP will occur, e.g. in the business scene and in many aspects of social life. But when it comes to political liberalisation and greater respect for human rights — and as a consequence, a fairer distribution of power and wealth in society — as well on matters of accountability (GIC and Temasek Holdings, anyone?), I am in a very dark mood right now.

* * * * *

Turning specifically to recent moves to intimidate blogs and social media, which are the primary means of citizen expression today, where we may have all gone wrong is to have been too keen to speak of “citizen journalism”. I have always been wary of the term myself, but it has only been the last few months that I discerned why I feel the way I do.

Individuals’ use of new media has much less resemblance to professional journalism than to humans’ age-old way of speaking to each other. Look at how really we use new media, jettisoning any preconceived notions. We share tidbits of information and point to intriguing or suspicious-looking data. In our quintessentially human way, when something doesn’t come out looking the way we expect it to, we speculate on why it might be so. We offer hypotheses for testing by our social circles. We raise questions, assign blame and sometimes offer lengthier opinions. Or we make entertainment out of it (political satire). This is how humans talk, around the water-cooler, at the cocktail bar, in the kitchen as we wash dishes.

And this is exactly how we have used new media. The government, however, sees indiscipline, chaos and a steady erosion of their control of the agenda.

But we should celebrate the way we use media. Our curiosity, instinct for speculation, ability to frame questions and test various explanations are precisely the skills that drove Homo sapiens up the learning curve. Our ability to make fun of self-important rulers is what keeps us going on in the face of great odds.

Calling all this activity “citizen journalism” is to misapprehend it. And there’s been no greater fool than the government.

In small ways here and there are clues that our government sees new media through this lens — and worse,  it’s a distorted lens because they know of no other kind of journalism except a compliant one. The reference model is itself a faulty one in addition to being irrelevant. As a result, it keeps misdirecting itself whenever it tries to grapple with this beast (for surely, it sees new media as a beast). It imagines organisation and hierarchy where there is none.  It expects a devotion to accuracy and professionalism when the average guy couldn’t care less about it whenever he feels an urge to speak. It demands seriousness when people want to be entertained.

Our government is obsessed with licensing. But as attempt after attempt shows, it cannot sensibly draw a line anywhere without provoking ridicule. And that is simply because you can no more licence blogging and social media than you can licence people for water-cooler, cocktail-bar and kitchen sink chat.

Last year, Minister Yaacob Ibrahim inflated his sex doll named “internet code of conduct”. Some people were aghast. More laughed. Most ignored him. Codes don’t work unless there is organisation, and as far as internet speech goes, there simply isn’t.

Internet speech is not a bigger, more democratic form of journalism. It is human interaction at electron speed.

Still wearing its blinkers, the government is appalled by the prospect of inaccuracies, untruths, wild accusations and merciless disrespect (to the powers that be) the new age brings. It thinks Singapore will be worse off for it.

It is wrong. It is the exact opposite. A livelier speech scene helps Singaporeans develop the critical faculties that we have sorely lacked for a long time. Just as no one is truly healthy until he catches the flu or a stomach bug every now and then, so there is no immunity to misinformation until people have seen enough chaff to sort wheat from it.

In saying that internet speech is inherently disorganised, am I suggesting that the government will fail in its efforts to clamp down on internet speech? No, I am not. There is a real chance it will succeed, which is why recent events are so discouraging. While specific measures may not work as intended, the cumulative effect of many licensing schemes, threatening headlines carried in the mainstream media and defamation suits can well change the climate. Fear can be induced all over again.

Totalitarian states did manage to chill even casual speech among citizens. People never knew who was watching or listening in; they had no way to anticipate what price they’d have to pay for any transgression, so they self-censored.

In the same way, a determined PAP can blanket Singapore again with fear.

But that raises an important equation. Every success for the PAP is a defeat for Singapore. Singapore has no future unless we have a thinking, inventive, spontaneous people. To disinter a ghost from past rhetoric, we have no natural resource except our people, though this line needs to be updated. Once, “people” signified obedient hard work, but with industrialisation and mass production behind us, “people” must mean brains, courage and the human spirit.

As the PAP tries to beat these out of us in order to perpetuate its rule, it’s becoming clear that our collective future must mean beating the PAP back. If the PAP succeeds, Singapore dies.

51 Responses to “Re-introducing the climate of fear”


  1. 1 Jentrified Citizen 22 July 2013 at 14:20

    Fully agree with you. Too many including our govt fail to understand the nature of the Internet which is basically an online extension of how the human race interacts, communicates and learn. People have to learn by being thrown into the deep to decipher information and to use their critical thinking skills to separate the chaff from the wheat. Trying to control and manipulate what people see and hear only benefits the PAP and is a destructive route to creating a “daft” and unthinking populace.

  2. 2 Norman 22 July 2013 at 17:09

    There is also a rising trend of Singaporean bashing (e.g. NIMBY, hello kitty, etc) on Straits Times commentaries and other news site. There are always a few black sheeps in any society. It is one thing to mention, but another thing to give extensive focus and coverage on a few ugly Singaporeans.

    I think that this may be a new PAP strategy to divert the blame from the government onto citizens themselves, and to sow discord and disunity amongst Singaporeans. This type of propaganda polarises the society instead of making us better. There are also those who pose as Singaporeans expressing negative views on us online in reality to be PR or foreigners.

    We have to be careful and discerning to spot these troublemakers similar to the two “chairpersons” from hawker’s association in the recent saga.

    • 3 Jentrified Citizen 23 July 2013 at 17:12

      I am glad more Singaporeans are noticing this unhealthy trend of bashing locals by the MSM and also more subtly by the government. This is to stop before it demoralises our people even more.

  3. 4 Duh 22 July 2013 at 17:17

    I think you are mistaken – the PAP does not want Singaporeans to develop critical thinking. That IS the point. Why would a political party that has enjoyed totalitarian control over a little dot of an island since its independence want to give that up by having Singaporeans think for themselves?

    On the issue of they (i.e., the PAP) giving up on engaging Singaporeans – this may surprise you, but I am all for it. Because to me, this hastens their political demise further by failing to adapt to the changing needs of the population. Political parties that do not adapt should be voted out. I hope their lack of engagement with Singaporeans will wake Singaporeans’ stupor and push them to vote these Whities out in the next GE. I hope the majority of Singaporeans have seen through their lies and deceit, and are tired enough of their bullsh*t to just vote them out and give the coalition govt a chance.

    Voting the PAP is not just a symbol of democratic rule but also to show that future political parties that form our govt who fail to address key concerns of Singaporeans should be kicked out of Parliament swiftly – a sign that ignoring and berating the very citizens that voted your party into Parliament is not an option – something that the PAP has been doing all this while.

  4. 5 Kopithiam Uncle 22 July 2013 at 17:44

    Interesting article as always, Alex!

    Although, if you don’t mind me saying… a tad drama.

    I do agree that a vibrant internet scene is essential in “creating a thinking, inventive, spontaneous people that we sorely need”. But the problem now is that our people are so polarized right now that they don’t really think/read the different views being put forward by all parties before jumping to their own conclusions based on the headlines and start thumping their chests and beating the war drums.

    I think our people need to be more media literate. I think we are still some way off from being willing/able to do a base level of fact check/analysis before posting our shit on whatever online forum is available; preferring to follow the banner of whatever sounds “sexy” or “anti government” enough without putting too much thought into it.

    I am willing to have a gentleman’s wager with you that a fair proportion of the people who share this post will lead with the line “If the PAP succeeds, Singapore dies.” or “Every success for the PAP is a defeat for Singapore”

    Although I don’t think anyone should police the internet, I do think that the government have a right to protect their own interest in the political game. After all, it is a game of reputation and rumours. We’ve seen politicians brought down for much less than a rumour that there is a smear on their reputation.

    It is a sweeping statement to say that a livelier speech scene will automatically “help Singaporeans develop the critical faculties that we have sorely lacked for a long time”. These days I just see a lot of a**holes who genuinely consider themselves “online journalists” just because they dare to give it to “the man” and all but beg the government to sue them so that they can be “matyrs” for the Cause.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  5. 6 Josh 22 July 2013 at 18:15

    If you see plenty of flags on display and outlandish, elaborate decorations put up for National Day, you can bet your last dime that:

    1) Those stuff were put up there by the PAP/RC grassroots people.

    2) Those places face the main road, MRT station and track, mall etc.

    Also, what really irks me are those large Soviet-style billboards put up everywhere. Here’s an example: http://0.static.wix.com/media/2adc1e_8bc98cfe6c80d09513dfaaa93f2afd92.jpg

    • 7 Ziggy 23 July 2013 at 05:38

      Josh, the flags at many(if not all) estates are all put up by underpaid bangla workers.

    • 8 Alan 23 July 2013 at 18:21

      Probably our PAP Govt must have realised that too few people now are bothered to be ‘patriotic’ as those in the past to hang out their flags volutarily for National Day. After all why be patriotic when our Govt cares more about foreigners. Hence they need to prop up the main road flats themselves with flags in rows maybe to give people the false impression that our people do honour National Day with proper respect.

      But then why do they do it half heartedly for only those blocks of flats facing the main roads while none for those facing internally ? If want to put up a show to mislead people, why can’t they just do it more convincingly ?

      • 9 yawningbread 25 July 2013 at 02:00

        It annoys my neighbour that some lapdog hung a flag outside her flat. “Now where am I going to hang my clothes to dry?” she grumbles to me — not that I can do anything. Her son tells her to take a pair of scissors and cut the flag loose. But I come back tonight and the flag is still there, so they might have had second thoughts.

      • 10 Anon BDsW 25 July 2013 at 15:42

        @“But then why do they do it half heartedly for only those blocks of flats facing the main roads while none for those facing internally ?”

        Wah, your side also only the main road facing blocks ah? Maybe it’s the high S$ screwing up our budget.

    • 11 Lye Khuen Way 25 July 2013 at 20:06

      I like that “those large Soviet style billboards” description !
      For that matter, the Mao era China displays.

      So it is not out of line to suggest that the PAP are trending towards the Communist style of doing things while the USSR and PRC had moved away from totalitarian rule, no?

      • 12 Jentrified Citizen 26 July 2013 at 13:00

        There is already a saying that Singapore has become more communist than China. Even my PRC friends laugh at us as they can openly criticise their leaders in China while here they are told by Singaporeans to be careful when they comment negatively about our government.

  6. 13 Arthur Gow 22 July 2013 at 18:46

    With the rise of China, I bet the closet dictators are just bidding their time to drop any pretense of democracy. One only has to look at ASEAN to witness the retreat of democracy and liberalism.

  7. 14 Anon 3hY6 22 July 2013 at 22:09

    Actually, the PAP and it’s Singapore could very easily survive if it co-opts a larger and more diverse sphere of thought.

    it dosn’t really matter that most of the population is unthinking, uninventive and unspontaneous. As long as the core elite is. Yes, the groupthink may be pervasive but in order to survive, the PAP will probably recruit into its ranks its brightest dissenters. Just for diversity of opinion.

  8. 15 rebellyon 22 July 2013 at 22:25

    Fantastic piece. With a climate of fear, local entrepreneurs and would be thought leaders will either suffocate under such a yoke or flee to greener pastures (Perth anyone?) A highly regulated environment also allows larger organisations with more resources to meet compliance requirements, so SMEs will find a harder and harder time to communicate radical, market changing ideas.

  9. 16 Singapore Son 22 July 2013 at 22:27

    My favorite line “If PAP succeeds, Singapore dies.”. Thanks, Alex, for another insightful piece.

  10. 17 Mike 23 July 2013 at 01:46

    The PAP calcified itself and ensured its eventual demise, the day it decided it would capture the state, the courts, the media, and the army.

  11. 18 Shaun Liew 23 July 2013 at 01:51

    I feel that this may be more that controlling speech. Controlling thoughts and refusal to truly engage is a worrying trend as the leaders who do not engage ASSUME they know the problem, and puts resources to fix the problem they know nothing about.

    Time after time you find policies created by leaders in their ivory towers which sound ridiculous, but this is often the case when you don’t engage or have feedback. (There is feedback but they don’t trust) There will be a lot of wasted resources and simply, anger on both sides when projects or top down initiatives fails

  12. 19 Quanxi 23 July 2013 at 07:10

    Good thoughts Alex.Devan Nair n Jeyaretnam are happy now that daft sporeans will not allow PAP to bulldoze their ways.With Internet we can Pull information anywhere we like .Information n the truth will prevail –this is only enemy PAP most fear.History will indicate PAP is now on the decline n lky was right PAP will not be around for next lee to be PM

  13. 20 yuen 23 July 2013 at 07:36

    PAP cares very much about the views of Wall Street, Zhongnanhai, foreigners with money to buy real estate, etc; it is willing to listen to helpful comments from Singaporeans too, in fact I remember LKY himself once praising HK for its ‘buzz”, but so far the “buzz” it received from local internet participants has been unfavorable.

  14. 21 Anon T7fd 23 July 2013 at 08:01

    Sadly, I have to agree with the analysis that the PAP has given up on engagement (which is defined as persuading, rather than being persuaded) and is now on clamp-down mode.

    • 22 Alan 23 July 2013 at 18:29

      By the way, what has happened to the outcome of our National Conversation ? Has the wayang died a silent death ?

      Incidentally what better feedback could they have get if not from the horses’ mouths direct from web blogs/forums ? And yet instead of listening, they are actually more interested in near absolute control ?

      WTF, National Conversation!

  15. 23 Francis 23 July 2013 at 11:17

    The PAP have become very thin skinned. There are hardliners in the ranks who may feel that the party has been too soft nosed with those who disagree with their point of view. They are caught in a time warp and the reflex action is to lunge at whoever dares to disagree. What worked years before we had social media cannot work now. They have no choice but to deal with it in a way that works for the ground or they will experience the displeasure of citizens. Granted that is not that simple as some demands are selfish and unreasonable but if you paint everything with one stroke you are going to lose out. The divide will grow. The governmenyt must lead the way forward. Ther are enough of us who accept that there is no other party that can lead the way. The challange is for the PAP to listen to ideas that are good when they come from outside the party and give credit when credit is due. Do they honestly believe that the best brains exist only in the party.
    They need to step out of their comfort zone and tap the talent pool outside their circle. The Singpore flag is not owned by the PAP . It belongs to the nation . How many believe this? Do we dare know the answer ? Do a poll maybe . It might revealing some interesting findings. Majullah Singapura

  16. 24 JG 23 July 2013 at 14:57

    Hi Alex, first of all – don’t be discouraged or despondent!! The online views (including yours) matter more than the Govt publicly betrays or we think. But of course, this does not mean that the Govt will (or rather, in my opinion, is capable of) change. But you will be surprised that they do monitor sentiments online and can be rather thin-skinned.

    2 recent examples. Notice Temasek’s colorful, multi-page, in-cartoon-form annual report dumped on ST readers recently? In particular, note the tiny footnote comment that before 2004 (can’t remember the exact year), Temasek’s returns include assets transferred below market rates, but after 2004, its returns are follows the normal definition as other international funds. Where did this come from? Christopher Balding in TRE. They’re livid at Christopher Balding’s articles expressing skepticism at Temasek’s returns and he is correct that assets are transferred at below market rates.

    Another example – you may or may not believe this – but part (and I emphasis, part) of what triggered PM to himself butt in on the NEA-WP saga is your recent article, “VB’s dossier makes WP look bad”. You’re known as anti-PAP and when you gave credence to the dossier and publicly acknowledged its “truth”, word also reached the top of PAP. This is their “objective affirmation” that they are on the right track and PM decided that he’ll butt in to “go for the kill”. As I said, you may or may not believe this. But what you write is noted by the leadership.

    And another insider info – although the online community is livid at the recent $50k bond thing and limits on blogs, the PAP leadership believes that they have scored a big one here. Absolutely no regrets, in fact, high-fives and back-slapping. Do you notice that yahoo.com’s news is now considerably toned down? In fact, yahoo also joined with the PAP to blast WP after the dossier is published. That’s the point – all they need to do is to threaten, scatter a few dark clouds, and let the climate of fear itself take over. No one needs to make a single phone call to yahoo.com. The Climate of Fear has taken over. You can bet that no more will yahoo.com publish interviews with the sacked SMRT drivers (this was the episode that triggered it all), make comments about Tony Tan’s son having been given a cushy posting in NS (this was the other episode), etc etc.

    Anyway, paying attention to online comments and being (sometimes) thin-skinned about it, does not mean a readiness to change. In fact, as you can see from the recent examples given above, it shows combativeness to fight the multi-headed hydra called the Internet and shows that some tactics can be effective.

    But in my opinion, your despondency is not justified. Perhaps because some of us spend so much time in political blogs, we tend to wrongly assume that the average Singaporean is paying attention to all this. In my opinion, this is still not the case. But this does not mean that the average Singaporean is swallowing hook and sinker PAP’s version of stories too as published in the ST. To them, the recent NEA-WP saga is akin to the James Gomez incident – squabling and when PM himself poked his nose in, back-firing.

    To me, the bottomline is, and has always been this – PAP is its own worst enemy (particularly, PM – whom I call the “gift that keeps on giving” – because he’s just so politically inept). Aljunied, and then Punggol, did not vote for WP because WP can clean hawker centres. They want someone not scary (read : SDP?) and kinda credible to keep the PAP in check. But its always been about the PAP, primarily. The average Singaporean asks himself this question – will my children have a better future than me, if I vote for the PAP? They look at the sky-high housing prices, they contemplate the fact that they’ll likely have to sell their home to downgrade to a studio flat in order to have money for retirement, they know that in their 40’s / 50’s they can easily be retrenched at any time, the quality of life does not seem to have been better and here we are on track to 6.9 million people .. and make their decision accordingly. The PAP can paint everyone as a James Gomez all they want, jump up and down about it, and the ST can blare about how beautiful the Emperor’s new clothes are – but its not going to matter. Heck, PM Lee even cried during his last rally speech in Punggol – did it move any hearts?

    So please shake off any despondency. The new media is simply a tool. Continue to use it to share your analysis, your ideas. It does matter, more than you think. All the best!!

  17. 25 hairy 23 July 2013 at 19:06

    i will get up from the grave to fix all you ungrateful children :)

  18. 26 Going full retard... 23 July 2013 at 20:04

    I have many issues with your article, but in hopes that i can minimise the time spent on your teenage-girl-rant of a page, i shall only address your opener – that the PAP has given up on engagement.

    Do you have hard numbers to support this? Why not check to see whether the frequency of their Sunday house-to-house sessions have decreased (where ministers cover multiple flats, walking door-to-door and chatting with residents, while you lay in bed). Also, as far as I know, weekly meet-the-people sessions still occur, and anyone is welcome to walk in and speak to their minister face-to-face, one-on-one.

    If you have a change you’d like to see, speak to your minister about it, instead of rambling online. just because it’s a democracy doesn’t mean your input is only required once in four years, but it’s a continuous process of refinement and 2-way conversation. We as citizens have a right to support the ruling party; do you think things would be any better if an opposition party was in power? Look at the opposition party members in parliament now – they’re all a bunch of jokes! taking up a seat, denying far more capable individuals a chance to be heard.

    There is immense infrastructure for communication with our leaders. Be the change you want to see. Participate in PAP events, and maybe even volunteer at your local MPS session. you might be surprised.

    • 27 yawningbread 25 July 2013 at 01:57

      “hard numbers” — huh?

      “immense infrastructure for communication”?

      Which planet are you on?

    • 28 Mystified 25 July 2013 at 07:27

      with regards to speaking to the minister (rather than “rambling online): maybe YB would like everyone to see his views, rather than having a private conversation?

      so would you consider posting this piece on a minister’s FB page as “rambling online”?

    • 29 Duh 25 July 2013 at 10:34

      You want facts? Here you go:

      (i) PAP’s overall percentage of voters have been falling since the last two GEs by an average of about 10% – this is a large margin of drop. They have been consistently losing support over the last decade or so.

      (ii) PAP recently lost Aljunied, a GRC, and lost one of their key ‘generals’ – George Yeo. The GRC was a plan by the PAP to make it difficult for the opposition to win but yet they still did. Dissatisfaction with the PAP in Aljunied must have been quite high for this to happen. If you noticed, gone are the days when the PAP wins a constituency by a LARGE margin by default – in the last GE, there were many constituencies where the win was MARGINAL. The most obvious was Potong Pasir.

      (iii) Have you even been to an GE rally of the PAP and compared this with the WP’s? There are photos of these. Notwithstanding the actual number of attendees, if you have to organise the elderly in tour buses and provide free packed lunches/food to entice them to attend your election rally, well, that simply speaks about the popularity of PAP now doesn’t it? Only one word describes this tactic – desperation.

      (iv) PAP also lost a SMC PE BE. A SMC contest is the clearest competition for PAP vs WP popularity since it is a competition between two single candidates when compared to the infamous GRC. They lost it to WP even when one of their candidates was involved in a sex scandal. No amount of mud slinging by the PAP controlled mass media was sufficient to put a significant dent in WP’s popularity with the people even. What does that tell you again?

      (v) PAP’s recent White Paper on increasing influx of population to 6.9million resulted in much protests among Singaporeans. This is the only govt policy so far that I can remember that resulted in Singaporeans actually gathering and protesting at HL Park in such unprecedented numbers. If PAP has been engaging the population effectively, how is it so that they misjudged ground sentiments on this matter to anger so many Singaporeans so much for them to actually stage a protest about it?

      (v) In case you have been living in a cave, LBGT rights have been the focus of alot of developed countries lately. PAP’s argument that our archaic 377A law was inherited from the British was smashed to smithereens when recently, UK legally recognised same-sex marriages and was also approved by no less than the QUEEN herself (someone you would assume to be alot more conservative for her age). So even the country of origin for our archaic 377A has now changed their position, so the basis for the govt’s defence is moot. The attendees of Pink Dot are showing that more and more people are against the discrimination of any subset of our population. LKY’s argument that concepts like ‘equal rights’ is a Western one is also wrong (among his many other wrong ideas – like that graduate mothers and those eugenics related ones).

      PAP is passe – it is a political party about financial greed, self-righteousness, self-interests, elitism, authoritarian, and punitive control. It is a party that is out of sync with the current population that requires a more liberal democratic touch – something I believe the PAP will never be able to provide.

    • 30 Alan 25 July 2013 at 21:47

      Come on retard, who are you trying to kid here that anyone is welcome to walk in and speak to their minister face-to-face, one-to-one ? Before you can even approach the minister, they will probably have you screened & questioned beforehand to prepare for any untoward embarrassment for the minister.

      Just take those MPs/Ministers go knocking the electorates’ doors for their election rounds, they make sure they have their grassroots members knock at the doors first to gauge whether the responsive is positive enough for the MPs/Ministers show their face. If it is spontaneous, why have to knock the doors first ?

  19. 31 Anon 78eQ 23 July 2013 at 21:08

    I think its very easy for us to criticise, but how many have offered constructive feedback while being critical?

    Is there a need to engage people who are already prejudiced, overly critical without being constructive?

  20. 33 PAT 23 July 2013 at 21:15

    I think you are too pessimistic, Alex. Speaking of human nature which is a central theme of this piece, it is only human for any organization (and any human!) to attempt to filter and censor what is said about it (or him/her). Why do you moderate all comments on this site?

    If you think Singaporeans are unable to discern the government’s attempt to filter and censor online chatter and will succumb to it, I think you are just as guilty as the government in assuming the electorate are daft and incapable of independent thinking.

    • 34 yawningbread 25 July 2013 at 01:54

      You’re missing my point.

      Creating a climate of fear through a few instances of heavy-handed action is not the same thing as “filter and censor”. You are referring to something else that is not what I was discussing.

      • 35 PAT 26 July 2013 at 22:42

        I fail to see how real is the existence of “climate of fear”. Half-baked engagement? Yes. Uncomfortable with the persistent chaos of online chatter? Yes. But creating a climate of fear? I think not.

        If there was indeed a climate of fear, has it forced you into self- censorship? Definitely not. I think bloggers wrote more, and more openly, after each act by the government, don’t you think? The so-called “climate of fear” is more imaginary than real.

    • 36 Duh 26 July 2013 at 23:43

      @Pat

      The climate of fear is more imaginary than real? The AGC just decided to sue a CARTOONIST for contempt of court. A cartoonist!!! Apparently, the govt cannot tolerate political satire as well.

      Social media is alive with criticism of the PAP because of its anonymity and the PAP is trying to control that with the recent online media law. The climate fear that instills self-censorship among Singaporeans is very real.

  21. 37 Jake 23 July 2013 at 21:19

    Just found out that a former friend of mine is in the business of draping his block of flat full of flags. He is the kind who hopes to be noticed by some PAP notable. It’s a waste of time. Such acts will not get him noticed by the powers that be. Every grassroots member have the same idea. So it’s basically a minimum KPI amongst them.

  22. 38 Norm 23 July 2013 at 23:32

    Fundamentally the PAP does not trust the people to know and do what is “good” for themselves and the country. That is what it comes down to.

    Heretical thought: maybe it is right?!

    Even if it is, I would rather it not manipulate people via the media. There needs to be a fair contest of ideas and viewpoints.

  23. 39 Megaphone 24 July 2013 at 11:58

    Clamping down online engagement will simply means PAP will not get genuine feedback, and bad policies will be implemented that will cause more problems down the road.

    When straits times implemented the requirement for real identity of forum contributors in the 90s, it resulted in the entire government machinery missing out on real feedback, and eventually resulting in many bad policies which were not reversed until real damage was done.

  24. 40 JT1987 24 July 2013 at 14:27

    I’ll have to agree with Duh in supporting the PAP government’s decision to halt all engagement with the public.

    From my experience so far, Singaporeans are mainly united by a shared denial of basic human rights and liberties, and a continued ignorance of the government’s intentions.

    Halting all public engagement, and clamping down on political discourse will cause Singaporeans to become more desperate in their search for information.

    It is this desperation that is sorely needed for us to stop depending on the government’s potential for change, and start taking action to instigate change from the ground up.

  25. 41 Chow 24 July 2013 at 19:53

    I think the idea is to make it such that people channel their ‘creativity’ and ‘spontaneity’ into art/business and worthy economic ventures that create new tax revenues and not get into talking or doing politics.

  26. 42 Junnies Jun Yang 24 July 2013 at 23:53

    I don’t think the PAP can turn the clock back and reintroduce the climate of fear. They can try but they won’t succeed. A critical mass has been established whereby there are sufficient numbers of people who dare to criticize the government outright and support each other. The introduction of the internet enables people to come together, organise protests and movements, and circumvent the censorship of the press. Also, they no longer have the mandate of competency and have incurred the ire and frustrations of an unprecedentedly large percentage of the population. Any attempts to clamp down will merely hasten their implosion – an inevitability that i doubt PM Lee is aware of.

  27. 43 BW 25 July 2013 at 11:38

    Very thoughtful article. But I think you were too hopeful 10 years ago to believe there was reasonable prospect for a “new kind of PAP”. Our social contract consists of restricting civil rights in exchange for economic well-being. Since economic well-being has been declining, political liberalisation ought to increase.

    The PAP needed to respond to this loss in its legitimacy while maintaining its power at the same time. So we have controlled liberalization (constantly shifting between engagement and renewed authoritarianism) and calibrated coercion (in order to maintain a certain level of fear that discourages too many citizens from participating in overtly political activities).

    It is a balance that will just get increasingly complex and precarious because I don’t think they will succeed in reversing the decline in economic well-being.

  28. 44 Tanky 25 July 2013 at 16:29

    I think it is very important that Singaporeans do not let the PAP hijacked Singapore. PAP is NOT Singapore. We do not need to bash Singapore because we do not like what the PAP does.

  29. 45 JL 25 July 2013 at 18:54

    I don’t think that the situation would change that much, unless sufficient numbers of Singaporeans grow enough balls to contemplate a future without the Whities. That is quite a low possibility.

  30. 46 HowTrueIsThat 26 July 2013 at 10:59

    The soft touch did not work. Look at the Singaporean blogosphere. Dominated by hate speech, false rumours, inciting hate against people from other nationalities… Is that the society you want to live in? Do you really want to see the type of people who spew anonymous garbage on some infamous “socio-political blogs” to be in government? It is time for the government to regain control and prevents the situation from getting worst. It is not because you are a “netizen” that you are above the law.

  31. 47 gentleaura 26 July 2013 at 23:19

    If not for the Internet, you think we will ever know about serious the corrupt CPIB AD or murder committed by the Bedok policeman in Kovan?

    All this will be conveniently swept under the carpet. Why?

    Because it’s an inconvenient truth that reflects the state of affairs our country is in.

  32. 48 gentleaura 26 July 2013 at 23:21

    The mainstream press is forced to report these things because the damage will be greater if the appears to be a coverup. Cannot hide.

  33. 49 SAGE 27 July 2013 at 12:17

    Don’t confuse national pride with bad politics. National Day is a day for the Nation. It is a day citizens celebrate the founding of their Nation. We celebrate because we are proud of the achievements of our country brought on by hard working SINGAPOREANS. Bad governance, bad politicians of the day is another issue altogether

    Perhaps we should all hang SINGAPORE flags with a diagonal black strip across to signal our disatisfaction with the way it is govern these days!

  34. 51 Eugene Tham 28 July 2013 at 13:00

    This only betrays the lack of political skill the PAP now has. Whereas one would expect politicians to get out on the ground to engage the population, to communicate, to even play political tricks like massage the message and get out its own spin first, the PAP reaction now is to merely silence and criticize the opponent. Is Leslie Chew message race baiting? Sure, in our Singapore context. Was a legal approach the best way to address it? I doubt it.


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For an update of the case against me, please see AGC versus me, the 2013 round.

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