Vivian slithers in the gutter, SDP on knife-edge, part 1

Twice within less than a week, Vivian Balakrishnan has resorted to slurs and innuendo to attack the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Last Wednesday, the Straits Times reported him saying,

I am not sure what (the Singapore Democratic Party’s) strategy is. I would like to know whether they have confirmed that they are contesting, I would like to know their line-up. I can’t help feeling that part of the reason for their reticence is they have elements of their agenda they are not prepared to disclose and subject to scrutiny. Eventually, they will have to come out of the closet.

— Vivian Balakrishnan, Straits Times, 20 Apr 2011

The expression “to come out of the closet” is normally used to mean being open about one’s homosexual orientation. It is not standard usage to apply the term to strategy, agenda or team line-ups. Balakrishnan must surely be familiar with the way the expression is used, and the above words can only be seen as an attack on the sexuality of one or more candidates of the SDP.

This is the kind of ad hominem attack that is gutter politics.

Pandering to prejudice segues very easily into championing sectarian interests. Playing up sexual orientation today gives the green light to playing up other personal markers tomorrow, and next thing we know, we’ll be talking about racial identity with slurs about half-breeds, religious affiliation with sneers about converts, marital status with snide remarks about divorce and single-parenthood.

If that’s the kind of political culture we want for Singapore, count me out.

This weekend, he was at it again. This time his remarks came after the SDP introduced, on Friday, two new candidates, Tan Jee Say and Ang Yong Guan. Balakrishnan, whose People’s Action Party (PAP) team he leads is likely to face these two in SDP’s team of candidates for the same Holland-Bukit Timah group representation constituency, must have felt rather threatened, for Tan is the seniormost establishment figure so far to step into opposition politics. He was once the Principal Private Secretary to then-Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Balakrishnan must have picked up online chatter about the purported religious background of these two candidates, Tan and Ang. Words like “fundamentalists” were freely tossed up on Facebook and online forum Hardware Zone. To liberal Singaporeans, especially after the “Aware saga” when a group of church-affiliated women tried to take over a women’s organisation after accusing its executive committee of being too soft on homosexuality, the term “fundamentalist” (even just the term “Christian”) has acquired highly negative connotations of being anti-gay, anti-feminist and pro-discrimination.

As reported in Sunday’s newspaper,

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday described the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) team running against him as ‘strange bedfellows’ who do not have a shared vision or ideology.

[snip]

In an interview with The Sunday Times, he said: ‘It has been brought to my attention – in fact it is the SDP which is suppressing a certain YouTube video, which raises some very awkward questions about the agenda and motivations of the SDP and its candidates.’

He declined to give more details about the clip.

‘I suspect Mr Tan had not done appropriate due diligence of his teammates and his party,’ he said.

— Sunday Times, 24 April 2011, ‘Strange bedfellows’ in SDP team

Balakrishnan must have relished the chance to launch a double innuendo, for in those remarks,

1. he once again suggested that the SDP was trying to hide something;

2. that something was contained in a video;

3. whatever it was, it would be something not aligned with some other SDP members’ views;

4. thus Tan Jee Say had been negligent, not doing due diligence before joining the party.

SDP hit back with an impromptu news conference Sunday morning,

Singapore Democratic Party candidate Vincent Wijeysingha on Sunday asked Minister Vivian Balakrishnan to state clearly what is the video that he has said will raise ‘some very awkward questions,’ and which the SDP is supposed to be ‘suppressing’.

— Straits Times GE 2011 website, 24 March 2011, Link.

I have my doubts if this is the wisest response. While it is despicable that Balakrishnan is employing slurs and innuendo, lobbing back a question at him is not going to get SDP very far. This is the internet age. The SDP is not only going to be facing questions by Balakrishnan, but will have to consider the tsunami of speculation that new media can generate.

In fact, the tsunami is already rolling in and if the SDP does not change course, I fear the worst.

* * * * *

I will not play this game, lobbing questions back and forth. I will speak plainly, describing what is already being said online.

First: the video. It is pretty obvious that what is being referred to is an amateur video recording of an event some time around August last year in which lawyer M Ravi spoke of Vincent Wijeysingha as potentially the “first gay MP in Singapore”. You can watch it here.

A few seconds later, we hear Vincent Wijeysingha (but can’t see him clearly) saying: “Can I answer that question? I don’t think it’s for Ravi by himself to rally the gay community. I think the gay community has to rally ourselves. . .”

The rallying being referred to refers to gathering support for M Ravi’s proposed constitutional challenge over Section 377A of the Penal Code, Singapore’s anti-gay law. The event had nothing to do with this election.

Secondly, Ang Yong Guan is listed as a speaker-elective at a Christian conference last year  that appears closely related to City Harvest Church. On this and perhaps other bases, florid speculation bloomed over the internet about Ang — and by association, Tan — being a Christian fundamentalist, with all that the term connotes.

Between Wijeysingha’s sexuality and Ang’s religion, Balakrishnan must have found enough grist to mill out his “strange bedfellows” statement.

When I saw the speculation on Facebook. I tried to calm it down. This is what I wrote:

People, please stay sober. So Ang Yong Guan was listed as an elective speaker at a Church Growth Conference linked to City Harvest Church (http://www.asiaconference.org.sg/2010/speakers_electives.php). While we can conclude that he’s probably a member of the church, it’s a bit of a leap to say he’s a fundamentalist, firstly because while CHC is conservative in its outlook, it’s more prosperity gospel than fire-and-brimstone inerrant-bible fundamentalism. Furthermore, I’ve been told that a study currently in progress shows that CHC members are discernibly less obsessed about sexual orientation than mainline and hardcore churches. And surely among the huge numbers of CHC adherents, there must be variation in individuals’ attitudes. Until Ang himself has spoken on the matter, I’d say please be fair and do not pre-judge.

You may say that there is reason to be suspicious. OK, then call on him to declare his stand and expect him to do so and not fudge.

Secondly, just because Tan Jee Say is a close friend of Ang does not mean he too is a member of CHC, let alone a fundamentalist. Where is the evidence?

This morning, I received information that Tan is not even a member of City Harvest Church. I heard he’s a Methodist. I don’t know if what was told to me is correct, but it only goes to show how careful one needs to be with online chatter.

That said, let’s not kid ourselves. One puny statement by me on Facebook is not going to quell the speculation. But, by the same token, neither will silence on the part of the SDP. The tsunami will roll on, and in. See part 2.

25 Responses to “Vivian slithers in the gutter, SDP on knife-edge, part 1”


  1. 1 Citizen 25 April 2011 at 09:39

    Very valid points have been made. Perhaps SDP should not put all eggs in one basket. Especially if people have something to pick on one of the eggs. Better to swap Vincent with someone on the Sembawang team or the potential SMC candidate.

    • 2 Poker Player 25 April 2011 at 11:03

      “Better to swap Vincent with someone on the Sembawang team or the potential SMC candidate.”

      Moral cowardice. Let’s have at least one party in Singapore that sticks to its principles come what may. Moral progress doesn’t come from the middle of the road, it comes from the fringes. Let’s keep this fringe.

      • 3 J 25 April 2011 at 11:49

        agree with Poker Player. Take a stand. Anyway, what makes you think the PAP incumbent at wherever Vincent switches to won’t say the same thing?

  2. 4 Catherine Lim 25 April 2011 at 09:51

    I know Dr Ang personally. As a psychiatrist I believe he would have treated patients who have problems arising from sexual orientation and addiction. I believe the medical code of conduct is that psychiatrists are not allowed to proselytize. But treatment involves identifying the clients personal support network and encourages them to work through them It is sop in counseling and therapy, in so much that the therapist can never prescribe what a client should or should not do.

  3. 5 Vernon Voon 25 April 2011 at 10:19

    Old Lee already said in his memoirs that it’s ok for an MP to be gay as long as he does his job as an MP well. Is Vivian going to disagree with him. In my opinion, the sooner Vincent comes clean about his sexuality, the better it will be for him and his party.

    • 6 sarah 27 April 2011 at 20:10

      A person’s sexuality has got nothing to do with his abilities to rule. Using the same argument, look at Villain, oh, I mean Vivian. He’s heterosexual, I guess, and yet has proven to be one of the most incompetent ministers around, losing so much money on YOG and yet handing out pittances to the poor and at the same time, getting a fat pay check from us (i.e. taxpayers money). So, please. Lets stop this harping on one’s sexuality. Homosexuals never tell heterosexuals to come clean on their sexuality. Why should heterosexuals do so? And for Pete’s sake, sexuality is a very private and intimate thing. It is not for public display. Anyone who wants to bring matters of the bedroom into public space has no morality.

  4. 7 Tan Tai Wei 25 April 2011 at 10:21

    Many thanks for making clear the innuendos.

    Then Vivian would seem to be going against government policy of not discriminating against gays in the civil service, also not taking due heed of his MM’s mentoring about letting gays be until such times when society catches up with the knowledge to let off the misconceptions.

    He seems to have strayed from his Party’s stand!

  5. 8 Chanel 25 April 2011 at 11:33

    Vivian has essentially given opposition parties carte blanche to launch all sorts of personal attacks against PAP candidates. The question is, should Vivian be arrested under ISA for starting this trend??

  6. 9 Den 25 April 2011 at 12:48

    How about looking at it as a group of people with very different personal beliefs but with a common vision to work for the betterment for the people and the nation? Pretty obvious that a wedge is being driven or at least trying to seed that wedge in the hope oof internal conflict within the SDP. No?

  7. 10 email.urbanrant@gmail.com 25 April 2011 at 13:01

    I am not sure why this is an issue for the electorate. The orientation of the candidate does not matter at all.

    SDP is clear in its stand for equality on the matter of sexual orientation.

    For Vivian Bala to make this kind of statement, shows him to be a bigot besides being a poor accountant (YOG budget) and has a total lack of empathy (re Lily Neo encounter).

    Good riddance, I’d say.

  8. 11 Jon 25 April 2011 at 15:34

    Turn the clock back 10 years.

    Remember when Vivian was the Minister without Portfolio, and everyone was saying how capable he was. He actually had a good reputation and was well respected amongst Singaporeans.

    It’s disappointing how he handled the YOG and how he’s handling himself in the current elections. I guess people do change, and not necessarily for the better. It really makes you wonder whether or not any of the promises that the political parties are making will actually be stuck to.

  9. 13 No character assassination please 25 April 2011 at 16:09

    I find it sad that Vivian Balakrishnan, who attends Barker Road Methodist Church, is resorting to such underhand tactics. I am a Christian myself. We live in a multi-cultural society and this society is not driven by any single religion unlike our neighbouring countries. Let us learn to respect others regardless of their own religious or personal lifestyle choices. We can even seek to persuade in a loving way but let us not resort to casting aspersions or putting people down just because the other person is different from us. In an election, please focus on the election issues and not get personal. VB, he who has no sin, let him cast his first stone.

  10. 14 Disgruntled 25 April 2011 at 22:07

    Gutter or no gutter, it’s what works.

    And the PAP is very good at that – find some spot about the opposition and bite it real hard. You can say whatever you like about Vivian, but the harm (small or big) has already been done.

    Can’t beat them on elections? Think out of the box! Maybe use 美人计 on one of the PAP members? Surely, one of the men will fall for it right? History has shown that this has worked!

  11. 15 Anon 25 April 2011 at 22:55

    Whatever the candidate’s beliefs, so long it is not used to promote their own personal agenda on a political platform that is ok. Even if they have pet issues they wish to promote, go ahead lets debate and have a robust discussion. But no personal attacks. My feeling is SDP needs to come out clean on VW because it will definitely swing the votes of the conservatives and influence the rest of the electorate thru a whispering campaign. This would have negative effect on the rest of the SDP election programme. At the same time it is also a clever diversionary tactic on the part of VB and the PAP.

    On another note, Singaporeans should be proud that we hosted the 1st YOG. But sure the $400m is high and needs accountability. But the original budget was actually around that figure but this was cut down bec the thinking then was it wasn’t appropriate to spend on organising this game when many PMET Singaporeans were out of jobs or underemployed. That’s my guess.

  12. 16 Raphael 25 April 2011 at 22:55

    Firstly, on the article:-

    (1) “Standard Usage”? When ever did the people with alternative sexual orientations ever have a monopoly over any phrase in the English language. “Coming out of the closet” could very well be a reference to the familiar idiom “to come out of the closet”.

    (2) True, I don’t disagree that the word “fundamentalist” has acquired the negative connotations – I don’t think fully-deserved, but that’s another issue – among the liberal Singapireans; but note that liberal singaporeans are not the only, nor are they the majority, group of Singaporeans; there are the conservative Singaporeans too who may or may not agree with the definition of fundamentalism used by the liberals.

    Also, anyway, it seems that the word “fundamentalism” is being used as character-assassination by liberals against conservatives; not particularly mature😦.

    Sometimes the way the liberals write is as if they have the moral right to control everybody in the country.

    (3) “gay MP” does not – especially in the absence of supporting context – necessarily imply that the MP is of a particular sexual orientation; it could simply mean an MP who champions sexual-orientation issues.

    Just my two cents, (albeit a very long two cents.)

    Secondly, on the thread:-

    PokerPlayer,

    Moral progress comes from a fringe, but a particular kind of fringe, the kind not associated with politicans and/or lawyers.

    Keeping all aspects of the Fringe for the sake of progress si running the risk of total implosion.

    Miss Lim(if that is not just a handle),

    The restrictions are on psychologists, not psychiatrists, since the latter purely prescribe medication, and don’t actually handle counselling.

    Vernon,

    Doesn’t “doing his job well” include not being biased against the “fundamentalists”/”Christians” whose views on certain matters he disagrees with? They are still part of the society, no?

    Tai Wei,

    MM Lee is … MM Lee. Anyhow, he had 30 years of being PM to repeal 377A, but he didn’t. Also, MM Lee doesn’t talk about “misconceptions”; he talks about “the way the world is going” pragmatically. If he refers to “misconceptions”, it is not misconceptions about the science of homosexuality, but misconceptions about people’s ability to stem the tide of the gay movement (trying to find a neutral, practical term here that doesn’t pander to either conservative or liberal ideology).

    urbanrant,

    The orientation of the candidate doesn’t matter … well, until the point where the candidate starts pursuing policies that specifically discriminate against people of one orientation by claiming the attainment of equality of people of the other orientations. (It’s a subtle majority-minority discrimination here.)

    Nocharacterassasination,

    For the people on this thread, and other similarly liberal threads, “seeking to persuade in a loving way” is “fundamentalist”, they rather you shut your mouth up.

    Also, since 377A is a law, its repeal or lack-thereof can legitimately be regarded as a possible election issue. Presumably that is what M Ravi wants to do. Whether Vincent wants to do so is another matter. Although, if he does, I am certain he would be dissappointing his late grandfather/father/brother (never quite remember which one it is) who was as staunch – probably stauncher still – as Vivian Bala.

  13. 17 tengqiang@126.com 25 April 2011 at 23:18

    This election is not about one’s sexual orientation but to elect MPs accountable for their actions, including going over budget by a whopping 300%.I am very glad and proud that SDP can get together a team of people that whose beliefs and lifestyles may be varied and yet they are welling to work together for the betterment of Singaporeans as Den has rightly said.

  14. 18 ExExpat 25 April 2011 at 23:36

    Hi Alex – I saw today’s news and now this is blowing up. Thanks for spotting this first!

    QUESTION, somehow related – LKY was not visible/cited in the GE debate until today (at least to my observation), now today he said a few things shown in today’s channel 5 news, but an old picture was used, my question is: where is he, why is he not more visible? After all, he will be contesting a GRC and he surely will be a cabinet minister.

    A few months ago, his book was announced all over the mainstream media, now no work or sign of him, quite odd actually.

    Or not?!

  15. 19 Rabbit 25 April 2011 at 23:55

    Vivian Balakrishan is a dangerous man. If a politician can resort to sowing discord using religion or sexual orientation as their political card to win vote, he obviously has not learned much from the recent AWARE saga. Singaporeans living in a secular state have to think thrice whether Singapore will become a safe place to live if Vivian Balakrishnan is voted in.

    As a matter of fact, VB is quite consistent throughout his service in PAP – to push at all cost – even when he knew his actions and words were seen as unpopular. This is with regard to his insincerity in helping the poor and also sees nothing wrong for underestimated the YOG budget.

    With such “track record” of seeing no wrong in him, he is unlikely to bend for scrutiny on his remark made on SDP . If he desperately persists to buy fundamentalist votes, he is in for further trouble and might just drag the whole PAP into his own gutter.

  16. 20 abao 26 April 2011 at 00:50

    To play the Christian card smacks of hypocrisy when most of the PAP’s line up of new candidates are Christians.

    To play the gender card is to smear the abilities and qualifications of the Candidate.

    When the only answer one give is rhetoric and rebukes, its clear what one is made of.

  17. 21 Seow 26 April 2011 at 00:53

    Ground not very sweet.

    The Pappies came house visiting just now. Mom called me to go out and greet them.

    From my room, I shouted “Gua koon ah” – I am sleeping.

    Lol

  18. 22 maeren 26 April 2011 at 19:32

    Politics is a dirty business. But I have to hand it to the Vincent, Nicole and all the other chaps. They really have a calling and courage to be doing this.

    Now I would like to comment on Vincent, (I am almost 50 today) and he was my neighbour growing up in Seletar Hills Estate. He comes from a good, close knit and very supportive family.

    Like all families it has its share of difficulties and I have lived alongside Vincent for the first 24 years of my life. He was a little younger than me, always kind, always happy and always determined. I can only comment on his childhood character which as things go is truly the type of adult one grows up into.

    I would never think him unreasonable then, and I preety sure it would be the same now. He was brighter than most kids and I knew that. He has seen quite alot in life and from my memory he weathered alot and did so with quiet conviction.

    I am married with kids but this does not necessarilly make me a better person than a gay, or a black, or a Moslem and so on…I measure Vincent and everyone else on their Character and Credentials. He was a buddy as a child hood friend and neighbour and I presume I can count on the same in adult life.

    Sincerely.

    maeren

  19. 23 Elder Citizen 27 April 2011 at 00:28

    For all you know, Bala, the boy who has a girl’s name, could be simply hitting out indirectly and subconsciously at his own father who has given him a girl’s name.

    However, he could also be consciously and cunningly trying desperately to draw support from the Christians of his Christian Community, especially those fundamentalist X’tians like the self-proclaimed Feminist Mentor Teo and Gang of the Aware-fame.

    Holland-Bukit-Timah GRC consists of voters who are mainly Christians and Conservatives.

    If this issue continues, this General Election could be turned into a religious warfare. And this is not good for the long-term interest of Singapore.

    I think ISD should step in to investigate and prevent something like the AWARE incident from happening. Otherwise, the wrath of NON-Christians might be aroused and therein spells the trouble …. big big trouble …. down the slippery avenue.

    Someone had better close this Pandora Box.

    • 24 yawningbread 27 April 2011 at 00:44

      There are many inaccuracies and broad generalisations. This comment is not the only one making them, so I am allowing this comment in order to highlight the corrections. But no more after this..
      1. Vivian is a boy’s name. The female version of the name is Vivienne. The same male/female format can be found in Julian and Julienne, Christian and Christine, Lucian and Lucy, Marian and Marianne.
      2. While Christians may be over-represented in this GRC, I seriously doubt if they are the majority.
      3. I am absolutely certain that a large number of Christians too are disgusted by Balakrishnan’s tactics.

      • 25 Jon 28 April 2011 at 20:43

        Yep.

        Less than 20% of Singapore’s population are Christians. I’d seriously doubt they’ll be a majority in any GRC.


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