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FEATURING / Hong Lim theatre and politica Park the role of trade un l freedom humans of SingaporE ions

What’s on your mind?

EDITOR’S NOTE In recent years Singapore seems to have been developing a growing voice calling for greater freedom of speech and expression. The legal platform for raising this voice, Hong Lim Park’s Speakers’ Corner, has been used with much notoriety, if not genuine public interest. Estimates of the turnout of the White Paper protest on 13 February 2013 ranged from 10001 to 4000.2 The Pink Dot event in 2014 drew an unprecedented crowd of 26,000 people in support of the LGBT (Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) movement.3 The on-going debate between “revisionist” histories propagated by expolitical detainees and the ruling party’s entrenched narrative of the Singapore Story calls into question the nation’s readiness to handle the complexities and complications of the many voices of history. This issue of Mnemozine thus examines the delicate negotiation between an increasingly vocal society and a state known for its intolerance of dissent.

The team explores the different ways in which Singaporeans have sought to negotiate the strict regulations of a paternalistic state through alternative mediums such as theatre (p. 12), films, and literature (p. 14). While some might suggest that Singapore’s internal security laws are archaic, any voice calling for a re-evaluation of these laws requires one to contextualise its institution in order to understand the grounds for its existence and its operations (p.18, p. 20, p. 22). Has technology given us greater freedom of speech and expression, or merely embolden us into becoming irresponsible keyboard crusaders (p. 24)? We invite readers to contemplate these matters as they peruse this issue and hope that you will be stirred to dig deeper into the historical contexts of the many pressing challenges of the day. History affords us the distance to approach these issues in their broader context so that we can inform the voice of change today. Chief Editor, Joshua Chen

NOTES 1 Goh Chin Lian and Maryam Mokhtar, “Large turnout at Speakers’ Corner for protest against Population White Paper”, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2013. 2 “4000 protest against White Paper”, AsiaOne, 17 Feb 2013. 3 Pink Dot SG, “Unprecedented 26,000 Celebrate Family, Friends, and Love at Pink Dot 2014”, retrieved from http:// pinkdot.sg/unprecedented-26000-celebrate-family-friends-and-love-at-pink-dot-2014.

Mnemozine is published by the NUS History Society and is distributed to all current students, staff, friends and benefactors of the society. A non-profit entity, we welcome donations and other in-kind support. The views expressed by the writers remain solely their own and do not necessarily reflect the official view of the National University of Singapore and its affiliates. For more information, please email us at publications@nushissoc.org. Past issues at http://issuu.com/mnemozine

HOME 4 | Mr Ho Chi Tim: Sources of Singapore History ISSUE 7 / APRIL 2015 EDITORIAL TEAM Chief Editor Joshua Chen Deputy Editor Lean Guan Hua DESIGN Isabelle Tow Nathene Chua PUBLIC RELATIONS Celeste Chia CONTRIBUTORS Aloysius Ho Celeste Chia Choo Ruizhi Christabelle Ong Gary Chia Joey Chua Joshua Chen Lean Guan Hua Lim Shien Hien Lim Zhiwei Marcus Tan Nur Sakinah Rahmat Sebastian Wang Shaun M. N. Ramdas Tan Chye Guan Tan Hui Shan Valerie Yeo Wong Jing Jie Yong Su Ru PHOTOGRAPHY Christabelle Ong

6 | Mr Royston Lin: History and Heritage 7 | Department Updates 8 | Battle for Singapore | Chinese New Year 2015

FEATURE 10 | The Man Behind Hong Lim Park: Ong Eng Guan 12 | Thinking Out of the Box: Theatre and Political Freedom 14 | Books Can; Films Cannot 16 | The Role of Trade Unions 18 | Operation Spectrum and the ISA Amendments of 1989 20 | ISA: A Tool of the Past? 22 | The Coexistence of Religious Freedom and Harmony 24 | Freedom of Information in the 21st Century

50 YEARS 26 | Chope: Singapore Among World Powers 28 | Battle for Merger

BEYOND 30 | Ordinary Faces, Extraordinary Lives 32 | Destitution: Shackled to Fate?

REVIEW 34 | The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore 36 | Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus 37 | Mobilizing Gay Singapore

TRIBUTE 38 | Time and Place for Criticism: Historical Truth and the Memorialisation of Lee Kuan Yew



Welcome Mr Ho Chi Tim!

Celeste Chia celeste@u.nus.edu Sebastian Wang sebastianwwq@hotmail.com

I think generally speaking, in any research

one hand, it is authoritative because of who

Photography by Christabelle Ong

ing. I think as students you are all familiar with that.

Immediately, because it is someone’s per-

As we sat down with Mr Ho Chi Tim, one of the newest additions to the History fac-

or writing, it is about finding an angle that speaks best to the audience you are target-

And of course in history-writing, we can-

not write without sources. In this case, it is less about difficulty and more about unan-

ulty, he beat us to asking the first question.

ticipated obstacles. So for instance, in this

mulate a thesis), which gave us a glimpse

chives of Singapore (NAS) or the NUS Cen-

He was interested to know how we would

frame the article (like how one would for-

of how he conducts his classes. We probed

deeper into his academic interests beyond Southeast Asian history, and the interview

further revealed his thoughts about sources for Singapore’s history.

We would like to formally welcome you to the History Department! How long have you been in here? Thank you! Six months (as of December 2014). I am a graduate from this department actually. I graduated in 2003, before

coming back to do my masters from 2006

day and age, if we want to do research, we usually go to the website of the National Ar-

tral Library. And we usually browse their online catalogue with the assumption that

everything they have would be displayed online. While researching at the NAS, I had

that assumption rudely debunked when I

found hardcopy publications of NAS hold-

ings published earlier in 1988 and 1991 – which showed there were more. So it was a

lesson, to me at least, not to get complacent

My own experiences with research lead me


lowing more access would be beneficial for

up given Singapore’s upcoming 50 year th

of independence?

Why an interest in social welfare in Sin-

estly feel that opening up archives and al-

cial assistance policy officer. I spent only

two years there, but the experiences I had remain influential. I recall one situation

where a family of about four or five was asking for assistance to help pay for a pair

of glasses for one of the children. The fam-

ily’s monthly income was about $550, and I saw on the payslip further deductions from

that already rather small sum. So it was one of those moments where I thought something was not quite right, and my questions steered me onto my present path.

As a researcher, what are the main diffi-

culties you encounter? Apart from finding time to write? (laughs)

accurate. Or at least, his memories of certain instances will be contested by his contemporaries.

But for historians? Perhaps we could look beyond Lee’s memoirs, or more accurately,

the narrative it perpetuates. We can ask different questions of the past and hopefully broaden and deepen Singapore history. To

do that of course we need sources to write with, but maybe before that, Singapore history as a field of study could also move be-

yond merely countering the official Singapore Story.

There are also some files that can be de-

yes, it would be ideal to have more. I guess


ment Youth and Sports (MCYS). I was a so-

ified), we know not all parts are going to be

Speaking of archives, what do you think

riod of easy access to information.

opment of social welfare in late colonial Sin-

the then Ministry of Community Develop-

sonal memories (albeit researched and ver-


of the current sentiment of opening them

After I graduated with a BA, I worked in

why can’t we treat it like a historical source?

and take situations at face value in this pe-

to 2008. I am in the midst of finishing my dissertation. It is about the historical devel-

the man is. On the other hand, as historians,

to sympathise with such sentiments. I hon-

all involved. It will demonstrate self-confidence on the part of those holding the archives.

Perhaps there would be more access if we adopt an “it’s not going to affect the work

I do, or what I do in the future” mindset. It

would be nice to see a more self-confident authority, rather than a defensive one, and

opening up the archives would be a firm step in that direction. It would moreover

demonstrate confidence and trust in oth-

ers in using the archives. From a historian’s point of view, I am definitely in favour of it.

How about history writing in Singapore? The research and writing of Singapore’s

history has I feel been dominated by a certain narrative. For example, Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore Story as told in his memoirs. On

There is a fair amount of files and records available and accessible now at NAS, and

one way to help get and make archives more

accessible is to encourage more interest in researching Singapore’s history. There is

much in Singapore’s past to explore: the colonial period, the late colonial period, and

independence and after. And we should not limit ourselves to the politics, but also

changes in the economy and society, examining changes in social structure and functions, and many other topics.

Declassification of files would perhaps require some minimal level of trust on all

sides. Rephrasing, I guess it is a question

of whether the government (or whoever is holding the files that some wish to be declassified) trusts those who want files to

be declassified, trust how they will be used

and interpreted. There are supposedly researched works out there that may not im-

mediately inspire confidence in how declas-

sified files would be used and interpreted. On that note, I feel it’s crucial that as histo-

rians, whenever we research, publish, present and argue, we should recognise that we

have a responsibility to each other and our audiences. n


Interview with Alumni: Royston Lin from the National Heritage Board

Christabelle Ong christabelle.ongning@gmail.com

I learnt how to read building plans as I have

Are there other criteria that the PSM has

As we celebrate our 50th year as an in-

ments and present my research findings to

to deal with buildings too.

to fulfill?

A History alumnus, Royston Lin gradu-

ependent nation, where do you see Sin-

ated from NUS in 2014 and has since

gapore’s heritage and history moving to-

been working with the National Heritage


the boards, and it will be rated according to

Board (NHB) – Preservation of Sites and

There is definitely a rise in the awareness of

Monuments (PSM). We sat down with him to gain a perspective into the job scope of this department, as well as his sentiments towards Singapore’s history in general.

Royston, tell us about your job at PSM. I am working mainly on research and out-

reach. I give talks and sometimes tours to

schools and members of the public. We are also working on a few publications, but the bulk of my job is mainly on research. I have been working with NHB for a year now.

How did you manage to find this job? I have always been interested in architectural history and Chinese history, but was

never particularly interested in Singapore’s history. However, a professor from the His-

tory department recommended me this job. I found it to be interesting so I decided to apply for the job.

So how is it like working at PSM? I learnt a lot of things. My job is a contin-

uation of the research life as a student. I learnt skills which were never really taught

in school, such as replying to queries from members of the public and answering phone calls. I also learnt about the signifi-

cance of monuments to different communi-

ties, which is important for research. Finally


the need to preserve our history and heri-

My job is to do research on historical monudifferent tiers. This will be reflected to the minister and he will have the last say.

So what are the job prospects of a typical

tage. I have been receiving a lot of queries

History student?

actively looking into doing their own re-

useful as you get to see things differently.

about buildings as well. For the past few

Our degree is very generic so it opens a lot

search – heritage blogs are on the rise. In-

More firms are looking for people with such

years, many members of the public are also formation is much more accessible as com-

pared to the past and social media is a great

platform for them to share their knowledge about history as well!

What are your thoughts about the discourse between development and heritage? At first glance, it looks as though both of them are two separate things. One of the

questions we are all trying to find an an-

swer to is whether both development and

of doors. The skills that we learn are very skills. Some MNCs are looking for students with a history background to do research or article analysis. Some of these companies also have their own heritage gallery,

for instance, Fullerton Hotel. However, try

not to limit yourself to the heritage sector

if you want to do an internship. You might not know if you come across something that

you might enjoy doing, which can put your history skills to good use.

Any last words for the history students?

preservation can complement each other.

First and foremost, I think it is a very brave

case it is development within a preserved

tory background shows something − that

significance and, as much as possible, be ar-

in a more critical way. Just explore whatever

Perhaps for the reuse of space, you can preserve it yet change its function, so in that

building. One of the criteria for a monument to be gazetted is that it must have national

chitecturally unique. Another criteria is that it must be at least thirty years old, because

in Singapore we cannot conserve every sin-

gle thing. The PSM also takes into consideration stories from the community, as the

gazetted building will be like a memorial to the community for their contributions.

step for us to take history. The fact that I

jumped into taking history without any his-

we study it for the passion. The skills that we learn make us better people as we think

you want to do – internships, part-time jobs

that do not have to be related to history, to gather skills which will be useful in the fu-

ture. At the end of the day, you might actually enjoy doing something that could be completely non-history related. n

Department Updates We would like to extend our congratulations to the following department staff:

Teaching Excellence Award

The Faculty Teaching Excellence Award is awarded to faculty members who have displayed a high level of commitment to their teaching. Each year, a select few are recognised for their teaching based on peer reviews, student feedback and exposition of their teaching philosophy. Department of History Award Recipients: (from left) Professor Brian Farrell, Associate Professor Maurizio Peleggi, Associate Professor Timothy P. Barnard, Dr. Donna Brunero, Dr. John. P. Dimoia

Special Teaching Award

The Special Teaching Award recognises colleagues with special capabilities in the following categories:

Educational Leadership

Administrative service and leadership in curriculum development

Innovation Innovative use of technology in teaching


Research on teaching pedagogies

Students’ Choice

Excellence in student feedback and rapport with learners


Range of modules taught across levels, student numbers and genres

We are delighted to announce that Associate Professor Timothy P. Barnard has clinched a special teaching award for Educational leadership.

We would also like to bid farewell and thank the following staff for their contributions: (from left) Associate Professor Yong Mun Cheong, Associate Professor Malcolm Murfett, Dr. Chua Ai Lin, Dr. Jack Fairey, Dr. Sai Siew Min

We wish them all the best in their future endeavours.



Bukit Chandu Heritage Trail On the 14th of February 1942, the final

fought during the war. Improving from the

fought their hardest and it was rumoured

count by a surviving soldier, Private Ujang

phase of the Japanese invasion into Singa-

pore began. At Bukit Chandu, many soldiers that the body of Lieutenant Adnan Bin Saidi

was hanged by the Japanese soldiers after they killed him. Seventy-three years later, the NUS History Society collaborated with the National Heritage Board for the Battle

of Singapore trails to retell the stories of those who fought at Bukit Chandu. Trekking

up the long and winding road to Reflections at Bukit Chandu, the public was offered

the chance to experience how the soldiers


trail last year, there were special segments

added in towards the end such as the acMormin, who fought at Pasir Panjang and

the recounts by General Gordon Bennett. Participants were introduced to the muse-

um and treated to war stories by the retired

soldiers of the SAF Veteran League who fought for Singapore in those early years. Christabelle Ong Project Director

VENTS Chinese NEw YEar 2015

Yong Su Ru Project Director

Chinese New Year not only signifies the coming of a new lunar year, it also represents the building of old and new relationships with one another. On 17th February 2015, NUS Histo-

ry Society organised a small get-together for the History and European Studies community.

Students and staff gathered together for a night of fun exchanges with delicious food! Professors and administrative staff were presented

mandarin oranges as a gesture of appreciation for their hard work and dedication in enriching our university experience, as well as wishing them a year of good health.




Tan Chye Guan histcg@nus.edu.sg The Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim

embodies the hopes and fears of Singapor-

eans who aspire to greater political freedom and those who have grown wary of such

movements.1 This was certainly not the reason why it was chosen over other locations,

but such duality has uncanny parallels with

its heyday as the cauldron of national politics. Ong Eng Guan led the struggle to turn

proscribed British-granted freedom into unfettered independence from the front, alarming not only pro-establishment and moderate but also radical labour union

leaders who well appreciated the danger

demagoguery posed. Ong defeated all comers here in five pivotal elections over eight

tumultuous years, but his popularity was eventually contained.2 Unlike Lee Kuan Yew

and Lim Chin Siong, Ong has never been

ideologically lionised and will likely enjoy the aloofness he engineered through silence

since his retirement. Still, his story warrants closer study as Hong Lim once again

becomes the theatre where popular activ-

ism aimed at national change takes centrestage. 10

The 1957 City Council Elections

ate attempts to scare off much-needed ex-

nence were held with the Peoples’ Action

valid concerns about his character. Almost

which first propelled previously little-

known Ong Eng Guan to national promiParty’s (PAP’s) volatile vote-winning left

wing behind bars. The Melbourne-educated accountant and PAP Treasurer easily won

over Hong Lim’s Chinese-speaking masses with his fiery Hokkien oratory, anti-colonial antics and street-wise grandstanding. Billed as Lee Kuan Yew’s answer to the left, Ong went one up on Lim’s faction. Getting

arrested publicly for supporting firecracker-throwing mobs at City Hall on the day he

was to assume office as mayor, Ong successfully called a snap vote to abolish mayoral

regalia at his investiture the next day. The massive crowds he allowed into the cham-

ber gave the establishment grave forebod-

ing as conservative sectors of society wondered whether this was a sign of things to come. Ong also gave the PAP its reputation

for effective governance through a whirl-

wind delivery of amenities in his first six

patriate staff and attempts to shift respon-

sibility when utility services suffered raises replaced as mayor in 1958 over disrespectful treatment of colleagues and personal vindictiveness, Ong’s party colleagues

planned to manage his influence by merging the City Council with national agencies.

However, Hong Lim returned him with the

highest majority in any ward in the 1959 Legislative Assembly elections (77.02%), which, together with his undeniable contributions to the PAP’s electoral appeal almost made him Singapore’s first Prime Minister.4

Ong became National Development

Minister in charge of transforming the old Singapore Improvement Trust into an effective mass housing authority. His politically attractive plans to cut out contractors to

reduce the cost of units were vetoed when Lim Kin San reported to Lee Kuan Yew that

this would greatly hamper the efficiency of building.5 Amidst mutual recriminations

months in office, rejecting the ceremonial

over gross nepotism and a jostle for leader-

While this should make Ong the envy

Lim in 1961(73.31%) despite combined op-

role professional administrators envisioned for him.


of any would-be activist today, his deliber-

ship, Ong resigned from party and ward but was again returned with a landslide in Hong

position from the Lee and Lim factions.6

This had unintended wider repercussions

in the general elections. Though the UPP de-

ten study how the masses react to them.

Singapore into a planned Malaysia just a

Lim, which returned Ong despite a four-way

a realignment of such tendencies. Agitation

as Tengku Abdul Rahman began totally un-

expected overtures in favour of absorbing

month later. Leftist elements also believed the by-election proved Ong had taken the PAP moderates’ mass appeal with him. Sup-

porting David Marshall’s bid for Anson, they triggered an open break that created the

Barisan Sosialis and nearly toppled the gov-

ernment. While highly inspiring in some 7

sense, this chain of events should raise concerns over the ability of strategically-placed energised masses to exercise grossly disproportionate effects on national politics as a whole.

As leader of the newly-formed Unit-

ed Peoples’ Party (UPP) with three assem-

cisively split votes in many constituencies, they lost every contest badly except Hong contest that included PAP and Barisan rivals

for the first time. Decisively contained and

isolated in an increasingly one-party dominated system, Lim resigned with unusual fi-

nality, undefeated but unsuccessful in 1965. The consequent by-election made Hong Lim a safe PAP ward hence, ending whatev-

er strategic role it had in Singaporean politics until recent years. Yet, this last act again

caught Kuala Lumpur’s attention, as it ap-

parently persuaded the Tengku that the Sin-

gapore government would survive the Separation that was announced a month later.9

Much of what this eventful past

blymen, Ong potentially held the balance

means to the Speaker’s Corner’s users and

pened when one of his colleagues returned

key driver of public discourse on such mat-

of power with other small parties given

the PAP-Barisan divide. Ironically, this hapto the PAP to prevent it from becoming a mi-

nority government. Ong’s refusal to clear8

ly support either side over the Merger de-

bate confirmed he was an unsteady ally. With Barisan leaders behind bars in 1963, he made his own bid to capture island-wide

electoral support by fielding 46 candidates

observers today depends on one’s subjec-

tive political values, unfortunately still the

ters. Hong Lim’s heyday did not confer any clear legacy on current usage of the same

location, but it does leave much historical material useful for political agitation and

just as vital for resisting it. Consumers of public discourse tend to look for inspiration in such accounts while producers of-

The most desirable outcome of historical awareness in this case would probably be

empowers the masses that subsequently empower agitators such as Ong Eng Guan.

As with any other form of power, this can either lead to the greater good or more

damage than the extent of the support actu-

ally warrants. It would make more sense if those targeted for mass mobilization start

to educate themselves about the effects of the process while those attempting to mobilize it be held to much higher accountability,

especially if their use of the past is clearly selective. n


1 See Howard Lee, The Online Citizen “From Hong Lim Park to Speakers’ Corner – 15 Years to be Made?”, accessed 24 Dec 2014, http:// www.theonlinecitizen.com/2014/09/fromhong-lim-park-to-speakers-corner-15-yearsto-be-made/ and The Straits Time Asia Report, “When Protests Cross the Line” 4 Oct 2014, http://www.stasiareport.com/supplements/ saturday-special-report/story/when-protestscross-the-line-20141004 for a short sample of varied views. 2 All election data used was retrieved from the Singapore Elections Department website at http://www.eld.gov.sg/elections.html, accessed 28 Dec 2014. 3 Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (Times Editions, Singapore: 1988), 273-277. Dennis Bloodworth, The Tiger and the Trojan Horse (Times Books International, Singapore: 1986), 159, 162-3, 167-9. For a succinct account of Ong Eng Guan’s youth and mayorship, see Gary Lee, “The Political Career of Ong Eng Guan”, (Honours Thesis: NUS, 1986), 1-30. 4 Gary Lee, “Ong Eng Guan”, 32-33. 5 Roger Mitton, “Singapore’s Other Founding Father” Asiaweek, 5 Dec 2000, as quoted in Think Centre: Towards a Vibrant Political Society, accessed 28 Dec 2014, http://www.thinkcentre. org/article.cfm?ArticleID=309 24 Dec 2000. 6 Bloodworth, The Tiger and the Trojan Horse, 218-221. Gary Lee, “Ong Eng Guan”, 40-66. Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story, 354, disputes these other accounts which claimed left-wing leaders tried but failed to persuade their followers to vote against Ong. 7 Gary Lee, “Ong Eng Guan”, p. 65, Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story, 356-361, 365. 8 Bloodworth, The Tiger and the Trojan Horse, 252. 9 Gary Lee, “Ong Eng Guan”, 73-77.

Ong Eng Guan Leading 2000 White Collar Workers on Operation Big Sweep, 5th October 1958. Singapore Press Holdings, National Archives of Singapore


Thinking Out Theatre & The Meaning Tan Hui Shan hhhuishan@gmail.com

Singapore theatre in the English lan-

tive of a man who is organising a funeral for

direction.5 In a twist of irony, the play ends

Singapore. Since then, the use of theatre as

sibility of ensuring that the process runs

ed a prize in recognition of the exceptional

guage has its origins from the late 1950s,

not too long before the independence of 1

a form of expression in the local arts scene has grown, becoming one of the significant

ways in which artists may convey messages to audiences in Singapore.2 While the agen-

cy of interpreting local plays lies primarily with the audience, the context and content

of the plays also shape the ways audiences process what they read or see. Most of

the time, the theme of political rights and

freedom in Singapore has tacitly surfaced in plays. Consequently, certain views hold

that due to “limitations on artistic license” imposed by restrictions, many artists have

his grandfather. Being the oldest grandson

in the family, he faces the heavy responsmoothly. Kuo writes the protagonist’s recollection of the incident in the style of a

monologue, incorporating the character’s stream of consciousness. The conflict in the play is presented when, as the title suggests,

his grandfather’s coffin is too big for the

hole. The protagonist confronts the under-

with a tone of bemusement as the protago-

nist mentions that the officer was “awardsympathy and understanding he had shown towards [the protagonist’s] grandfather’s extra big coffin.”6

Upon reading or watching the play,

the audience can gather that certain references point toward the state’s lack of flexibility, represented by the undertaker’s

“I had a feeling that we were being watched. I don’t know why, but looking back, I still feel that way. Being watched.” - The Coffin Is Too Big for the Hole, Kuo Pao Kun

to “resort to self-censorship rather than

taker, only to be told that regulations dic-

refusal to allow more space for the excep-

(1984) as an example, we consider how lo-

the protagonist holds his ground on provid-

in terms of state-sanctioned rules. Even

incur state regulation.” Referring to Kuo 3

Pao Kun’s The Coffin Is Too Big for the Hole cal theatre may be read to express opinion on political rights or freedom in Singapore. 12

Kuo’s play is written in the perspec-

tate, “one dead is allotted one plot” for the

coffin. Later on, the issue is resolved when 4

ing a proper burial for his grandfather; the officer relents to burying the coffin “east-

west” instead of the standard “north-south”

tionally large coffin. The play also suggests

that there is little room for negotiation though the play was written in 1984, the

political context – the way the government rules Singapore – remains relevant. When

t of The Box of Political Freedom in Singapore

people perceive the government’s rules as

stringent, some may call the principles of

gaporeans. This does not mean that local

plays always seek to be politically subver-

democracy into question. Consequently,

sive. Despite how theatre performances,

and mainly for show.”

dom and rights ultimately determines their

there are claims made that “what passes for

democracy is constrained, pruned, stunted, 7

The perception of the government

rules as strict arises from the preconceived notion of political rights and freedom as part of civil liberty – namely, that people

should be given freedom of speech and expression regardless of their political alignment. Perhaps these preconceptions also

arise from comparisons made with gov-

ernments of more liberal societies, such as in the United States of America. Given the amorphous nature of what political rights and freedom can mean to each individu-

al, Kuo’s play offers a view that may be re-

ceived with much ambivalence among Sin-

primarily visual, can influence the audi-

7 Michael D. Barr, “The Bonsai under the Banyan Tree: Democracy and Democratisation in Singapore”, Democratization (2012): pp. 29-48.

ence, the audience’s notion of political freepersonal interpretation of what they watch. Photograph from: ampulets.blogspot.com


1 Jacqueline Lo, Staging Nation English Language Theatre in Malaysia and Singapore (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004), p. 3. 2 Ibid., p. 4. 3 T. C. Chang and W. K. Lee, “Renaissance City Singapore: A Study Of Arts Spaces”, Area 35,2 (2003): pp. 128-41. 4 Angelia Poon, “12: Kuo Pao Kun”, in Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009). 5 Ibid., p. 296. 6 Ibid.

Kuo Pao Kun


Books can Films cannot Gary Chia gary6508@hotmail.com

ties is banned from public screenings, being

“a movie is different from a book. You

ings (NAR).

with a counter book…You watch the

challenge the mainstream account of the

convincing, but it’s not a documenta-

tive years. While such a challenge to the

deal with these issues.”1

classified by the Media Development Au-

write a book, I can write a counter

A recently published book, The 1963

movie, you think it’s a documentary,

government crackdown of alleged commu-

ry. And I think we have to understand

government’s entrenched account of the

While different standards exist for

thority (MDA) as Not-Allowed-for-All-Rat-

book, the book you can read together

As children, we would question our

Operation Coldstore in Singapore, seeks to

it may be like Farenheit 9/11 — very

out across the study table. “Too much TV is

nist insurgents during the nation’s forma-

this in order to understand how to

event poses a threat to the ruling party’s le-

different artistic mediums, due to the way

borrowed from the National Library.

between mediums are more complex than

Marcus Tan grapesandpizza@gmail.com

parents as they turned us away from the television screens to the paperbacks laid

bad for you,” they would say. We continue

to hear echoes of that, through the choices that the state has made in our stead with

both books and films coming under scrutiny in 2014.

To Singapore, With Love, a film about

Singaporeans who fled the country from the 1960s to 1980s due to their alleged involvements in subversive and communist activi-

gitimacy, the book has not been banned and

can be easily purchased from bookstores or Explaining the difference in censor-

ship standards between books and films, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asserted,

they interact with the audience, we suggest

that the differing standards of censorship a simple “books versus films” dichotomy. Censorship may vary in its approach as so-

ciety’s sensibilities evolve and the agendas

of the state change. We witness different standards being applied even within the categories of books and films.

Films undergo more regulations and

scrutiny, such as tiers of age restrictions

and license requirements for screenings as compared to books.2,3 This stems from the fact that films serve as increasingly influen-

tial social forces. Films allow for a greater verbal economy whilst storing and conveying a mass amount of information in a single

scene that may only be a few seconds long. 14

If a picture speaks a thousand words, what

then of the movie reel?

literature text – the first Singaporean play

sume. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan

interesting to note that while the play was

Films also receive a wider demo-

graphic as they are arguably easier to con4

posits that films put forth “statements without syntax”; a visual and auditory narrative

that can transcend age groups and back-

ground education in terms of comprehen-

sion. With an added aural dimension, films 5

are arguably more relatable as compared to

books. Local dialects are difficult to represent in written form but are easily represented in films through dialogue, appealing to a more diverse audience and facilitating greater engagement.

However censorship is sensitive to

changes in society’s sensibilities and the

state’s approach. Here we turn to two inci-

dents where works have encountered such sensitivity.

in this regard – in an effort to introduce Sin-

gaporean literature into the syllabus. It is frowned upon at conception, a decade on, it was selected as an O-Level text. Mental

health issues had become less of a taboo and more people were increasingly open to

talking about it. Our attitude towards men-

tal illness has inevitably seen a shift from avoidance, and at most tolerance, to accep-

tance since the play was first conceived in 1992.

On the part of films, Royston Tan’s

famed 15 (2003) was initially banned ar-

guably because it went against the official image of Singapore that the government hoped directors would portray for the na-

tion and the rest of the world to see. This

was especially so after the government

pumped money into the film industry dur-

ing the 1990s in hopes of reviving an industry that laid dormant since the 1960s.8 Tan


ment where they struggled to receive attention and human connection.

The ban was eventually lifted af-

ter internal debates within the Board of

Film Censors. This could possibly be due

to the artistic social realism message in it, achieved from Tan’s almost anthropologi-

cal approach by personally immersing himself for a year in the underbelly of society. He recruited people from within these so-

cieties who documented their actual experiences.9 Though the ban was subsequently

Sharma’s Off Centre.6 The Necessary Stage’s

lifted, it was passed with a record twenty-

along the “official image” that the Ministry


unflinching, raw portrayal of the social stigma associated with mental illness was not

had commissioned. Off Centre was however staged in September 1993 without Ministry funding and was applauded by the Sin-

gapore Association for Mental Health, noting that the play illustrated “an accurate

and honest portrayal of mental illness.” In 7

2006, Off Centre was selected as an O-level

veyed by these works.n

of society. These youths were trapped in a

cycle of gangs, drug culture, and abandon-

of Health withdrew funding from Haresh

difficult issues as well as the values conPhotographs from: Youtube.com, Booksactuallyshop.com, Singaporebiennale2013.tumblr.com

cific focus on youths living on the fringes

On the part of books, a “soft” form of

changes in society’s acceptance of certain

instead portrayed a bleakly nihilistic social

landscape and human condition, with spe-

censorship was imposed when the Ministry

interests of the people, it cannot ignore the

seven cuts, classified “restricted artistic,”

and prohibited to be screened in sub-urban

Medium is important in understand-

ing censorship as it affects and interacts

with our social patterns. However, shifting societal values over time will necessi-

Belmont Lay, “PM Lee’s snarky comment puts academics in their place at National University of S’pore Society lecture”, Mothership.sg, 4 Oct 2014, retrieved from http://mothership. sg/2014/10/pm-lees-snarky-comment-puts-academics-in-their-place-at-national-university-ofspore-society-lecture. 2 Films Act, Statutes of Singapore, retrieved from http://statutes.agc.gov.sg. 3 Undesirable Publications Act, Statutes of Singapore, retrieved from http://statutes.agc.gov.sg. 4 Abdus Sattar Chaudhry and Gladys Low, “Reading Preferences among Different Generations: A Study of Attitudes and Choices in Singapore”, Singapore Journal of Library & Information Management, 38, 2009: pp. 27-48. 5 Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited, 1964). 6 Haresh Sharma, Off Centre – Student’s Edition (Singapore: First Printers Pte Ltd, 2006), pp. i-ii. 7 Ibid., pp. iii-iv. 8 Jan Uhde and Yvonne Ng Uhde, “Singapore: Developments, Challenges, Projections”, in Contemporary Asian Cinema, edited by Anne Tereska Ciecko (Oxford; New York: Berg, 2006), pp. 70-82. 9 Raphael Millet, Singapore Cinema (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2006). 1

tate changes in the censorship standards on books and films, regardless of medium. While the state attempts to act in the best


The Role of Trade Unions Securing Workers’ Rights in Singapore

Lean Guanhua leanguanhua@hotmail.com In the recent years, due to the SMRT

bus drivers’ protest against low pay in November 2012 and the Little India riot in De-

cember 2013, there have been increased concerns by nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and the public about working

conditions in Singapore. This is especially so for migrant workers as both incidents involved foreign workers. The Little India Committee of Inquiry (COI) Report pub-

lished on June 2014 acknowledged that even though foreign workers’ employment and

living conditions “were not the cause of the riot,” there is “still room for improvement,” and the government “must be on guard” to

take pre-emptive measures in order to pre-

vent any public order incidents that arise because of foreign workers’ dissatisfaction against poor working conditions.1

This article aims to examine the effec-

tiveness of trade unions in securing workers’ rights in Singapore by tracing the evo-

lution of trade unions which started from playing a largely political role under the

British colonial rule, to one that is largely depoliticised today under the tripartite ar-

rangement of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). I aim to show that an en-

largement of scope for trade unions is necessary in an increasingly challenging po-

litical climate due to the influx of foreign

workers; hence the government needs to work closely with both trade unions and NGOs to secure a more stable consensus.

In the past, trade unions played an ac-

tive political role under the British colonial 16

rule; they emerged from informal mutual

changing political context as citizens are becoming more vocal and NGOs are speaking

up against poor working conditions of mi-

grant workers. Is it still sufficient for workers’ rights to be determined through a state-

centric approach, where we rely solely on the Ministry of Manpower and other gov-

ernment agencies to embark on outreach efforts to foreign workers and build recreational centres to meet their social needs?

In order to tap into the expertise of

NGOs, my opinion is that the government

needs to work actively with the NGOs such TWC2 Aljunied Outreach. 19 July 2014. Image from: https://www.facebook.com/transientworkerscount2.

aid societies in the form of hongs around

velopmental state ideology that focuses

ment; hence trade unions became more or-

ernment managed to sustain its economic

1895.2 Eventually, labour movements be-

came politicised due to economic resent-

ganised in order to voice out effectively in their anti-colonial struggle.3 Political union-

ism also played a crucial role in Singapore’s political landscape due to intense rivalry

between left-wing elements and moderates

from 1959 to 1965. This was because political parties relied heavily on union leaders to gain popular support and legitimacy.


This is evident in the People’s Action Party (PAP) co-opting union leaders such as Lim

on generating economic growth to achieve

support from the masses. As long as the govlegitimacy, social dissent could be tamed effectively; hence the trade unions were relegated to a subordinate role. The collapse

of the leftist Singapore Association of Trade Unions in 1963 after Operation Coldstore led to the NTUC being the sole trade union

centre. In addition, two major pieces of legislation in 1968 and the creation of National

Wages Council (NWC) in 1972 crippled the activist role of trade unions drastically.6 In

Chin Siong to bolster their cause for inde-

1968, the Employment Act and Industrial

elections where the PAP won forty-three

lective bargaining; trade unions are not al-

pendence; seven out of fourteen founders of the PAP were labour leaders.5 The 1959 out of fifty-nine seats were a testament to how the partnership between politics and

the trade unions amalgamated into a strong anti-colonial force.

Relations Amendment Act were enacted, which severely constrained the scope of col-

lowed to negotiate on issues such as promotions and work assignments to employees.

The process of co-optation of trade unions

under the tripartite arrangement of NTUC combined with stringent laws forced trade

unions to work within state-controlled boundaries. NTUC took on a new role to en-

sure its relevance as evident in it taking on

cooperative projects to improve the welfare of the masses. These projects include NTUC However, since Singapore’s indepen-

dence, the bargaining role of trade unions

has been sharply reduced to a depoliticised institution. This was largely due to the de-

Income as a form of affordable insurance, NTUC Fairprice to ensure affordable gro-

ceries and distribution of used textbooks to low-income families.

The key question is whether this bar-

gaining model is still relevant in today’s

as Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2),

to reach out to the needy migrant workers and increase awareness of their plight. The

scope of trade unions should be widened to increase their collective bargaining posi-

tions. This will placate the more politically

conscious and increasingly educated citizens who demand a greater say in socioeco-

nomic issues. Singapore is in the phase of re-examining the developmental state men-

tality that focuses on securing economic growth at all costs. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam mentioned that

Singapore is shifting towards “left of centre”

in how it views social policy and economic

redistribution.7 However this shift requires

NGOs and trade unions to become more vocal so as to actively contribute to policy for-

mulation. For trade unions to truly secure workers’ rights and maintain their legitimacy, they cannot be kept politically docile. n Photographs from: National Archives


1 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore, Report of the Committee of Inquiry Into the Little India Riot on 8 December 2013, 27 Jun 2014, p. 69. 2 Elias T. Ramos, “Labour Policy Change and Its Impact on Trade Union Roles in Singapore and the Philippines: A Comparative Study”, Indian Journal of Industrial Relations 19,3 (1984): p. 333. 3 Ibid., p. 334. 4 Ibid., p. 335. 5 Ibid., p. 341. 6 Ibid., p. 336. 7 Aaron Low, “Cabinet: More left-of-centre now, helping the lower income”, The Straits Times, Apr 2013.


OPERATI N SPECTRUM & the ISA Amendments of 1989

On 21st May 1987, the Internal Secu-

Joshua Chen chen_joshua@u.nus.edu Every piece of legislation has a his-

tory. The Internal Security Act (ISA) is no

exception. On 25th January 1989, the In-

ternal Security (Amendment) Act 1989 was passed by the Parliament of Singapore to include new sections into the ISA.1 Among these additions was Section 8B.


The changes effectively granted the Execu-

tive body full discretionary powers to use the ISA without any means of checking its

their applications for a writ of habeas cor-

rity Department (ISD) arrested sixteen peo-

pus were heard by the High Court between

Ministry statement, the accused were plot-

ed to appeal to the Court of Appeal. It was

ple for their alleged involvement in a “Marxist conspiracy.”4 According to a Home Affairs

ting to subvert the government and seize control of the country by using networks within the Catholic Church and other re-

ligious organisations.5 All the detainees,

apart from Vincent Cheng who was accused of being a key personnel involved in the plot, were subsequently released between

June and December 1987.6 However on 19th

May and June 1988.8 When the High Court

dismissed all of their cases, they proceedA writ of habeas corpus requires the body of a person restrained of liberty to be brought before the judge or into court, that the lawfulness of the restraint may be investigated and determined.

decisions. Such significant changes demand

April 1988, eight of the released detainees

in the appeal case, Chng Suan Tze v Minis-

wake of a “Marxist conspiracy,” the court

the “Marxist conspiracy,” claiming that their


a closer examination of the historical devel-

opments in the 1980s that unfolded in the processes involved, and the Parliamentary

debate that went on, culminating into the amendments in the ISA that continue to be in place today.3 18

were re-arrested – a day after they issued a statement denying their involvement in

confessions were made under duress. Four 7

of these detainees, Chng Suan Tze, Kevin de Souza, Wong Souk Yee, and Teo Soh Lung decided to challenge their detention and

ter of Home Affairs, that the Court of Appeal

issued a watershed verdict in favour of the In the verdict, the Court ruled that all

four appellants should be discharged from custody. This was a landmark decision be-

cause it overruled precedents set in 1971

in a case known as Lee Mau Seng v Minis-

by cases decided abroad, where circum-

actment. A wider historical perspective

corpus as it ruled that it was not in the ju-

nal say in national security, and thus have

between individual freedom and the secu-

ter for Home Affairs. On 13 July 1971, the th

High Court dismissed Lee’s writ of habeas

diciary’s power to question the adequacy

of ISA’s grounds for detention. The Court 9

asserted that because the detention order


—(1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (2), the law governing the judicial review of any decision made or act done in pursuance of any power conferred upon the President or the Minister by the provisions of his Act shall be the same as was applicable and declared in Singapore on the 13th day of July 1971; and no part of the law before, on or after that date of any other country in the Commonwealth relating to judicial review shall apply. —(2) There shall be no judicial review in any court of any act done or decision made by the President or the Minister under the provisions of this Act save in regard to any question relating to compliance with any procedural requirement of this Act governing such act or decision. was made under the discretion of the President, which was “a purely subjective condition”, it excludes a judiciary investigation of

the justifications for detention. The 1988 10

verdict however overrruled Lee by arguing

stances were “totally different from ours.”


(2) Secondly, the courts would have the fito be responsible and answerable for its decision. This ran contrary to the intentions

of the Legislature that put in place the ISA, which was to give ISA subjective and discre-

tionary powers to counter security threats effectively.14 (3) Finally, in the nature of pre-

ventive detention, where conspirators plot secretly and use clandestine strategies, the Government has to act based on evidences

that are difficult to retrieve and impossible to use for an effective conviction in court.15

The amendments doubtless drew

criticisms. During the reading of the bills,

then Potong Pasir MP Mr Chiam See Tong spoke against the bills’ authority to grant

“absolute power to the government to arrest whoever it likes.”16 Chiam was the only Member of Parliament who voted against the bills. Dr Lee Siew-Choh, a former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP), also argued in Parliament

that the government merely wanted to grant the Executive powers complete independence from any form of judicial review in order to use the ISA to deal with politi-

cal opponents and “even coerce the people

into submission.”17 The Queen’s Counsel Mi-

that the “subjective test” could no longer be

chael J. Beloff argued that the amendments

to the Court, “the notion of a subjective or

the executive.18 Beloff also asserted that the

supported and the discretion granted to ISA had to be justified objectively.



were unconstitutional as it goes against the

principle of separating the judiciary and

unfettered discretion is contrary to the rule

amendments authorised the Executive to

be able to examine the exercise of discre-

judicial investigation. This allowed deten-

of law. All power has legal limits and the rule of law demands that the courts should tionary power.”


Just over a month after the 1988 Chng

verdict was made, the Government reacted by challenging the ruling and proposing the Constitution (Amendment) Bill and the In-

detain arbitrary acts outside the scope of the ISA by immunising the Executive from

tions made in bad faith by not allowing the

courts to question their validity.19 Nevertheless, both Bills were passed and the amendments enacted.20

The curtailment of individual free-

ternal Security (Amendment) Bill. Then

dom and rights that the ISA entails remain

gued that many of the precedents used in

best interest of the nation’s security, this

Minister for Law, S. Jayakumar, highlighted

three main reasons for the bills. (1) He arChng were from cases overseas, and if they

accepted the Court’s decision, Singapore’s

national security laws would be governed

a contentious issue among Singaporeans

today. While the ISA was employed in the brief account of the history of the amend-

ment bills serves to highlight concerns of the draconian powers granted by its en-

and understanding of the complexities of

its past is required to assess the trade-off rity of the nation. Any challenge against it

thus necessitates a delicate act of negotiation between society and the state.



Singapore Statutes Online, “Internal Security (Amendment) Act 1989”. Retrieved from http://statutes.agc.gov.sg. 2 According to Section 8B, the law regarding judicial review of decisions made through the ISA would be reverted to the law that existed on 13th July 1971 and judicial review of any decisions made by the President or the Minister under the ISA became prohibited under this amendment. 3 “Marxist plot uncovered”, The Straits Times, 27 May 1987. Retrieved from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/ straitstimes19870527.2.2.aspx. 4 “16 held in security swoop”, The Straits Times, 22 May 1987. Retrieved from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/ straitstimes19870522.2.2.aspx. 5 “Marxist plot uncovered”, The Straits Times, 27 May 1987. 6 Bertha Henson and Tan Tarn How, “Govt rearrests eight former ISA detainees”, The Straits Times, 20 April 1988. Retrieved from http:// eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19880420-1.2.8.aspx. 7 Ibid. 8 “Chng Suan Tze v Minister of Home Affairs and others and other appeals [1988] SGCA 16.” Retrieved from http://lwb.lawnet.com.sg/legal/ lgl/rss/landmark/%5B1988%5D_SGCA_16.html. 9 “Lee Mau Seng v Minister for Home Affairs, Singapore and Another [1971] SGHC 10”. Retrieved from http://lwb.lawnet.com.sg/legal/lgl/rss/ landmark/[1971]_SGHC_10.html. 10 Ibid. 11 “Chng Suan Tze”. Retrieved from http://lwb.lawnet.com.sg/legal/lgl/rss/ landmark/%5B1988%5D_SGCA_16.html. 12 Ibid. 13 Parliament of Singapore, “Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill”, 25 January 1989. Retrieved from http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic. jsp?currentTopicID=00061338-ZZ 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. 17 Parliament of Singapore, “Internal Security (Amendment) Bill”, 25 January 1989. Retrieved from http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic. jsp?currentTopicID=00061342-ZZ. 18 Han Fook Kwang, “Recent amendments to Constitution invalid: QC”, The Straits Times, 13 September 1989, p. 17. Retrieved from http:// eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19890913.2.27.9.aspx. 19 Ibid. 20 Parliament of Singapore, “Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill”. 1


ISA: A TOOL OF Valerie Yeo


The ISA is codified in Chapter 143 of

the Singapore Statutes as of 1963. The Act

provides for the internal security of Singapore through preventive detention and the

suppression of organised violence against

persons and property in specified areas

of Singapore without trial.1 The historical roots of the legislation date back to the colo-

nial era in 1948 when the Emergency Regu-

lations Ordinance was used to suppress the imminent threat from the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) in Malaya. Subsequently, it was replaced by the Preservation of Public

Security Ordinance (PPSO) in 1955 as a re-

sult of the Hock Lee bus riots by the Labour Party government in Singapore. In 1960, the

Malayan Internal Security Act was passed in place of the PPSO to deal with remaining

communist insurgents. During Singapore’s


merger with Malaya in 1963, the same ISA

is the top prize. In order to deal with these

ISA law was thus born in a context of turbu-

Government itself has regularly raised the

law was extended to Singapore and has re-

mained intact even upon separation. The lence inherited by the independent nation

states. As society progresses in sovereign Singapore, will it still remain relevant as a security apparatus, especially with an increasingly vocal civil society? For the Singa-

pore government that perpetuates a siege ideology that emphasises on the country’s

perpetual vulnerabilities, this tool is imperative to preserve peace. However, past ISA

operations, and the security apparatus as a whole, are increasingly being challenged

by today’s society, where more “alternative histories” are being written and published.

From the government’s perspective,

the ISA is justified by the rhetoric of protecting national peace. The siege mentality is pervasive as the state reiterates that we

are “a little red dot” at risk of subversive terrorist emergencies and that racial harmony

complex challenges, the government has ad-

opted soft authoritarianism. The Singapore need to prevent national security threats

from materialising as a justification for pre-

ventive detention. This further legitimises the state’s refusal to declassify confidential

documents after 30 years, as what countries such as Israel and the UK practise.2 The jus-

tice system favours punishment in a com-

munity-oriented system designed to protect the community as a whole.3 It serves as

a deterrent to potential troublemakers and future vandals.4 Contrary to Western values

of human rights, the ISA asserts a different

ideology behind the maintanance of internal peace and control.

The ISA has been employed multiple

times in Singapore, from Operation Coldstore in 1963 to subduing the more recent

Jemaah Islamiah (JI) militant group threat. Its record has been most colourful as well

THE PAST? as mysterious, with such threats being tar-

from under the cover, the pruning remains

ing a wave of backlash and public outcry for

her appeal for the film, To Singapore, With

tive avenues of storytelling. Operation Cold-

view and weigh for ourselves, through le-

geted and removed swiftly. However, in re-

cent years, these operations have been fac-

transparency as political prisoners are released from jail and have provided alterna-

store in 1963, which involved the arrest of

communist subversives, was commemorated during “We Remember@Hong Lim

insufficient for an increasingly inquisitive

populace. As director Tan Pin Pin wrote in 7

Love, “As we approach our 50th birthday, I feel that we as a people should be able to

gitimate public screenings in Singapore, differing views about our past, even views that the government disagrees with.”8 The ISA’s

Park” in 2013 on its 50th anniversary.5 Oper-

utility has thus far proven complex. While

ist conspiracy,” has inspired organisations

ISA law, perhaps it is time to consider modi-

ation Spectrum in 1987, where the detain-

ees were suspected of harbouring a “Marxsuch as “That We May Dream Again”.


Civil society may have been living in

the shadow and fear of the ISA for the bet-

ter part of our independence but with economic stability being achieved, their sights

and needs have extended beyond the material. Though the government promised to “trim the banyan tree” of an over-regulating state and allow for more plants to grow out

the government continues to act as a paternalistic state and hold the trump card of the

fying this powerful law and engage the crescendo of voices from its people. n


Singapore Statutes Online, “Internal Security Act (Chapter 143). Retrieved from http://statutes.agc.gov.sg. 2 Tham Yuen-c, “Release of govt papers: Guide is good governance”, The Straits Times, 11 March 2014. 3 Ibid. 4 Melanie Chew, Human rights in Singapore: Perceptions and Problems, Asian Survey, Vol. 34, No. 11 (Nov., 1994), p. 934. 5 https://fn8org.wordpress.com/ 6 http://remembering1987.wordpress.com/ 7 Gillian Koh, Pruning the Banyan Tree? Civil Society in Goh’s Singapore, Gillian Koh in Impressions: The Goh Years in Singapore, by Bridget Welsh, James Chin, Arun Mahizhnan and Tan Tarn How (eds.), Singapore: NUS Press & Institute of Policy Studies, 2009, p. 94. 8 Tan Pin Pin, “APPEAL SUBMITTED”, Facebook: To Singapore With Love, Retrieved 2 October 2014. 1

Photographs from: National Archives, Rachelzeng.wordpress.com, Shijieisunstoppable.blogspot.com, Remembering1987.wordpress.com


The Coexistence of Religious Freedom and Harmony

Lean Guanhua leanguanhua@hotmail.com In a multi-racial society, race and re-

ligion are sensitive issues that have to be carefully managed by the state. Singapore’s management of religious issues is unique

essary to curtail any form of sedition.

happened in 2008 when a Christian couple

fused to stop playing drums despite re-

tained offensive contents to Muslims. It is

The recent Thaipusam incident was

sparked off by a group of people who re-

peated requests by the organisations. It is

critical to understand that the arrest of the three men was due to the fact that they per-

for a secular state, utilising a combination of

sisted in their disorderly behaviours. One

provide socio-economic aid to the racial mi-

cers. This incident was misrepresented by

coercive measures such as the rule of law to prevent racial unrest, affirmative action to

norities, engagement of community leaders through sponsoring self-help groups, and facilitating inter-racial interaction through

the People’s Association (PA) organisation of community bonding event. Critics argue

that unlike most secular states that have little restrictions on religious activities being practised in public spaces, the Singa-

pore model carries an implicit assumption

that religious freedom and religious harmony are contradictory goals which cannot

confronted the police officers aggressive-

ly, while the other two assaulted the offia Singaporean man and Australian woman

by posting irresponsible remarks online that could provoke hostility among Singa-

poreans. Therefore, the Ministry of Home

Affairs (MHA) issued a strongly worded statement, stating that any seditious mis-

representations online which “are deemed to invite enmity between different commu-

nities and races,” will be dealt with by the police.

The Sedition Act and Maintenance of

co-exist together. I argue that the Singapore

Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) are put in

the complexity of managing racial issues

Act allows the police to arrest anyone who

model provides both religious freedom

and harmony. This article aims to highlight

in Singapore, and I posit that despite criticism over the enforcement of the ban on

Thaipusam musical instruments, the Sin-

gapore model is largely effective. Due to the racial vulnerabilities of the Singapore soci-

ety, stringent enforcement actions are nec22

place to prevent troublemakers from incit-

ing racial unrest in Singapore. The Sedition incite “feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races” in Singapore. It was

first used to arrest two bloggers in 2005 who posted racist comments online, which sparked off a heated discussion filled with

inflammatory remarks. Another incident

was charged under the Sedition Act for distributing seditious publications that connoteworthy that the Sedition Act was rarely used, and only enforced due to public com-

plaints or when the seditious comments sparked intense heated debate online. It is common for online forums to contain rac-

ist comments, yet the government only enforces the Sedition Act in extreme situations

when they get blown out of portion, potentially threatening social stability.

The MRHA has not been utilised till

today. MRHA empowers the Minister of Home Affairs to place restraining orders on

religious leaders, if they were found guilty of disturbing public order. When MRHA

was passed in 1990, there were concerns among religious communities that religious freedom might be compromised. However,

I argue that MRHA will not compromise on

religious freedom because of two reasons. Firstly, there are procedural safeguards to

prevent the abuse of power; the President has the authority to cancel the restrain-

ing order by the Minister through the recommendation of the Presidential Council

of Religious Harmony. Secondly, this Act is necessary to draw a clear division be-

tween religion and politics. Religious issues should not be politicised because they can

potentially threaten social stability. This Act enhances religious freedom instead as

religious groups are able to practise freely, without jeopardising the interests of

the other religions. Furthermore, the fact that this Act was not utilised before shows

that the government is not keen on enforcing this law, unless a situation arises that

will threaten the social fabric of Singapore.

Therefore, it is clear that the legal measures put in place will preserve racial and reli-

gious harmony in Singapore, by respecting religious freedom of all religions.

These measures are necessary espe-

cially with the proliferation of mass media, which enable rumours to spread like wildfire. Religious freedom entails that individ-

uals have the right to practice their religions freely, but they should not encroach on the rights of other religions. Rumours and hate

speeches targeted at other religions are not

In sum, the current policies in place

positive indicators of freedom of speech.

are necessary and are largely successful in

ish an individual’s freedom to practise his

government’s efforts in preserving racial

Rather, these hate speeches provoke fears among the masses, which ironically dimin-

or her religion freely due to apprehension of persecution by other religious groups.

There are also non-legal measures

put in place to promote racial harmony in

Singapore, as evident in community bonding events organised by the PA and grass-

roots leaders, inter-faith dialogues or-

ganised by Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC), and the sponsor-

ing of self-help groups to ensure the education and economic support of all racial communities. This is a soft approach by the

government, which contributes to the successful management of diverse ethnicities in Singapore.

promoting racial harmony in Singapore.

Singaporeans should not rely solely on the and religious harmony in Singapore. Re-

ligious leaders should be more sensitive

and refrain from criticising other religions. Community leaders play an important role in organising community bonding events

to promote racial harmony. Individuals, es-

pecially bloggers and online forum partici-

pants need to exercise responsibility in their writings and comments online, a wrongly phrased comment will invite hordes of an-

gry responses. We should strive together to create a harmonious society. n

Photograph from: ghettosingapore.com

MN M Z N Help Complete Us. Join Us Today. Chief Editor, Editors, Writers, Designers, Photographers

publications@nushissoc.org 23

Freedom of Information in the 21st century

@ 24

Shaun M. N. Ramdas shaunmnramdas@gmail.com

cade where oppressive governments were

the global community. States find them-

ernments were reported and shared online

through that once impenetrable barrier

The twentieth century saw the gold-

en age of censorship as state control on tra-

ditional forms of media reached its zenith, with state organs implementing pervasive measures to maintain its hold on the flow

of information. From information on American casualties in Vietnam in the late 1960s, to the atrocities and struggles that occurred in most newly independent remnants of

to both receive and put out information to

selves ever more accountable to the masses as people with technical expertise become

whistleblowers to these governments ac-

countability. Edward Snowden is one such person, using the Internet to leak documents on the United States National Secu-

rity Agency’s illegal activities. Even though the US government shut down many

of the sites that hosted the Snowden files, the decentral-

an ever shrinking co-

ised nature of the Internet

lonial world; the gen-

meant that new mirror sites

eral public could only access

a whole new generation of users to poke

hosting the files popped up


faster than they can be tak-

through highly regu-

en down. Resembling the Hy-

lated traditional sourc-

dra of Roman mythology that

es like news outlets and

multiplies when struck down, web-

print-film libraries.

As the world began to shrink

sites put up by these “crusaders of free in-

even further with technological advance-

formation” owe their purpose to the rapid

formation available to the public. Perhaps

doms are a product of

ments in transport and communication,

the reverse happened to the amount of instates and corporations simply could not

hold back the dam of censorship due to the

rate of technological advancement. Truly, these free-

sharing technology rapidly developed in re-

pervasive spread of

sponse to the increasingly aware and educated masses. Whatever the reason, the advent of the Internet and its related twenty-first centubecome more porous

of citizen journalism, or

street journalism. This is a

a four thousand per cent in-

useful information, that same fact

crease in the number of human beings hav-

means that the amount of useful informa-

est estimates put Internet access at close to

of citizen journalism means that informa-

ing access to something that was once only portrayed in science fiction novels. Mod1

four billion users as of 2015. Even in countries where state control of information was once absolute, the Internet has allowed for

entire peoples by marauding armies. Even closer to home were the great injustices of the imperial powers in colonial South-

east Asia; the Dutch were well known for their cruelty and their inhumane treatment

of their East Indies subjects, as were the

French in Indochina. Although the spirit of citizen journalism was present all through our history2, limitations in technology

meant that only print and word of mouth

were viable forms of information transfer; both of which proved much easier to regulate than the social

media updates found in today’s context.



time of full censorship




gone with the end of

the industrial age. Even

as states and corpora-

tions continue to develop

new means and ways to regulate

increasing vocal deviant sectors ensures

redundancies exist in terms of

the past twenty years saw

from two great world wars, to massacres of

information in real-time

loaded ensures that many

net across the globe in

The history of mankind has seen vi-

olence unparalleled by any other species,

the most important form of currency in

amount of information up-

plosion of the Inter-

ternet was.

new form of information gather-

might be in. While the sheer

The rapid ex-

the information on them because of the In-

the online world is that

about a situation that they

than ever.

new; the government’s inability to suppress

from this rapid and

their smartphone to upload

tions on information

wards revolution. These crimes were not

enon that has arisen

ing where regular citizens use

ry marvels saw regula-

by citizens, serving to galvanise people to-

An even more

interesting phenom-

velopment of information gathering and

Spring. Atrocities committed by these gov-

the technological age.

sheer explosion of information available in

terms of volume, or perhaps the rapid de-

brought down in what was called the Arab

tion that are accessible has also greatly in-

creased. Furthermore, the real-time nature tion is not only current, but also allows for immediate reaction and promulgation. An

example of this happened in the past de-

this day and age, the advent of the online age with its ease of accessibility and ever that this new information revolution will

continue to change and shape the way we consume information on a daily basis.


Photographs from: Wikicommons


In 1995, 1% of the world’s population had Internet connection. 2015 saw this number at 40%. Data retrieved from http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users. 2 Multatuli, Max Havelaar, or, the coffee auctions of a Dutch trading company, translated by Roy Edwards (London; New York: Penguin Books, 1987). 1



Singapore ! E CHOP Joey Chua joeycwz@hotmail.com

We Singaporeans are no strangers to

this scene: people using tissue packets and

take proactive measures, unabashedly re-

to be the most technologically advanced

its own weight above other states.

being over-reliant on trade, attracting for-

serving itself a seat on the world stage, de-

termined to gain a significant voice and pull

Feelings of vulnerability have existed

other personal belongings to reserve seats

since the early days of independence. In a

such acts might seem rude and crass; to

Foreign Minister Rajaratnam stressed the

at overcrowded eating establishments during lunchtime. To the unfamiliar onlooker,

the Singaporean, it is part of everyday life,

something to be mastered. It is the art of “chope-ing seats”.

speech at Singapore’s inauguration into the

United Nations in September 1965, then realities faced by Singapore as being one of

necessary to out-shine all others.

It is therefore no surprise that a sim-

wished to dominate Southeast Asia”. Iden-

Singaporean government to devise long-

term policies designed to curb the impact of such problems.

To overcome the physical limitations

ilarly “kiasu” attitude exists in the psyche

of being a “small country,” our domestic pol-

small country heavily dependent on trade

preventing us from being overshadowed

of the Singaporean government. The notion of vulnerability is key here, that as a

to fulfil its basic needs, the Singaporean

government recognises the threat of larger

neighbouring countries being able to easily bully and make Singapore politically and

economically insignificant . Such fears have 1

influenced the Singaporean government to 26

pore has been able to earn top rank as the

easiest place to do business in the world

and the seventh highest GDP per capita as

of 2013.6, 7 Economic and military achieve-

deterring other larger states from dismiss-

tifying such weaknesses early allowed the

ety, its people motivated to take any action

ing local entrepreneurship such that Singa-

vulnerable to the attention of “nations who

ger and more powerful neighbours.” Locat-

of being at a disadvantage is a trait that

transcends all levels of a competitive soci-

eign investors to do business and encourag-

ments accomplished by Singapore have


ed in a “strategic location,” Singapore was

or “fear of losing out” in Hokkien. This fear

policies have also been designed to reduce

many “small countries…surrounded by big-

This art is derived from the uniquely

Singaporean characteristic of being “kiasu,”

military in Southeast Asia.3, 4, 5 Economic

icies have been designed to make Singapore

stand out from its far larger neighbours, both economically and militarily. The poli-

cies of national service, high military spending (twenty-five per cent of total annual

government budget in 2013), and high-tech military procurement have allowed Singa-

pore to overcome its manpower limitations

thus demonstrated Singapore’s ability to establish itself as a capable power on its own,

ing Singapore. Instead, Singapore has overcome its physical limitations to achieve economic and military security, a force not to be trifled with.

Recognising the importance of co-

operation to overcome political shortcom-

ings on the world stage, Singapore aimed

to foster good foreign relations with other countries. This was to be achieved through establishing bilateral ties with a wide range

of foreign powers. Economic partnerships have been formed with both China and Tai-

wan, despite the two governments’ strained historic relations and contested claims of sovereignty and independence.8,


By es-

tablishing military and economic ties with

e Among World Powers

other states, Singapore portrayed itself as a

gaporean government be active in reserving

ic and military security while reducing op-

lowed us to maintain regional peace while

state willing to maintain goodwill ties with

other states, encouraging regional economportunities for diplomatic dilemmas.

Furthermore, Singapore promoted

resolution of conflicts peacefully through international organisations, shown through

Singapore’s push for United Nations intervention in Cambodia following Vietnamese invasion in 1978, and deferment of the Pe-

dra Branca ownership dispute between it-

self and Malaysia to the International Court of Justice in 2003.10,


Deeming itself a

“small country” and viewing disputes with

larger nations a particularly sensitive issue, Singapore seeks to set a precedence of pre-

venting smaller countries from being bullied by larger ones by taking the lead to em-

ploy international organisations to mediate in its conflicts.

As Singapore moves into its fiftieth

year as an independent nation, Singaporeans should recognise how our society-

wide habit of “seat-chope-ing” have parallels in our international policies, enabling

us to overcome our political and economic constraints to acquire the adulation of world leaders. As the above demonstrated, the fear of losing out has prompted the Sin-

itself a seat as a key member of the international community. Such actions have al-

achieving economic prosperity. While we may have been labelled as a “Little Red Dot,”

we have punched above our weight to attain

a respectable status among world powers. n Photograph from: sgimage.com


Lee Kuan Yew, “The Fundamentals of Singapore’s Foreign Policy: Then & Now”, April 2009, retrieved from SG Press Centre, http://www. news.gov.sg/public/sgpc/en/media_releases/ agencies/pmo/speech/S-20090409-1.html. 2 S. Rajaratnam, “Statement of His Excellency Mr S. Rajaratnam, Foreign Minister of Singapore at the General Assem-bly on September 21, 1965, on the occasion of Singapore’s admission to the United Nations”, retrieved from National Archives of Singapore, http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/pdfdoc/PressR19650921.pdf 3 Ali Mustafa, “Singapore: Small State, Big Weapons Buyer”, Al-Jazeera News, 2014, http://www. aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/03/ singapore-small-state-big-arms-purchases-2014320922191312.html. 4 Dhara, Ranasinghe, “Singapore, the Tiny State with Military Clout”, CNBC via SG Yahoo News, 2014, retrieved from https://sg.finance.yahoo. com/news/singapore-tiny-state-militaryclout-234301060.html. 5 Jesse Vreeken, “Singapore’s Burgeoning Armed Forces, A Steadying Force”, The International Political Review, 2012, retrieved from http://www. theinternationalpoliticalreview.com/singaporesburgeoning-armed-forces-a-steadying-force. 6 Mary C. Turnbull, A History of Modern Singa1

pore 1819-2005 (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), pp. 301-302. 7 Vinnie Lauria, “What Makes An Asian Tiger? Singapore’s Unlikely Economic Success Lies In Its History”, Forbes, 2014, retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesasia/2014/07/10/what-makes-an-asian-tigersingapores-unlikely-economic-success-lies-inits-history. 8 Narayanan Ganesan, Realism and Interdependence in Singapore’s Foreign Policy (London: Routledge, 2005), pp. 12-13 9 Michael Leifer, Singapore’s Foreign Policy: Coping with Vulnerability (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 112-121. 10 Embassy of the Republic of Singapore at Phnom Penh, “Speech By Former Deputy Prime Minister & Former Coor-dinating Minister for National Security Wong Kan Seng at the S. Rajaratnam Lecture at Shangri-la Hotel”, Nov 2011, http://www.mfa.gov.sg/content/mfa/ overseasmission/phnom_penh/press_statements_speeches/embassy_news_press_releases/2011/201112/press_201112_06.html. 11 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Special Agreement for Submission to the International Court of Justice of the Dispute between Malaysia and Singapore concerning Sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge”, Feb 2003, retrieved from http:// www.mfa.gov.sg/content/dam/mfa/images/media_center/special_events/pedra_branca/specialagreement.pdf.


“In this series of broadcasts, I hope to tell you what merger means, why it is good for all of us, why it is coming, and why some people are deliberately creating trouble and difficulty over it to prevent it from taking place.” – Lee

Kuan Yew opening his first “Battle For Merger” broadcast, 13 September 1961 Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean com-

were. In the book, he continually expounds

pendence began earlier, with our attempt to

means; without it, there would be danger of

mented, “While we only became an independent nation in 1965, our road to indeforge a shared destiny with the Federation of Malaya. Our hard-fought attempt to gain

independence by merging with Malaya was Lim Shienhien shienhien@gmail.com The reprint of The Battle for Merg-

er, transcripts of a radio series by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was launched on October 5th last year, in conjunction with Singapore’s fiftieth anniversary. Explaining

the rationale behind reprinting the book,

in fact a battle for the future of Singapore.”


This “hard-fought attempt”, as taught

in schools, entails how the proposed Merger spawned disagreements with Malaya,

which led to the Separation, leaving the People Action Party with the daunting job of guiding the fledgling nation through its independence. How-ever, what is perhaps

less well known is how communist influ-

ence on Singapore was a big factor, evident in how urgent Lee’s warnings against them

upon the fact that merger would lead to a

just and equal society through democratic

communists taking over. Painting the communists as villains, Lee asserts that merg-

er is in “[the people’s] best interests”, while com-munism is only “for their interests”.2

In light of the PAP’s political domi-

nance today, it is interesting to observe how Lee employed the radio talks as a tac-

tic to drum up support for the PAP. These radio talks were chosen as the most effective method to convince the general popu-

lace that Merger was vital for Singapore,

as opposed to giving rallies – the need for a compelling and lingering message was

imperative. In the other corner, the Bari-

san Socialis urged people not to vote at all,

prised of Chinese, and such a merger would

munist Party of Malaya (CPM) members.7,8

cent of votes, while only a quarter rejected

portional representation in the federal gov-

by then PM Lee Kuan Yew at a watershed

in effect rejecting the merger.3 The PAP-

endorsed choice garnered seventy one per

either “dilute” the po-sition of Malays in the

merged state, or deprive Singapore of pro-

the merger. There were some political re-

ernment. This book does not give us a sense

strongly in the PAP’s favour. Reading the ra-

interests of Singapore. In one extract, Lee

sistance against the PAP (a situation not too dissimilar from today), but the vote swung

dio talks gives one a sense of the scale of the task of resisting the com-munists that

the PAP faced – Lee described the sacrific-

es made on a personal level, as friend-ships with communist idealists such as Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan were destroyed in the face of the struggle against commu-

nism.4 The dedication put into convincing

the people that the merger was the best

choice indirectly caused people to endorse the PAP, perhaps laying the foundations for the political dominance that we have seen up till today.

of these issues, instead somewhat glorifying the PAP’s role as fighting hard for the best discussed the economic benefits that Singapore would gain, calling the communists

“infantile left-wing elements in Singapore… guilty of a woeful ignorance of elementary Malayan economics”. The struggles that 5

arose from the merger are of course not

part of the radio talks (no one could have predicted that with certainty), yet there is,

undeniably, a much bigger pic-ture to the merger and its consequences which are not painted in this one-sided discussion of the matters surrounding merger. 6

The decision to publish former PM

However, merger turned out a disas-

Lee’s radio transcripts may have been made

pore – Malaya was a predominantly Malay

be in response to Tan Pin Pin’s film To Sin-

trous project, as it did not address the issues of ethnicity between Malaya and Singa-

country while Singapore was mostly com-

with the nationalistic pride of SG50 in mind, but interestingly, some speculate that it may gapore, With Love, which included Com-

Nevertheless, the book provides a unique

point of view from the exact words spoken moment in Singapore’s history, amid great uncertainty and tension. n

Photographs from: “The Battle for Merger”, uncledicko.blogspot.sg, vocfm.co.za, mindef.gov.sg


1 Kelly Ng, “Reprint of The Battle for Merger launched”, Today Online, 9 Oct 2014, retrieved from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/ reprint-battle-merger-launched. 2 Lee Kuan Yew, Battle For Merger (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 2014). 3 Martino Tan, “Check out how Lee Kuan Yew made his speeches viral in an age without the Interweb”, Mothership.sg, 9 Oct 2014, retrieved from http://mothership.sg/2014/10/check-outhow-lee-kuan-yew-made-his-speeches-viral-inan-age-without-the-interwebs. 4 Lee, Battle For Merger. 5 Ibid. 6 Poh Soo Kai, “Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ revisted”, New Mandala, 3 Dec 2014, retrieved from http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2014/12/03/singapores-battle-for-mergerrevisited. 7 Ibid. 8 Tan, “Check out how Lee Kuan Yew made his speeches viral”.


Ordinary Faces, Extraordinary Lives Thanks to Shitij Nigam, the man be-

graphing your subjects?

hind the “Humans of Singapore” project,

Too many, but mostly empathy. I think the

spired by Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of

on minimal interactions with them, and

the masses have taken a keener interest

into the lives of fellow-Singaporeans. In-

New York” (HONY) project, “Humans of

Singapore” gives us a glimpse into the stories of everyday Singaporeans with beau-

tifully curated photographs. This project

has been personally meaningful to me because it showcases the sheer diversity in

the lifestyles and backgrounds of Singa-

first thing we are used to doing is passing

Celeste Chia celeste@nus.edu.sg

split-second judgement on people based

head without literally ever talking to her or

solutely clear of them. Someone was rude

her how people reacted to her tattoos and

I have learned that it is best to steer abto me on public transport a few days ago - but that is fine. They were probably just having a bad day.

How do you usually approach your sub-

knowing anything about her. So I did talk to her, and what she said was amazing - I asked

body art. And she said, “You know, sometimes

guys look at me on the streets and they think, ‘oh that girl’s future is ruined.’ But it’s not ruined. I’m a graphic designer, I have a great job, and it’s a Japanese company. So they can suck

poreans, amidst accusations that we are

jects? How can a subject successfully

lay extraordinary lives.

With a smile, a relaxed body language, fol-

public response to your Facebook post-

ma behind the movement.

ally for a photography project.” Seventy

Amazing because holy crap I did not expect it

it!” And that sold it for me.

a bland, cookie-cutter population. It is re-

catch your eye? How do they respond

Last December, I was privileged to

lowed by the question – “Hi, would you


per cent say yes, thirty per cent say no.

to happen. Terrifying because I do not know if

How do you feel about the overwhelming

freshing to see that behind ordinary faces

to you?

have a brief correspondence with the enig-

mind if I took a picture of you? It’s actu-

Amazing and terrifying at the same time.

Started out exactly the opposite when I

it will continue. But I guess I will keep trying.

I understand you’re currently not in Singapore, so thank you for giving me your time. I’m sure many Singaporeans would like to know a little bit more about your background... I actually did my undergrad in SMU in In-

first started asking for pictures, but I guess my approach and body language has also changed a fair bit since then.

What has been your favourite life story

There are more people on board now con-

tributing every now and then and learning well at the same time – and that really helps.

Are there other projects in the horizon for

thus far?

you, perhaps similar in nature to “Humans

and am now working full-time in a con-

The one that I liked the most was of Steph.

of Singapore”?

tically every week for the past two years.

is a girl whom you would probably avoid if

now, “Humans of Singapore” keeps me busy

formation Systems. I graduated in 2012 every day. So I have been on a plane prac-

body art, and a couple of piercings. Steph

sultancy, which requires me to travel a lot

Why I am not in Singapore right now is why most expats would probably not be in Singapore right now – vacation! I am back

home in Delhi, which is where I originally come from.

Has there been valuable life lessons learned as you went around photo30

Steph is a girl with a lot of tattoos; plenty

I am not sure – I am a confused mind with

you glanced at her on the street. So when I

on weekends – which are practically the only

saw Steph, my split-second reaction was to avoid her. My corrective reaction was “Oh

too many ideas. So I guess time will tell. For time I get to be in Singapore. n

my god, I have to get a picture of her.” On

All Photos courtesy of Shitij Nigam

formed two different views of her in my

website at http://humansofsg.com

hindsight, both these reactions were for the wrong reasons because I had already

For more pictures by Shitij, do check out his

Destitution: Shackled to Fate?


Lim Zhiwei zhiweiwba@gmail.com Nur Sakinah Rahmat nursakinahrahmat@gmail.com In a parliamentary debate on January

1989, then Minister for Community Development Wong Kan Seng justified repealing

and re-enacting the Destitute Persons Act by claiming that, “today, no one needs to beg

for a living. The economic progress which we have achieved has provided job opportunities for all.”1 Mr Wong went on to dis-

cuss how Singapore’s progress up till that

point had created sufficient job opportuni-

ties for everyone, thus he saw no need for anyone to beg. The parliamentary debate

continued into a lively exchange between Mr Wong and Dr Lee Siew-Choh over minute details regarding criminal punishments

for vagrancy, standards of living in welfare

homes, and the basis to consider someone incapable of self-sustenance.

viously with the view of their being exer-

ty Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS)

In spite of such noble efforts to ad-

217, 339, and 264 homeless individuals in

cised by us whenever occasion demands aid for the sufferings of our fellow creatures.”


dress the social problems then, it was clear that colonial authorities still regarded vagrancy as a petty crime rath-

tion to Singapore’s prevailing social and

economic issues was enshrined as part of

the Singapore Statutes under the Destitute

Persons Act of 1965. Treating vagrancy as a social problem under the Act reflected the insecurity that many Singaporeans felt

from their experiences in a young repub-

lic with a poor economy. However, as Singapore rocketed into admirable economic success, the government in 1989 felt

duced in 1965 to decriminalise begging and

were commonplace, with punishments ranging from simple fines to short term imprisonment.

4, 5, 6

However there was no lack

of sympathy for the inescapable circum-

stances that many of the poor found themselves in during colonial Singapore. Sympathy for vagrants and the search for solutions existed as part of numerous attempts to ad-

dress this issue. As the Editor of The Straits

Times wrote in 1849 in response to a request by then Assistant Resident Louis Jackson to publicise efforts to aid Chinese beggars, “to provide for the poor and helpless is

the bounden duty of the affluent – it should be the pleasurable duty. The implantation,

by the Divine Being, of sympathies, is ob-

whether welfare homes are adequate to

The Destitute Persons Act was re-

pealed and re-enacted with amendments in

the context of economic growth and the as-

sumption of sufficient jobs for all in 1989.

Yet the socio-economic circumstances of

destitution are rarely straightforward. The issue remains complicated and the function

of this Act should be re-evaluated to provide a more helpful and accommodating stance

in light of complex socio-economic circumstances of both individuals and families.


Parliament of Singapore, “Destitutes Persons Bill”, retrieved from http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/ search/report.jsp?currentPubID=00069582-ZZ 2 “Govt to deter able-bodied beggars with tougher laws,” The Straits Times, 27 Jan 1989. 3 “Colony Ban on Beggars,” The Straits Times, 1 Sept 1950. 4 “Five blind beggars sentenced to ten day’s simple imprisonment,” The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 1 Apr 1900. 5 “A number of Chinese homeless people were charged with vagrancy,” The Straits Times, 20 Dec 1897. 6 “No less than twenty-one beggars were arrested for begging,,” The Straits Times, 29 Oct 1900. 7 “To the Editor of the Straits Times,” The Straits Times, 16 Oct 1849. 8 “Aimed at “professionals”: The Destitute Persons Bill,” The New Paper, 15 Feb 1989. 9 “Why beggars must be kept off the streets,” The Business Times, 27 Jan 1989. 10 Ministry of Social and Family Development, “Numbers and profile of homeless persons”, 13 Aug 2012, retrieved from http://app.msf.gov.sg/ PressRoom/Numbersandprofileofhomelesspersons.aspx. 1

The Destitute Persons Act was intro-

1900, news reports on arrests of vagrants

tinue to live as vagrants raises the question


cial issues and her economic progress.

nial rule. Even at the turn of the century in

128, and 141 families respectively.10 How-

support struggling individuals and families.

relationship between the country’s so-


same period, assistance was provided to 72,

standing of destitution and the connec-

With independence, a new under-

implicit shift in the state’s views of the

der the Vagrancy Act, enacted during colo-

2009, 2010 and, 2011 respectively. Over the ever, the visible presence of those who con-

tions aimed at the root of the problem.

nificant as it showed that there was an

that, vagrancy was seen as a petty crime un-

opment [MSF]) had provided assistance to

er than a social issue that required solu-

The parliamentary debate was sig-

treat vagrancy as a social problem.2 Prior to

(now Ministry of Social and Family Devel-

the need to reassess the issue of vagrancy.

There was a prevailing concern that de-

spite Singapore’s economic success, which should have promised a stable career and

future for its citizens, there were still “professional beggars” living off the sympa-

thies of their fellow citizens, who earned

their keep in a “more honest” manner.8,9 Indeed there was a desire to eradi-

cate what was seen as a “relic” of underdeveloped Singapore. However the line be-

tween such “professional beggars” and the

actual needy is often blurred. Thus even

though there were attempts to help those in dire straits, such as the running of welfare homes, many vagrants remain visible throughout the country, at the beach

or parks, and even in empty areas that lie

largely abandoned at night. In 2012, it was

revealed that the Ministry of Communi-



The 1963 Operation Coldstore Wong Jing Jie wong.jingjie@gmail.com

Almost six decades have passed since

Singapore’s history is still being disputed to-

racial riots, and activism. Nevertheless this

by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang, and Hong Lysa

Singapore experienced its turbulent years characterised by political struggle, disorder, episode of Singapore’s history is still vehe-

mently contested today and the polemics that ensued can be seen from the recent reprint of the book The Battle for Merger in October 2014, the rejection of Tan Pin Pin’s ap-

peal against MDA’s classification of the film To Singapore, With Love in November 2014,

a commentary by Dr Poh Soo Kai on Aus-

tralian National University’s New Mandala

website on the issue of merger and the 1963 Operation Coldstore, and a strongly-worded

letter by Singapore High Commissioner to

Australia in response to Dr Poh’s commentary. 34

1, 2, 3, 4

To understand why this chapter of

day, the reading of The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years is essential.

What greets the reader on the cover

page is a red chair with a missing leg. This serves to prompt and provoke people to

think of the connection of the broken chair in relation to the 1963 Operation Coldstore.

Does the chair serves as a stark reminder of the conditions and interrogation process that the detainees had to undergo after being arrested under the ISA? Or does the

chair represent Singapore’s history where certain parts of it are missing and if so, what are they. Thus as mentioned by one of the

editors, Hong Lysa, the idea is to make this whole exercise of remembering and history

writing a little more complex rather than

In the second section of the book, a

just merely presenting it as one side of his-

chapter written by Tan Kok Fang – “Stand-

“From the Records” and “For the Records.”

the prison after being arrested by Special

tory versus another side.


The book is divided into two parts –

In the first part of the book, Dr. Geoff Wade and Dr. Thum Ping Tjin provide us with the

background context to Operation Coldstore, giving us an insight into the political vibran-

cy of the 1950s and 1960s. To round off the first section, Dr. Hong Lysa discusses the 1961 Secondary Four examinations boycott

that was sparked by the government’s plan

to restructure the Chinese-stream Secondary School System from a 3-3 system to a

4-2 system. With the changes and discussions taking place during this tumultuous

period of Singapore’s history from 1959 to the splitting of PAP in July 1961, the entire

issue took on a political tone when some five hundred students demonstrated at Chi-

nese High School sports field at the end of November 1961. This boycott was subse-

quently attributed to the pro-Communists

for instigating the police reprisals, and the Barisan Socialis was also accused of being

linked to the alleged scheme. A Commis6

sion of Inquiry was set up from May 1962 to March 1963 to investigate the extent that

the boycott was exploited “by and through Communists and their front organisations.”7 It was widely covered by the press

and “every hearing was reported at length and mostly verbatim...”8 However after Op-

eration Coldstore, the press lost its interest in the inquiry as by then, it was already a

political success for the government and it

was no longer necessary to produce a report.

ing on the Moral High Ground,” provides us with a detailed description of his life in

Branch officers during Operation Cold-

store. Beneath his comprehensive chronicle, in which he sheds light on the people

who were in the prison complex and their treatment and living conditions in the prison, lies a testimony of their resilience and

determination to stay true to their ideals and struggle. While in prison, they did not

allow their morale to be affected but instead sought to enrich their time learning languages from one another and taking up

hobbies and sports.9 Such was their resolve and fortitude.

Constrained by the space of this ar-

ticle, it is important to note that the other chapters in the book also warrant our at-

tention as each of the writers have their

own stories and perspectives to share. When read with other official accounts and literature of Singapore’s history, the book reveals the complexities and contestations

of history. Such a revelation, to borrow

George Yeo’s analogy of Singapore’s history

as the course of river, invites us to ponder whether the divergences of Singapore’s history will eventually converge to form a new

mainstream and if so, when and how will it converge.10

I highly recommend this book espe-

cially to Singaporeans and students who

have a keen interest in Singapore’s history and wish to deepen their understanding of

Singapore’s past in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as to appreciate the complexities of

history. n

Photographs from: singaporerebel.blogspot.com, SPH Archives , Remembering1987.wordpress.com


Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, “Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s radio talks on merger fight back in print”, The Straits Times, 10 Oct 2014, retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/ the-battle-merger/story/mr-lee-kuan-yews-radio-talks-merger-fight-back-print-20141010. 2 “Tan Pin Pin fails in appeal against To Singapore, with Love classification”, Today Online, 12 Nov 2014, retrieved from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/tan-pin-pin-fails-appealagainst-singapore-love-classification. 3 Poh Soo Kai, “Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ revisited”, New Mandala, 3 Dec 2014, retrieved from http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2014/12/03/singapores-battle-for-mergerrevisited. 4 Burhan Gafoor, “Response to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations”, New Mandala, 18 Dec 2014, retrieved from http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2014/12/18/reponse-to-poh-soo-kaisallegations. 5 The Online Citizen, “The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore – Dr. Hong Lysa”, retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=WKlukteugO4. 6 Hong Lysa, “Of Six-day Weeks and 3-3 versus 4-2 Systems: Disciplining Teachers for the New State”, in The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 years, ed. Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa (Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2013), p. 147. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Tan Kok Fang, “Standing on the Moral High Ground”, in The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 years, ed. Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa (Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2013), pp. 333-340. 10 Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa, “Why Operation Coldstore Matters,” in The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 years, ed. Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa (Selangor: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2013), p. 11. 1


Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus

cessful countries such as Germany, Den-

form of meritocracy because it creates a

nets. Trickle-down economics might be in-

Such a system that “distributes rewards

mark, and Sweden that have both strong economic growth and strong social safety

effective evidently. The Singapore govern-

ment is less distributive in the past decade. Low argued that “the tax system has become less progressive” because corporate Lean Guanhua leanguanhua@hotmail.com “Myths exist because they seem to be

intuitively correct,” but “these stories, al-

though consistent and coherent, are neither correct nor valid.” Donald Low and Sudhir

Thomas Vadaketh aim to tear down common myths and assumptions that underpin

policymaking in Singapore. This is especially crucial in today’s context where the political and socio-economic circumstances are

increasingly complex. Policymakers have to manage the rising aspirations of citizens

who are unsatisfied with the rising costs of Housing Development Board (HDB) flats,

widening income disparity, increasing influx of foreigners, the lack of social safety nets for the poor, and the perceived silence

of the civil society in Singapore. This collection of essays suggests a paradigm shift in the policy-making process. For example,

it suggests that the government should rethink its social engineering approach that

encompasses the use of monetary incentives to resolve problems, such as encour-

aging child-bearing through baby bonuses and attracting talented people to government work through the reliance on high ministerial salaries.

The essay on “The Four Myths of In-

equality in Singapore” suggests the redesigning of social welfare programmes in Singapore by emulating economically suc-


and personal income taxes were reduced. In contrast, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which is a regressive tax, has more than

doubled. Smith argues that higher income taxes do not necessarily create disincentive to work as clearly evident in the Scan-

dinavian countries, with one of the world’s highest taxation yet achieving nearly full

employment. In contrast, the United States and other nations with low taxation and in-

equitable redistribution structure face sub-

stantially lower rates of employment. In my

opinion, it depends on whether we view redistribution from an economic or ideological perspective. From an economic perspective, a more equitable redistribution

structure will actually benefit the society as a whole economically and the disincentives to work pale in comparison to the ben-

efits. However, taxation is also a normative issue and our perspectives on it depend on whether we are a libertarian that fully be-

lieves in the free market economy, or if we adopt a more socialistic view and believe in a more egalitarian redistribution structure.

Another essay on “Good Meritocracy,

Bad Meritocracy” highlights the problem of

the false binary options of choosing between meritocracy and other ways of distributing rewards. Low views the meritocratic ideal from a pragmatic approach and suggests

that the debate should “not be over wheth-

er we embrace meritocracy or not; rather, it should be over the kind of meritocracy we

want.” He is against the more competitive

wasteful system that establishes a zero-sum competition instead of a positive-sum game.

based on relative performance” instead of absolute performance reduces social trust

and hinders cooperation. Furthermore, unhealthy competition induces overwhelming

stress-levels in primary school students due to the Primary School Leaving Examinations

(PSLE) being graded on a curve. By refram-

ing the debate into one which attempts to maximise the benefits of meritocracy, policy-makers are able to design rules and in-

stitutions to maximise “trickle-up” benefits which entails government policies that create more equal outcomes.

There are other essays that propose

a relook into the master narrative of the perpetual vulnerability of Singapore, the emphasis on HDB flats as a form of social security, the principles of individual and

family responsibility that undergirds Singapore’s social security system that leads

to the problem of attaining retirement adequacy, and the “deeply held ideological

biases” of the People’s Action Party (PAP)

government. Low states that “the underlying beliefs and principles of the government

are no longer automatically accepted by the

electorate”, hence this book aims to propose solutions to aid policy-makers in navigating this political “new normal”.

This book definitely challenges the

usual approaches in how we view policymaking in Singapore, shedding light on the

complex challenges and some of the pos-

sible alternatives to the Singapore consensus. I highly recommend this book to poli-

cy-makers and students who have a keen

interest in the changing political and socioeconomic landscape in Singapore. n

Mobilizing Gay Singapore: Rights and Resistance in an Authoritarian State

contend with.

Subsequent chapters go into exten-

the movement have also been elided in this

tance”. From “timorous beginnings”, Chua

tions in Singapore opposing the gay move-

sive detail about the growth of the move-

ment through the lens of “pragmatic resischarts the activists’ resourceful use of technology, the growing receptiveness of the Choo Ruizhi choo.ruizhi@gmail.com Lynette Chua’s Mobilizing Gay Singa-

pore tracks the evolution of the gay move-

ment in Singapore. Chua structures her

analysis of the tactics employed by gay activists through the concept of “pragmatic

resistance” as her central theme. She uses this concept to articulate how local gay ac-

tivists constantly re-calibrate their tactics to suit the changing exigencies of the local socio-political climate.

The first chapter of Chua’s book, “Mo-

bilising Gay Rights Under Authoritarianism” reads as a cogent and well-developed

outline for the rest of the work. Clear, recurrent sign-posting assists readers in following the author’s argument in virtually every paragraph and chap-ter.

Chapter Two provides readers with

a historical background of the extant legal

frame-work and socio-cultural landscape of Singapore. Chua borrows from a conven-

tional, state-fashioned narrative that begins with the “founding” of the island in 1819 by

Sir Stamford Raffles. The lack of historio-

graphical nuance aside, Chua’s treatment of the broad historical framework is generally coherent and well-argued. Her description

of Singapore’s tumultuous past gives readers an insight into the rise of the rigid, au-

thoritarian legal landscape which the na-

scent gay rights movement was forced to

Other agencies of resistance toward

state, and the cultivation of local media contacts as the means to expand the movement. The book concludes with a summation of

Chua’s main points as outlined in the first chapter.

While Chua does well to sustain the

momentum of her argument and the interest of the reader, there are also aspects with Ch-

ua’s book which could have been addressed in more depth and detail. Her discussion on the Christian Right, despite recurring continually as a significant countermovement

at odds with the objectives of the Singapore

gay movement, amounts largely to an anaemic and rather disappointing effort to paint

the countermovement as antagonists to her narrative.

The “Christian Right” label is not

properly defined as an entity by Chua. Her description of the group assumes a homogeneous countermovement, with coherent

aims, similar organisational sophistication, and ideological unity. However, key personalities in this countermovement are never properly named nor even interviewed. Readers are left with the impression that

the Christian Right is an amorphous, almost

malevolent entity entirely at odds with the gay movement in Singapore. For an author

writing about a minority group in Singapore, it is puzzling and troubling that Chua does not accord the same nuance, attention,

or consideration to what she recognises as “minority members of a minority religion in Singapore”.

book. Reading Chua’s work, one could be led

to assume that the only significant institument are the Christian Right and the state.

The large turnout at the Pink Dot event and

the increasingly “balanced” media coverage

described in Chapter Five suggest that the Singaporean society does not object to the movement.

The lived experience of this reader

in the context Chua writes about contrasts sharply with this stance. The societal image

Chua paints does not fully reflect the ambivalence Singaporean society at large still

holds for homosexuals. Any suggestion of societal disapproval has largely been me-

diated through the lenses of the state, or Christian organisations conduct-ing “reparative therapy”. While not disputing the

results of Chua’s extensive research, more nuance could have been afforded in how

Singaporean civil society at large has been tacitly portrayed.

For all its shortcomings, Mobiliz-

ing Gay Singapore has offered us a moving

glimpse into an oft-elided facet of Singaporean society and history. It is a story of individuals who prevailed over seemingly over-

whelming odds and oppressive conditions with great ingenuity, courage, and resolve. In Chua’s own words, “The choices of Sin-

gapore’s gay activists remind us of how… it is not about making choices when they are easy or clear-cut, but when they are

tough.” Not very different from the story of a “sleepy fishing village” which grew into a

modern metropolis at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. n


Time and Place for Criticism: Historical Truth and the Memorialisation of Lee Kuan Yew

Aloysius Ho A0097252@u.nus.edu

Lee Kuan Yew’s passing has seen an unprecedented outpouring of emotion and grief for the

nation’s first Prime Minister. Close to half a million Singaporeans endured hours of queuing to pay their respects at the Parliament House, and thousands lined the streets, braving the

rain to give Lee a final farewell. Yet there have also been segments of society who have called for objectivity in the wake of this grief, warning against blind adulation and urging for a balanced evaluation of Lee’s legacy. Most of these people have

acknowledged Lee’s immense contributions, and some have even professed immense respect for Lee. Despite their at-

tempts to engage in objective, rational debate, they have been unceremoniously shunted out or brushed aside as insensitive, prompting many to wonder where to draw the line between memorialisation and intellectual honesty.

In the same vein, history demands an interpretation of the past that strives for objectivity and accuracy, overruling

emotions, resisting state narratives, and shunning sentimentality. While history has the ability to exonerate a country from its past and provide a sound basis for national identity, we must also be wary that our intellectual engagement does not become the means by which we avoid confronting the emotional aspects of the issue at hand. Neither should it function as

a self-serving privileged perspective that one uses to lord over others. I for one have never felt the disconnect of academia from reality as acutely as I did when I visited a community site set up to facilitate the mourning of Mr. Lee at Bedok. There,

I found my skepticism irreconcilable with the overwhelming grief playing out in reality. Whereas the solemnity and finality

of death in no way absolves an individual of his flaws or mistakes, perhaps any judgment of history can be temporarily put on hold in the name of human compassion.

Whereas most criticisms and calls for objectivity have been well-meaning, it is my opinion that many could have af-

forded a better sense of timing and a more sensitive approach. Does the onus of historical truth necessarily compel us to

nitpick at historical inaccuracies during a declared period of national mourning? Furthermore, we owe this sensitivity to other grieving Singaporeans and in particular an older generation who bear a sense of loss that we cannot claim to share in. I personally cannot envision myself justifying criticisms of Mr Lee in the name of objectivity to my grieving grandmother.

Ernest Renan wrote that, “where national memories are concerned, grieves are of more value than triumphs, for they

impose duties, and require a common effort.”1 The pervasiveness of Lee’s legacy has forced Singaporeans to confront his

death, with many Singaporeans hopefully made to wrestle and own their remembrance of a divisive figure and the country he built. The outpouring of grief has also been pleasantly surprising for a nation often thought to be uncaring and unemo-

tional, with reports of uncharacteristic graciousness, patience and kindness observed at the Padang and amidst the torren-

tial downpour. Whereas academia redefines our intellectual boundaries and is crucial in our push for an educated citizenry,

we should also remember to maintain a compassion grounded in reality, one that Singaporeans have shown capable of demonstrating. As a generation that will be the driving force for the next fifty years, we would do well to consider and stand for the kind of society we want to see Singapore become.

Renan, Ernest, “What is a Nation?”, in Becoming National: A Reader, ed. Geoff Eley and Ronald Grigor Suny (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996): pp. 41-55.


Photograph from mothership.sg

Singaporeans: Hungry for More? We have got stability in our country to show for our 50 years as a nation. This stability, long the staple in our national diet, has helped us grow and prosper, as well as satiate our basic needs. As we look ahead, we wonder if we dare reach for more to vary our palate. Dare we reach to taste the other dishes, of freedom and rights? And is it even time we broach the subject? Just some food for thought.


ć—Šĺ?› Graphics and Text by Isabelle Tow

Profile for HISSOC Publications

Mnemozine: Issue Seven  

A publication of National University of Singapore's History Society

Mnemozine: Issue Seven  

A publication of National University of Singapore's History Society

Profile for mnemozine