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The Permit, The Cycling Event and a Fourth University September 5, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.

There is no doubt that the exchange between Mr Low Thia Kiang and Assoc Prof Ho Peng Kee has been imprinted in the minds of the netizens. Indeed many bloggers have already said their piece. Personally I found Prof Ho’s comments on Mr Low insulting; much akin to a low blow and similiar to Bhavani’s comments regarding Mr Brown’s young daughter.

But mud slinging aside this issue is merely the latest in a litany of issues portraying the authorities unwillingness to give more space for alternate views. The rejection of WP’s application for a permit merely reinforces the notion that far from being a city of possibilities, Singapore is the direct opposite. Or a better way to put it will be Singapore is a city of possibilities as long as your not homosexual, you do not touch on opposition politics, you do not touch on historical opposition figures, your constiteuncy voted for PAP, and so on. Indeed this is one more regression in a series of regressions (Mr Brown, Martyn See’s films, Alex Au and his exhibitions…) which will restrain the progress of society.

While I do think that the rational behind a permit is sound (for purposes of policing), I find that the rational for rejecting the WP permit ridiculous. Of course having been in Singapore most of my life I must say i am not surprised that the permit was rejected; nevertheless the reasoning given by Prof Ho makes no sense. I do not doubt that YPAP themselves organise such events; but of course you won’t hear of any rejections from the authorities. Furthermore by talking about how there is a potential for public disturbances, Prof Ho has committed the slippery slope argument. In any event, while there may be people who would want to get Low Thia Kiang’s signature, it does not follow that there would be a public disturbance of the nature as alluded to. If his reasoning is correct, then celebrities should not walk around in public as people might want their autographs and this will lead to a public disturbance. And his statement about the park being an open area is a red herring; there is a potential for a breach of peace everywhere.

What has happened here is an attempt by the ruling party to restrain the WP. Perhaps the events of GE 2006 have made them more wary of the WP and thus there is an attempt to reduce the WP’s reach to the general public. Unfortunately this is not the first time such has happened; certainly it will not be the last.

This showcase of intolerance brings to mind another issue; namely the development of a fourth university. An interesting to note is that this 4th university could possibly be a “liberal arts college”. Unfortunately current events and history has shown that the phrase “Singapore Liberal Arts College” is something of an oxymoron. Singapore can hardly be considered liberal, and thus this translates into the arts sphere where people like Martyn See are restrained by the powers to be. Therefore if the government is serious about having a Liberal Arts College, then there needs be a loosening up of society and a tolerance for “dissident views”. However, from recent events, it appears that such a scenario is, at present, nothing but a dream.



1. theonlinecitizen - September 5, 2007

Hi Ned,

One more to add now – Dr Chee being jailed again.

I think the govt cannot go on using such nonsensical reasons to disallow activities by citizens. But you and I know that the govt will carry on giving such inane excuses as long as their authority is not threatened – or seen to be threatened – in a more substantial way.

Thus, realistically, for the govt to change, it will take a real scare at the ballot box.

I will be publishing an article on this soon on theonlinecitizen. It’s tentatively titled “Sacred Cows Behind Electric Fences”.

Look out for it.

Andrew Loh

2. victimizer - September 5, 2007

To show that PAP is taking that public cycling will end up in debate out of control only show that opp party is getting credibility and support, whereas PAP is losing big time and sleep over its loss of credibility and performance.

If not, why PAP think it going to get big crowd debating with opp party ? Kudo to opp party because the truth has spoken from Prof Ho himself.

3. Ned Stark - September 6, 2007


The distinction between Chee and Low is the fact that Chee has broken the law. Thus I am not particularly peeved by Chee going to jail; its part of his strategy. Of course whether the law is fair or not will be another discussion topic entirely.

You seem to have repeated ur posts. I will delete the extra one.

4. Daniel - September 6, 2007

You can’t say that “Chee has broken the law” without implicitly assuming that the trial which pronounced him guilty of breaking the law was fair. Are you sure that criminal trials involving political opposition figures in Singapore are fair? If not, then you should be “peeved” by Chee going to jail.

5. Tan Ah Kow - September 6, 2007


I think you have let your prejudice against Chee and your possibly, let’s just say, zealous attitude towards Low colour your analysis of the Chee v Low tactic.

First and foremost, the so-called “law” (i.e. the statue part at least) in Singapore are deliberately frame in such a way that it can be interpreted to favour the establishment(1). So if the establishment choose to throw the book at you they just have to interpret it in a way to make you seemed you have broken the “law”.

Let me point out a clear cut case, and that is the NKF. As I and many of my legal friends sees it, actually, none of the board members have actually broken any law. For example, there was no law to say that CEO of NKF cannot back pay. Ok often they may have sailed close to the boundary of the “law” — i.e. where it could be interpreted to be otherwise. But because the establishment wanted to throw the book at someone, they went all out to interpret the law in an adverse way.

Secondly, although Singapore claimed to practice “common” law, in reality it has diverted so much that it often perplex me and my legal friends, why they bothered to make such claim. Also given that Singapore have a written constitution, it seem the establishment have a tendency to disregard it. The only explanation is that it is for the Singapore establishment likes to use the Constitution as a fig leaf to show to the world that it believes in the Rule of Law.

In any other country that practice constitutional law, just because someone appears to have broken the statute part of the law does not mean he has broken the law, especially if the statute contradicts the constitution. Chee has clearly shown again and again that many of the statutes have contravene on constitutional term. So in any other normal constitutional jurisdiction, he would not have found to have, to use the Singaporean speak, “broken the law”. When it comes to so called Singapore laws or jurisprudence it is indeed two-faced.

In conclusion, when people say Chee has “broken the law” what it really means is that Chee has pissed of the establishment so we will interpret the law adversely against him. As for Low, if the establishment wanted, they could easily throw the book at him if they wanted and they will if he was seen to be a threat. The fact is the establishment is more afraid of Chee (because of his international exposure) than Low (only local influence and the establishment don’t care a toot about Singaporeans’ opinion anyway).

The fact of the matter is that there is no distinction between the actions of Chee and Low. Trying to paint one as “law abiding” and thus the other as somewhat less worthy of sympathy is disingenuous, especially for a arm chair CRITIC.

The differences between the predicament of Chee and Low has more to do with the establishment’s choice of action than anything to do with the so-called law. As for your, and I guess many other people’s, attitude towards Chee and Low, it boils down to prejudice that’s all.

May be you should stay your prejudice rather than pretend your attitude towards Chee as anything but objective.

Note (1): I use the term establishment to include the PAP and other institutions.

6. Ned Stark - September 6, 2007

Tan Ah Kow and Daniel,

there is no law in the world which is truly free of the prejudices of society. Sure in UK and US there are possible safeguards. At the end of the day law has a very positive side to it; it is a reflection of society’s views. In Singapore’s instance, the law passing body, the legislature, is thoroughly dominated by PAP. Thus the laws of Singapore would reflect the views of the PAP, and therefore under the law Chee would be jailed. Personally i think the theory of legal positivism is one of the more accurate theories of jurisprudence out there.

I do not dispute the fact that these laws are ridiculous. However with regards to Chee going to jail it is as much a part of his strategy as Low’s avoidance of the MSM. Not to say that I do not respect his efforts. But Andrew and I were talking in terms of the authorities recent gaffs with regards to all that has happened and I believe that Chee’s imprisonment is an issue which is not similiar to that of the permits and gay run.

However there is one point i dispute. You say that Chee’s international exposure makes him feared; i find that hard to believe. Perhaps its the cynicism in me which says that foreign governments hardly give a damn about the level of democracy in Singapore; as long as we are good for business than nothing else will happen.

7. victimizer - September 6, 2007

“However there is one point i dispute. You say that Chee’s international exposure makes him feared; i find that hard to believe. Perhaps its the cynicism in me which says that foreign governments hardly give a damn about the level of democracy in Singapore; as long as we are good for business than nothing else will happen.”

That is true, but we forget that in many countries, the people there can protest in any way they like, and these will cause the popularity and support of ruling party to drop if the party did not manage this well. Now imagine the people protest because people there respect human right, and it happen before in Australia. And also it happen that there are democratic movement and committee which among the members of the parliament of other countries that will dictate power whether to even do business in Singapore. It doesn’t take long to realize that Singapore is built more on transactional business than on relationship, and because of this, it is the utimately , the citizen that pay for the price in term of lower wages, high rising cost etc if the business goes wrong etc ShinCorpse, NSW amongs the prominient one.

Tan is right to say that Chee has created fear in PAP, afterall much of investment is in foreign country, and Joker Lee has to pacify the foreign country in some way, perhaps that where those wayang show come about.

8. Tan Ah Kow - September 6, 2007


Sometime it is not foreign Government that necessary have the final say. Sometime foreign legislature and even voters can put pressure on their government to act too.

9. Tan Ah Kow - September 6, 2007


Again you make the mistake of interpretation of the law and the Law (or more accurately, the spirit of the law itself). Many of the Law in Singapore are not necessarily the Law being ridiculous. The point is that when you have been labelled as having “broken the law” it must be taken in context. As such you cannot then simply make a sweeping statement about differences between actions of two non-establishment as being the consequences of law breaking, when the real problem lays in the interpretation or misinterpretation of the law by the establishment.

The fact that Chee went to jail does not mean his action (by challenging the legal process) and Low’s action (by applying for permit), but did not go to jail, invalidate the common message brought by these actions. Both illustrates how the establishment is prepared to interpret the Law to it’s own advantage.

The point I am trying to make is that you have chosen to emphasise Chee as having “broken the law” and, by implication, less worthy of attention, if not praiseworthinesses, than say Low’s and other permit issue predicament, reflect a clear prejudice on your part.

On the point about Chee being feared by the establishment, let me point out that Chee’s supporter’s in the EU are often monitored, if not actively lobbied against, by the Singapore establishment because a slip up could mean the PAP falling into the wrong side of these foreign institutions — like Zimbabwe’s ruling party. Whilst business considerations may play strongly, human rights considerations can be a factor too. For example, Turkey and the EU are big trading partners and business-wise has lots to gain but the EU is prepared to forgo that for the sake of human rights and not to mentioned Christian solidarity.

One thing I know is that the EU does not look too favourably to Singapore’s tax haven status. Whilst, I am not suggesting that treatment of Chee could be the trigger for the EU to pass legislation bad for Singapore, HYPOTHETICALLY forces that want that to happen to join up with, let’s just say Chee’s supporters, for the necessary votes. Fortunately for the Singapore establishment, Chee’s supporters are not big in numbers but recent treatment of EU delegates visiting Chee ‘s SDP is not helpful. This has happened in several cases, especially in accession countries to the EU.

In the US congress, where Chee has supporters too. I am not sure if the Singapore establishment are actively lobbying there as I am not as familiar with the scene there as I am with the EU. But I would not be surprise if the establishment were.

As for Low, it’s a case of Low Who?

10. Andrew Loh - September 6, 2007

Hi Ned,

I agree with you that Chee “broke the law”. I am not a lawyer or an expert in the law by any means, so I will not go into the mechanics of it, as Tan Ah Kow has.

What I’d say is that the issue of Dr Chee has to be seen in light of a series of events over the course of 15 years – since he made his political debut in 1992.

And seen in this light, and the many incidents and cases he has been involved in, I’d say it’s quite fair to say that “breaking the law” might not be too accurate. (This is seeing it from the spirit of the law perspective, rather than a pure legalistic perspective.)

As for Mr Low, I have heard it said that the WP is not vocal enough, or that the leadership of the party is not aggressive enough.

As a member of the WP, I do not apologise for the stance the party has taken. Of course, again being a member, I am more aware of the reasons, some of which I obviously am not at liberty to reveal.

Suffice it to say that as a political party, the first priority is to be around to contest elections (however unfair the electoral process may be). As Ms Sylvia Lim said during GE 2006, it is of paramount importance that Singaporeans be given a chance to vote.

When a people is given a chance to vote, they are forced to make a choice. Which means, they will be more attuned to the issues.

This is indeed what we have experienced during and since the GE. So, perhaps the more important thing is to allow or “force” singaporeans to be aware of the issues, rather than to win elections first.

To sum it up, perhaps this is where the strategies of the WP and the SDP differ. (I am just speculating as I am not privy to the SDP, or even the WP’s, strategies.)

*My views here are my own and do not reflect those of the WP.


11. Andrew Loh - September 6, 2007

Apologies. Allow me to clarify.

When I say: “I agree with you that Chee “broke the law”, I mean the law as it is perceive by ordinary layman who have no intimate knowledge of the law.

Seeing it from the perspective of the spirit of the law, however, I am sympathetic to Dr Chee’s case. Some of the cases raise questions about the implementation or prescription of the penalties/punishments meted out to Dr Chee. Even the process of law, in fact, throws up questions.


12. Ong Ah Beng - September 6, 2007

Both Low and Chee, I fully respect. But I perceive that though Chee is presently at a disadvantage, because of the negative image cast upon him by various quarters whether intentionally or through psychological influence and personal bias, he would in the longer term emerge as a better symbol for democratic reforms than Low, who is not only localised but also unable to reach out to other races and dialects. I see Chee as more refined while Low is the rough type.

Though I would not hesitate to support both of them, I would anytime give Chee far higher marks than Low, Sylvia or JBJ. I think Chee is moving along the right direction. Only thing is that he requires more time for his ideas to bear fruit, not because of him but because of the society’s general attitude and tendency.

13. Tan Ah Kow - September 6, 2007


First let me openly declare that I am someone who is inclined to not only give Chee the benefit of the doubt but also fully support his actions. My views is that Chee’s action if the momentum can be built up is more likely to bring about pressure for the establishment to change than say Low’s.

However, that is not to say I do not understand Low attempting to do. I am also cognisant of the fact that Chee’s approach does ruffle many people in Singapore, which I suspect believe that while the establishment is flawed, it is indispensable. Hence, many, to which I don’t subscribed, feels that the softly-softly approach by Low is best. That is as much as I will say about the contrasting Chee v Low approaches.

Coming back to your comment about laymen’s view of the Law, you have to realise that much of the perception is very much a product of the establishment. That is to say, in Singapore the impression given is that the Law always by default meant to prohibit rather protect individual rights. Hence you often hear people in Singapore talk about “breaking the law”, whereas often, in say, the UK people talks about “lawful action”. Hey, I have often notice that sometime the notable “Mr Wang”, supposedly an ex-practitioner of the law enforcement, too often mixed the two concept up.

True, some laws are there to stop people from acting out in certain ways such as no smoking, etc (which is usually in the form of statue or laws passed by parliament). Others are meant to protect rights, such as the right to free speech (which is usually found in a greater document call the Constitution). When the two conflict, it is where the judiciary must find a common ground for reconciliation.

Often, test cases are made, for example when Chee’s sister and others took an originating motion to have the case tested in court. Strangely it was somehow made out as Chee’s sister et al was being mischievous. Anyway, as I understand it one is not allowed to take test cases to court via the originating motion. So one avenue for consideration of the law between the citizen and the establishment is now gone.

To me it is this practice of the establishment bending the law to suit its own agenda that is seriously worrisome, maybe not an issue now but what happens when a really malicious one take hold. Frankly, whether non-establishment figure is more noble, thus believable, by not “breaking the law” is academic and serve only to cloud, as I see it, the real issue.

By all means if one find Chee’s action or personality unpalatable, do point that out.

14. Daily SG: 7 Sep 2007 « The Singapore Daily - September 7, 2007

[…] Daily Discourse – The Void Deck: Protest-O-Rama Siah! – Ned Stark: The Permit, The Cycling Event and a Fourth University […]

15. Insane Polygons - October 16, 2007

[…] good governance. They make decisions without consulting you and gives you no recourse for change. They think you’re stupid and only they know what is best. They think your money belongs to them. They treat you like dirt […]

16. Stéphane Bortzmeyer - July 13, 2010

Very good post, thanks!

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