26 April 2006

Chee Soon Juan - Maligned, Mad or Malicious?

(I'm assuming political discussion by individuals are allowed. Let me know if that's incorrect.)

I don't really know him, since my (proper) political awareness began only a couple of years back. The first time he came to my awareness was during the 2001 by-elections, when he accused Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew of loaning some $18 billion to Indonesia. That, and his infamous act of breathing down Goh Chok Tong's neck with a loudhailer. (I'm not sure what the exact accusation was, but he was sued and lost and had to pay until he peng san. But according to him, when he asked, "where is the money?", Goh Chok Tong pointed to his own pocket. Hmm...)

After that, half the news about him was all just him getting sued and fined. The other half is him trying to do things like talking in Speakers' Corner without a permit, holding mini-rallies with his sister, and telling foreigners to boycott Singapore goods (I was like "What the...!!!" when I heard that, and lost much respect I had for him then).

I do agree with some of his ideas, such as more transparency in state-run organisations (like Temasek Holdings and the CPF board), more freedom of speech and press (something I feel strongly about too), and the removal of death penalty for drug trafficking.

(On the matter of drug trafficking, I believe that death sentence is far too harsh for a crime that does not inflict direct harm on the society or someone else. I mean, I'm perfectly fine with someone getting a life sentence for smuggling 15 g of heroin, but death sentence... I see it as a very special power of the state, and it should not be applied, for the lack of a better word, too casually. (For those who think that a life sentence is nowhere better than a death sentence, let me just say that I support euthanasia.) This is not to say that I oppose the death sentence, however. I do strongly agree that murderers and kidnappers and terrorists serve the society better when they're dead. In fact, I think people who drinks and drives and kills someone in the process should also be hanged/electrocuted/shot/guillotined/tickled to death. It is just that drug trafficking is not a danger enough to require the death sentence.)

But things must be done in the proper way - by debating in the parliament or feedback through the various channels if he cannot get into parliament - and not protesting and defying the laws. Breaking the laws wouldn't bring him anywhere, and it wouldn't buy him much respect in a place where many people respect the law. He is certainly not putting himself in good light by telling other nations to boycott Singapore goods. The laws may not be reasonable as other *ahem* First World countries, but it is at least not a communist-styled censorship. There are proper avenues for change; it's just that the door is damn bloody small.

More importantly, the ideas he expound must be in agreement with the majority of the population. I mean, if 90% of Singaporeans agree to let Lee Hsien Loong become a dictator, I suppose, no matter how much I dislike it, I will have to let it be. This is because, in principle, the parliament serves the people, and if that's what the people wants, that's what they get. It should not be serving one particular individual's interests, even if those interests are accepted in other democratic institutions. More so, it should not be serving what one thinks is best for the people. If he really wants to push for his agenda, he should get the approval of the people first. If people don't like freedom of press, if people like to listen to PAP-is-wonderful kind of news, then he shouldn't blame the government for not giving way. He can get the ally from other countries for all he wants, but it is the citizens of Singapore who matters. In fact, a Straits Times poll a few months back showed that a significant majority of Singaporeans support the death sentence on drug trafficking (I think it's more than 80%). Well, I disagree with them, but because this is a democracy, I suppose I just have to accept it.

Anyway, for those interested, I recommend reading Wikipedia's entry on Chee Soon Juan. Wikipedia is probably most neutral (though not very complete) on this matter that you can find out there. Also, you may want to look at things from his point of view by watching Singapore Rebel, the banned political film by Martyn See on Chee Soon Juan. I initially wanted to link it here, but it turns out that I'm not brave enough. You can find the video by doing a search in Google Video. And do him (and yourself and the freedom of speech/press) a little favour by listening to his most recent podcast (available on SDP's website). I don't care what the government says about podcasts; you're smart enough to make up your own damn mind.

ADDED: It seems that the podcast has been taken off after the Elections Department issued the order. The transcript is still available on their website though. And if you're really interested in listening to Chee's voice, let me know and I'll see what I can do.


The Negative Man said...

I remember someone once told me he suspected that CSJ was working for the PAP to destroy the opposition. Haha, that's a funny conspiracy theory, but I really don't think he's doing the SDP any credit by his moves. Of the three major (relatively) opposition camps, the least credible would be the SDP.

Maybe his tactics would be more effective in other countries, where the only way to be noticed is to sensationalise issues. But this is Singapore. Being slow and steady seems to go down much better than making things heated.

Pandemonium said...

Hahaha!!! That's one probable but hilarious conspiracy theory! I think you should ask whoever said that to write to TalkingCock; prime news material! Or you can do it too... hahaha!

But yah, I think SDP, unlike other political parties, are moving backwards in terms of public image. At least in Singapore, that is.

Mickell said...

Maybe CSJ's Phd really does stand for

Pandemonium said...

Or maybe

Anonymous said...

Part of what we know about Chee Soon Juan is from what is portrayed by the mainstream media - so you know what that tends to be like when opposition firures are concerned. I think the PAP single him out for 'special' treatment is that his brand of politics is too confrontational for their liking. He goes for things like hunger strikes and civil disobedience which while accepted in some other developed countries are not appealing to a pragmatic, law abiding, and politically unsavvy generation of Singaporeans. When you think about the rules he's breaking, you may ask whether these rules absolutely serve the public interest or there's an element of "no government in the world will make it easier for the opposition to win votes" motivation at work. Style aside, I think CSJ makes as much sense as the rest of the opposition (I mean that in a positive way).

Pandemonium said...

Certainly, in these rules lie the fact that it tilts the favour against the opposition. But do they serve public interest in general? It's pretty much debatable. Non-violent demonstration is a very powerful democratic tool, but it can cause great disruptions to daily lives, and it carries the question of whether the purpose of the demonstrators represents the majority (take a look at the recent demonstrations in France and Thailand).

I have no doubt that CSJ has Singaporean's interest at heart. I do support many of his ideals too. But it is his method I'm questioning.