Truth-telling in Singapore


November 19, 2018

Truth-telling in Singapore

by  Hamish McDonald.

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https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au

Tropical rain is bucketing down when P. J. Thum arrives for our meeting at a semi-outdoor Starbucks amid high-rise public housing flats on Singapore’s unfashionable north side. Seeking quietness, we move inside a nearby shopping mall to a cafe offering beverages of a local flavour: black tea with the option of evaporated or condensed milk – the tannin-laden, chalky legacy of long-gone British military men.

 

Podcast > The Bigger Picture > Live & Learn > Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore

Thum Ping Tjin, Research Associate at the Centre for Global History at the University of Oxford, and co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia

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Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, a fellow Singaporean and Research Associate at the Centre for Global History at the University of Oxford.

Thum – full name Thum Ping Tjin – is 38 years old, athletic and preppy in tortoiseshell spectacles and a pink shirt. From Singapore’s ethnic Chinese majority, he has an Oxford doctorate in history, is a former Olympic swimmer and has an unblemished military service record. All of which makes him the ideal candidate to go far in Singapore’s kind of meritocracy − perhaps joining the “men in white” of the People’s Action Party, in power since 1959.

Except Thum made the wrong career choice for that. As his history specialisation developed, he’d been thinking of a biography of Vespasian, the Roman legionnaire who, after invading Britain and quelling the Jewish revolt, was installed as emperor by acclamation of his troops and ended a period of instability.

“Then I thought, ‘There are other people who can do that, many people doing way better work on Roman history than I could,’ ” he tells me. “ ‘But who’s going to do Singapore history?’ ”

Soon after his return to a postdoctoral fellowship at the National University of Singapore (NUS), a historic windfall came his way: the British government declassified its archive for the tumultuous year of 1963 in Singapore and Malaya when the two self-governing former colonies were moving to join up in the new, pro-Western nation of Malaysia, standing against the communist tide sweeping South-East Asia.

It contained documents about Operation Coldstore, the sweep by Singapore’s Special Branch in February 1963 to detain more than 100 politicians, trade unionists and activists without trial, ostensibly to prevent the underground Malayan Communist Party instigating unrest to hinder the formation of Malaysia.

From these documents, Thum found the proof of what many had long suspected: that then Chief Minister Lee Kuan Yew mounted Coldstore chiefly to nobble the leftist opposition party, Barisan Sosialis, looming as a serious challenge to his People’s Action Party (PAP) in forthcoming elections. The archive shows Lee virtually admitting as much to British officials. It set a pattern of ruthless use of communist scares and preventive detention powers that Lee employed for decades.

As he wrote and talked about these findings, Thum soon got the answer to his question about who would write Singaporean history.

“Only someone brave or stupid enough,” he says. “Here it is almost career suicide to do Singapore history, because eventually you run into the problem of either you have to censor yourself in Singapore or you leave Singapore and you enter an industry which is not interested nowadays in this sort of niche history.”

Within a year, a senior NUS administrator pulled him aside. “I am not supposed to tell you this, but a directive has come down from the top,” the official said. “You’re blacklisted: no renewal, no extension, no new contract. You’d better make plans.”

Thum went back to Oxford, then returned to Singapore with funding from the Open Society Foundations of George Soros and other donations big and small to start New Naratif, a web platform for research, journalism and art in South-East Asia.

In Singapore he is not alone in myth-busting. In 2014, he contributed to the book Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, which queried many PAP narratives. It regarded meritocracy as a cover for elitism and groupthink; low taxes and migrant labour benefiting the wealthy and punishing ordinary locals; the purchase of government flats a trap rather than economic security.

The writers saw themselves as helping point Singapore to a more sustainable prosperity, explains co-author Donald Low, an economist and former finance ministry official, in what seemed at the time a new era of flexibility and contested policy on the part of the PAP.

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In 2011, in the economic doldrums after the global financial crisis, voters gave the party and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew – a severe shock. The PAP vote dropped by 6.5 points to 60 per cent, the lowest since 1963. The Workers Party gained six of the 87 seats, the best opposition result since Singapore broke from Malaysia in 1965. In a separate presidential election, a widely liked maverick came close to beating the PAP’s preferred candidate.

Lee responded with social policy reforms, hints of openness and some humble gestures, notably cutting his own salary by 36 per cent to $S2.2 million and that of his ministers to $S1.1 million. The PAP has long argued that these salaries, still the highest in the world for elected officials, are necessary to attract top talent and lessen corrupt temptations.

However, in 2015, Lee Kuan Yew died, aged 91. After an effusion of national mourning his son called a snap election, in which the PAP vote rebounded to nearly 70 per cent. “The result of 2015 removed whatever impetus or pressure there was, both within and without,” Low tells me, over beers and another local adaptation of British cuisine, crispy-toasted Spam. “The reform appetite has completely gone out the window in Singapore in the last three years.”

Dig deeper, he says, and Singaporeans are far from the “crazy rich Asians” of this year’s hit film set in the glittering south side of the island, with its heritage hotels, fusion cuisine and rooftop infinity pools.

For a few, the island is like this. A bungalow sold last month for $S95 million, reflecting the top-end wealth created by income tax rates that plateau at 22 per cent at $S320,000 a year and the absence of capital gains or inheritance taxes. IT start-ups are thriving. British inventor James Dyson has just chosen Singapore to manufacture his new electric car.

For the rest, things are pretty stagnant. Citizens are now only about 60 per cent of the 5.6 million population, their wages and job openings depressed by workers imported from the wider region. The 85 per cent living in Housing and Development Board flats that they have been persuaded to buy have seen values flatten. They are likely to decline steadily once their “ownership” gets to the halfway point of what are actually 99-year leases.

Low and Thum see few responses coming out of the PAP now.

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The fall of the similar-vintage United Malays National Organisation in Malaysia’s election this year has been a new shock. Under the returned Mahathir Mohamad, Kuala Lumpur is breaking its mould, ending capital punishment while Singapore steps up its hanging, winding back ethnic Malay privilege, and exposing how Goldman Sachs bankers, some based in Singapore, helped loot the 1MDB fund of billions.

It’s attracting some envy. “Because really we are the same country,” Thum said. “We just got split up by politicians who couldn’t get along. There are so many similarities that Singaporeans look north and see a society that looks so similar to ours but is heading in a different direction, with hope and vision, things that we lack.”

Singapore’s problem is ennui, not massive scandal. PAP leaders look back, arguing about who best embodies Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy. In the 2015 election one even boasted about the lack of promises, since promises can be broken.

Lee Hsien Loong is only 66 and highly competent, but looks older than his years, after overcoming two types of cancer, then fainting while speaking at a national day rally two years ago. He has said he will retire at 70, so the next election, widely expected to be next year, will be his last before handing over.

But to whom? The consensus is that a third-generation Lee family member, such as the Prime Minister’s pushy second son Li Hongyi, an IT specialist, could be a risk, especially after a public family squabble about the disposal of Lee Kuan Yew’s old house that diminished the dynastic aura.

The alternative comes down to three candidates among younger ministers, with senior military rank and closeness to Lee Hsien Loong their main selling points inside the party. “They’re all bland, interchangeable, boring, uninspiring male Chinese,” Thum says. “The problem is compounded by the fact there is a clear, popular leader that Singaporeans want.”

This is current Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 61. A former head of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and later Finance Minister, he is credited with the post-2011 reforms that helped the PAP rebound in 2015. But he was then shifted into a vague coordinating role in cabinet.

There is more history here. In 1987, Lee Kuan Yew used internal security powers again, in Operation Spectrum, to detain 22 young Catholic social activists, some of whom, after soft torture, confessed on TV to having been unwitting tools of the communists. Studying at the London School of Economics, Shanmugaratnam had mixed with one of the detainees, and an exiled Singaporean leftist lawyer, Tan Wah Piow. “I can only speculate that the PAP feels that Tharman is a useful tool but he can’t be trusted to lead because he will take Singapore in a very different direction, especially one away from the Lee family,” Thum said.

And of course, he is of Tamil descent. As Flinders University political scientist Michael Barr wrote in his recent book The Ruling Elite of Singapore: “Today the ideal Singaporean is no longer an English-educated Singaporean, but an English- and Mandarin-speaking Chinese.” Lee Kuan Yew got the PAP hooked on the notion that only strong individuals, like the ideal Confucian junzi (righteous gentleman), could preserve the nation, not strong and independent institutions.

Meanwhile, the PAP leadership plays it by its time-tested book of legal action against opposition figures: for defamation, contempt and sometimes minute financial irregularities, such as using office stationery for private purposes.

Three MPs of the Workers Party are in court facing charges of financial laxity in the local council they also run, with the government-owned media breaking away from what Low calls its usual “Panglossian cheerleading” to give the trial reams of coverage.

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Even a stalwart of Lee Kuan Yew’s era, diplomat and “Asian values” proponent Kishore Mahbubani, fell foul of the system. His offence was an op-ed, after Chinese officials blocked the Hong Kong transit of Singapore armoured vehicles being shipped back from exercises in Taiwan, saying that small countries had to put up with such things. He was removed as dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.

In March, Thum himself appeared before the Singapore parliament’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, to argue among other things that a government defending Operation Coldstore had its own problems with truth. He found his academic credentials questioned for six hours in what was clearly a prepared ambush by the law and home affairs minister, K. Shanmugam, the government’s main political attack dog.

Still, history does have its rewards. After one talk, a man in the audience approached Thum. He had been a Coldstore detainee: the stigma of being a communist dupe had remained after his release. Now Thum had shown there was no such evidence. “The man said that because of my work, he can look his wife and children in the eye,” Thum said. “He said: ‘P.J., you’ve given me my pride and my dignity back.’ I will never forget the privilege to be able to make someone’s life better like that.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 10, 2018 as “Singapore sting”.

 

Hamish McDonald  is The Saturday Paper’s world editor.

‘New Malaysia’ makes Singapore look outdated


July 10, 2018

‘New Malaysia’ makes Singapore look outdated

by Dr.Bridget Welsh

https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/New-Malaysia-makes-Singapore-look-outdated

Mahathir’s triumph exposes shortcomings of city-state’s one-party rule

Over two months after Mahathir Mohamad’s election in Malaysia, the political reverberations for Singapore show no signs of fading.

The new Malaysian Prime Minister’s reviews of the key water-supply deal with Singapore and of the planned costly high-speed rail link from Kuala Lumpur to the city-state are only visible signs of a different — and more charged — Singapore-Malaysia relationship.

The key problem for Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party (PAP) is that developments north of the Johor-Singapore Causeway have exposed vulnerabilities at home. The PAP has become the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia, and it no longer has undemocratic immediate neighbors. Mahathir’s Pakatan victory mirrors the PAP’s worst fear: its own possible defeat.

Worse yet, some of the factors that contributed to the loss of Barisan Nasional (National Front) are also present in Singapore. The first is the challenge of leadership renewal. Over the past three years, the PAP has been locked in a battle over who should succeed Lee, 66, as prime minister, with the fourth generation (4G) leaders on display.

Among the leading contenders are Chan Chun Sing, the Minister for Trade and Industry and former army chief, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, former Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Ong Ye Kung, the Minister of Education and Second Defense Minister.

The problem is that these leaders are 4G without the connectivity. They are in a highly elitist party, largely unable to relate to ordinary Singaporeans. 4G leaders also suffer from the same issue that haunted the National Front, namely they are embedded in the system. Emerging from within the party and government, particularly the military, they are from the system and are seen to be for the system. The intertwining of the PAP and the bureaucratic state has created singular agendas and resulted in a distancing from the electorate and its needs.

For the first two decades of Singapore’s existence after independence in 1959, PAP secured all the seats in the legislative assembly. Since 1984, opposition politicians have won seats despite what the government’s critics describe as the sustained political harassment of opponents and the repression of public protests, combined with the alleged manipulation of electoral boundaries.

In the last election in 2015, PAP secured 83 out of 89 seats with 70% of the vote. Since that resounding victory, more conservative forces within the party have gained ground. Despite their popularity, reform-minded leaders such as Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Tan Chuan-Jin have been pushed aside in favor of conservative alternatives. At the same time, Singapore’s system has moved in a more authoritarian direction, with curbs on social media and attacks on civil society activists.

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Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Prime Minister Lee, the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, is making the same mistake Najib did after the 2013 polls. He is depriving the system of a necessary valve for dissent, and moving the country away from needed reforms. He has failed to recognize that greater openness and policy reforms were integral parts of the PAP’s 2015 victory. The dominant mode has been to attack the Worker’s Party, its leaders and other opposition figures. These moves do not show confidence in a more open and mature political system — or even in the PAP itself.

At the same time, rather than being an asset to his party, Lee is becoming more of a liability. This is the same trajectory that occurred for Najib. Questions have been raised about Lee’s leadership from the very public “Oxleygate” row with his siblings over their father’s home to the managing of Temasek, the republic’s sovereign wealth fund, by his wife Ho Ching.

Singapore’s handling of scandal over 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the Malaysian state-run investment fund which saw millions of dollars siphoned out on Najib’s watch, will be in the more immediate bilateral spotlight; assessments will be made as to whether Singapore responded effectively to the alleged malfeasance and whether in fact Singapore’s purchase of 1MDB bonds strengthened the fund.

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Meanwhile, in Malaysia, Mahathir’s readiness to deal with 1MDB signals a willingness not only to clean up the system but to begin much-needed economic reform. Singaporeans will see obvious parallels with their own country’s economic policies.

Singapore’s gross domestic product growth is expected to reach 3% this year, which is a significant drop from a decade ago. Importantly, much of this growth is being driven by public spending (as occurred in Malaysia under Najib), notably on infrastructure. New jobs are not being created in Singapore at the same high rate as in the past. Even more constraining, PAP continues to rely on immigration as a driver of growth, failing to move on from using a combination of low-cost labor and imported foreign talent to expand the economy. Population pressures remain real for ordinary Singaporeans, who continue to feel displaced. They are disappointed with the PAP’s tenacious grasp on old and unpopular models for growth.

The pendulum of discontent has swung against the PAP. The government opted to increase water prices by 30% in 2017, and this year indicated it will raise the goods and services tax (GST) from 7% to 9%. The electricity tariff has risen by 16.8% to date this year alone. The cost of living remains high; Singapore has topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s list of most expensive cities to live in for five years running. High costs are compounded by persistent inequalities that are increasingly entrenched. The Gini coefficient is at 0.46, but income gaps are deeply felt. Many locals feel they are being impoverished on account of foreigners. The social reform measures introduced for the “pioneer generation” (people born before 1950), and increased handouts before the 2015 polls, are being seen as inadequate to address the current social needs of disadvantaged communities.

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Changes in Malaysia have reduced Singapore’s regional comparative advantage. It is not just about greater democracy and changes in governance next door but also the attention “New Malaysia” draws to how Singapore has remained locked in the past, moving away from embracing an alternative future.–Bridget Welsh

By comparison, Malaysia has removed the unpopular GST, and reform pressures for addressing contracting social mobility and inequality are substantial. Malaysia is now seen as a potential role model in areas of governance. For example, greater transparency and attention to inclusivity are evident in the multi-ethnicity of new government appointees. Singapore’s 2017 Malay-only presidency contest in contrast sent a signal of exclusion and an embrace of race-based politics. This is being compounded by the fact that Malaysia is being seen as bucking regional authoritarian trends, promising substantive political reforms and the removal of many of the draconian laws that Singapore has on its books.

Changes in Malaysia have reduced Singapore’s regional comparative advantage. It is not just about greater democracy and changes in governance next door but also the attention “New Malaysia” draws to how Singapore has remained locked in the past, moving away from embracing an alternative future.

Bridget Welsh is associate professor of political science at John Cabot University, Rome

 

The Passing of Othman Wok


April 17, 2017

The Passing of Othman Wok: A Patriot whose courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore

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Note: It was my good  fortune to have worked with Mr. (Pak) Othman Wok when we together with Mr. Neville Watson were fellow directors of Sime Sembawang Limited, which was engaged in the fabrication of oil rigs and platforms for oil and gas sector. As a director, Pak Othman brought his vast experience  to bear on deliberations of our Board. He was friendly and helpful to me, offering personal advice about building commercial networks based on trust and integrity. I shall miss him and  offer Al-Fatihah in his memory. To Ibu Wok and family, Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I convey our heartfelt and sincere condolences.

I was also grateful that I had the chance to work with Mr. Eddie Barker, Professor Tan Sri Maurice Baker, Mr. Michael Wong Pakshong and Pak Ridzwan Dzafir on the Board of Sime Darby Singapore Limited (1988-1991). They were outstanding individuals who served Singapore  with distinction.  They all touched my life and made a huge difference to my career with Sime Darby.–Din Merican

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/othman-wok-a-man-whose-courage-and-convictions-made-a-difference/3105692.html

Mr Othman Wok, a former Cabinet minister and one of Singapore’s first generation of leaders, died on Monday (Apr 17) at the age of 92.

A journalist, union leader, politician and Ambassador, Mr Othman’s courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore at a critical time in its history, said the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Born in 1924, Mr Othman was the son of a Malay school principal. Despite objections from his grandfather, his progressive father sent the young Othman to Radin Mas School and Raffles Institution – both English-medium schools.

Mr Othman joined the Utusan Melayu, a Malay-language newspaper as a clerk, but was soon talent-spotted and offered a job as a cub reporter by its editor and managing director Mr Yusof Ishak, the man who was to become Singapore’s first President.

Mr Othman Wok in his youth.

While Mr. Othman was working for Utusan Melayu, he became involved in union activities, and it was as Secretary of the Singapore Printing Employees Union that he first met Mr Lee Kuan Yew – the union’s legal advisor.

Persuaded to enter politics, he joined the People’s Action Party (PAP) a few days after it was formed in 1954. Mr Othman won his first electoral battle in 1963, but was to learn that achieving racial harmony was easier said than done.

Following Singapore’s merger with Malaysia, racial tensions between the Malay and Chinese communities, stoked by fiery speeches by extremist Malay leaders from Kuala Lumpur, came to a head during the 1964 procession to celebrate the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday.

“UMNO had a meeting on July 19 at Pasir Panjang, (a) talk about racialism and all that by Jaafar Albar. He made a very strong communal speech at that gathering which included UMNO members from across the Causeway that they ferried down to Singapore by buses and lorries,” recalled Mr Othman. “And these people, after that meeting on the 19th, didn’t go home … they were used to cause trouble.”

Mr Othman, who led the contingent of Malay MPs and PAP supporters at the procession, recalled how trouble broke out: “When my contingent arrived at Kallang Bridge, there was this old Chinese man on a bicycle, on the left side. Some Malay youths came from the front, caught hold of him, beat him up with sticks and threw his bicycle into the drain. He was severely injured.”

For the rest of Mr Othman’s life, the horrific images would return whenever he shared his experiences.

“People were being beaten up, houses were being burnt, vehicles being burnt – all pictured in my mind at that time. I was involved in it, I saw it with my own eyes,” he said. “It is just like a film being played again and again to me. I was very sad. This is racial riot between the communities, the Chinese and the Malays. And before that they were very friendly.”

In the aftermath of the riots, it was clear that concerted and strenuous efforts were needed to rebuild relationships between the races, as racial polarisation was evident, even at relief centres.

“The Chinese didn’t go to where the Malays went – the police station; they went to other police stations, so became segregated again,” said Mr Othman. “And my ministry had to prepare food for these refugees. Every day we cooked, in our central kitchen, and I went around in our lorries together with my staff, and we found that for example, I went to Paya Lebar Police Station, they were all Malays there, no Chinese. Then I went to another police station, Serangoon at that time, they were all Chinese there, no Malays.

“So we decided after the riots that this should not go on – polarisation between the two communities. We had to let them live together. So at that time, we (were) building flats so we moved them, mixed (them) together. It was not an easy thing to do but eventually they began to learn how to live as good neighbours.”

At the height of the 1964 tensions, Mr Othman himself became the principal target of verbal abuse among some segments of the Malay-Muslim community.

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The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said of Mr Othman: “I remember your staunch loyalty during those troubled days when you were in Malaysia and the tensions were most severe, immediately before and following the bloody riots in July 1964.

“At that time, the greatest pressures were mounted by UMNO Malay extremists who denounced you and Malay PAP leaders – especially you – as infidels, “kafirs” and traitors, “khianat”, not to Singapore but to the Malay race.

“I heard it, the crowds said it, bunches of them. They were designed to intimidate him and the other Malay leaders in PAP. Because of the courage and the leadership you showed, not one PAP Malay leader wavered and that made a difference to Singapore.”

On the incident, Mr Othman simply said: “I was surprised, because not only I, but my Malay colleagues in the PAP stood together and faced the onslaught together with the Prime Minister, because we were fighting for what we believed in.

“So that accolade to me, I thought, was also for my colleagues because they faced the same danger, they faced the same accusation and criticism from the Malay community at that time.”

Singapore’s Mr. Cool

Mr Othman’s loyalty to Singapore was tested again in 1965, when they were faced with the critical decision to support or oppose separation from Malaysia.

“PM called me. He said: ‘Othman, come with me to the next room.’ And he said to me: ‘Would you sign this separation agreement?’ I said I would. I told him: ‘PM, the only worry I have is the Chinese in Singapore – what I meant was the communists in Singapore.’ ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It’s my problem, I will handle it. You have nothing to worry.’ That was what he said to me.

“But my feeling when it was announced was, internally, you know, relief. After those two years of bickering, the pressure on me, my colleagues, the Malays in the PAP, on the government, I say it was a relief. No more pressure against us.”

And the next year, when an independent Singapore held its first National Day Parade, Mr Othman made sure he was there – a proud member of the People’s Defence Force.

Mr Othman was to serve for 17 years, 14 of them as Minister for Social Affairs.Promoting racial harmony was a key responsibility, as was the promotion of sports among the masses and encouraging athletes to represent Singapore.

Said SS Dhillon, former Secretary-General of the Singapore Olympic Council: “Mr Othman Wok – I always to refer to him as Mr Cool. He has a very cool personality, he is very approachable, very kind, very loving and he used to go around sportsmen and coax them to participate. Train harder and he encouraged them in that way.”

It was also Mr Othman who got the National Stadium built. “When you think back to those times, those were very economically hard times, and yet he could push this through Parliament and get it passed,” said former Olympian sprinter C Kunalan. “So I think more importantly it was not how he fired us up but how he fired up the Cabinet to get the approval for all the plans that he had.”

“Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”–Othman Wok

As Minister overseeing the Malay-Muslim community, Mr Othman’s legacy includes the setting up of the Mosque Building Fund as well as the Islamic Religious Council or MUIS, which sees to the welfare of Muslims in Singapore.

“Through this fund, we managed to build a first mosque at Toa Payoh,” said Mr Othman. “A modern, better, multi-purpose mosque, not like the old ones, only for prayer; (there were) other activities. And people came to support and it was not difficult to get people to contribute. We had the contribution by deducting their salaries, voluntarily if they wanted to, through the CPF. It started with S$0.50. They could write in to say: ‘I don’t want to contribute’, but the majority, all I think the Muslims who worked with the Government then, contributed and they were able to build one mosque after another.”

After retiring from active politics in 1980, Mr Othman served as Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia and also on the Singapore Tourism Board and Sentosa Development Corporation.

The born storyteller also published his collections of horror stories as well as his autobiography, Never In My Wildest Dreams.

But for the man who lived through the race riots of the 1960s, unity among Singaporeans was an enduring mission, and Mr Othman continued to serve well into his 80s, giving talks on National Education to civil servants.

“Even with this terrorism problem, some of these young people do not take it seriously because it has not happened in Singapore,” said Mr Othman. “The test will come when a bomb explodes in Singapore, people are killed … What happens, do we tighten our bonding, become a united front of faith or we disintegrate? This is the test that we have to face if the real thing happens. I hope not. Because today when there are disasters in other countries, Singapore came together to help. I am sure were this to happen in Singapore, we will get together, to face it and solve it. I have that confidence.”

He added: “Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”

Mr Othman leaves his wife and four daughters.

– Channel News Asia

Singapore: Multiculturalism and Race Relations


December 4, 2016

Singapore: Multiculturalism and Race Relations

More than 95% of the approximately 2,000 Singaporean residents surveyed agreed that diversity is valuable, and that all races should be treated equally and with respect. They also reported that they lived peacefully with those of other races, standing up for them and accepting them. While it is not possible to ascertain the depths of interactions, many respondents said they had friends of other races and attended their cultural celebrations.

By Mathew Mathews

The just-released Channel NewsAsia-Institute of Policy Studies survey on race relations captures the reality of multicultural living in Singapore.

Broadly put, it sheds light on how Singaporeans have — or believe they have — interpreted and exemplified our shared ethos of multiculturalism. More than 95% of the approximately 2,000 Singaporean residents surveyed agreed that diversity is valuable, and that all races should be treated equally and with respect. They also reported that they lived peacefully with those of other races, standing up for them and accepting them. While it is not possible to ascertain the depths of interactions, many respondents said they had friends of other races and attended their cultural celebrations.

Perhaps the Singaporean Chinese, who constitute three quarters of our citizen population, should get some credit for positive race relations in Singapore.  Despite being an overwhelming majority, only a third of those surveyed supported the statement that “It is only natural that the needs of the majority race should be looked after first before the needs of the minority races”.

By not clamouring for majority rights, the Chinese have allowed the principles of meritocracy to gain substantial ground in Singapore. This is evident from the 89% of respondents across races in the survey who agreed with the statement that “Everyone who works hard, no matter what race they are, has an equal chance to become rich.”

But the strong endorsement of multicultural principles and relationships does not mean that our society is free from racism. About a quarter of respondents perceived themselves to be at least mildly racist while 38% of all respondents rated their close friends similarly.

Asked how racist most Singaporean Chinese, Malays and Indians were, nearly half of respondents classified each of these generalised groups as at least mildly racist. Respondents were even more likely to use the racist label when asked to rate new migrants from China, India and the Philippines. This finding can be explained by social psychological research, which has shown that people often view themselves more favourably. We judge others based on their actions but justify our own behaviour by pointing to our good intentions.

Nevertheless the survey showed that a significant number of people had seen racism on display by others, which reminds us that it still wields its head in our society. These racist behaviours are likely to be of a mild variety, for few of our respondents, including minorities, in the last two years, had experienced instances of insults, name calling, threats or harassment, which is the standard fare of racism in many societies.

In Singapore, perceptions of racism tend to be based on interpersonal actions which may subtly convey that one group is inferior. In this regard, more minorities compared to majority members agreed that they had experienced incidents where “People have acted as if they think you are not smart” or “People have acted as if they’re better than you are”. While two thirds of minorities who experienced such incidents attributed these differential experiences to race, quite a number at the same time also linked this to their educational or income level. This implies that sometimes it is difficult to tease out the exact source of bias.

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Another manifestation of the mild form of racism that respondents cited has to do with the presence of racial stereotypes.  Nearly half of respondents believed that people of some races are more disposed to having the negative traits such as violence, getting into trouble and being unfriendly. While stereotypes can be leveled at all groups, the effects of the stereotypes are different. Being labelled “enterprising”, “afraid to lose” and “money-minded”  may be regarded as necessary traits for success in competitive market environments. But to be viewed as “overly religious”, “boisterous”, “lazy” or “smelly” may have rather dire consequence in how one is treated and might inhibit entry and progress in a profession. It can sometimes also convey that one’s racial and cultural background is essentially second class and subject to derision.

Image result for Multicultural Singapore

Some have contended that racism can also be seen when people prefer a member of their race to fulfill certain roles. The survey results confirmed that most people are more comfortable with someone who is racially similar when it comes to marrying into the family, sharing personal problems, managing one’s own business, and the appointment of the Prime Minister and President. Such preferences seem to be etched deep into our being with some recent research claiming that even babies demonstrate such in-group bias in choosing which other baby in their playgroup they will help.

However in-group bias is not always adaptive. Thus, many more minorities compared to majority respondents reported their acceptance for the majority race to fulfill many roles — only 38% of Chinese respondents would be accepting of a Singaporean Malay helping to manage their business while practically all Chinese respondents would accept a fellow Chinese in that role. However, 82% of Malay respondents said they would accept a Singapore Chinese in that role. This is because minorities who live in a space with many more majority members are aware that it is simply not tenable to expect only members of their race to fulfill important roles and relationships. But in our increasingly cosmopolitan city, majority members also should realise that it may no longer be useful even for them to accept only those who are racially similar to themselves in many relationships.

The character of racism that exists in Singapore was not shaped by acrimonious histories that have plagued a number of societies, where specific groups have been actively subjugated, sometimes through slavery and worse still genocide. Rather, the vestiges of racism here stem from our innate in-group preferences which have sometimes left us lacking in sensitivity and self-awareness when we interact with those who are ethnically different. If we are to overcome this we need to talk about our differences, as much as we talk about our commonalities. It is through this process of frank discussion and an openness to understand others that we can eliminate unfair stereotypes and biases. With that, we can go beyond simply agreeing with our multicultural ideals to actually realising them in practice.

 

Dr Mathew Mathews is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, National University of Singapore. He was the lead researcher in the CNA-IPS Survey on Race Relations.

This piece first appeared in TODAY on 19 August 2016.

Top photo from IStock.

 

This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected!


August 24, 2016

This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected–We in Malaysia can learn from LHL’s Leadership style (Din Merican): Singapore first before self

by Wan Wei

I’m proud of my Prime Minister! And how many citizens of the world can say that of their Prime Minister?–Wan Wei

This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected!

lhl

Wow, I was watching the live streaming of the National Day Rally 2016 from Helsinki, and my heart skipped a beat at this moment, when our Prime Minister basically paused awkwardly and felt ill.

Loong created by SE Wong

So today I just want to write a brief note about why Lee Hsien Loong (LHL), the Prime Minister of Singapore, is so respected in and outside of his own country.

It is because as the head of the little red dot, he really does put Singapore’s interest before his own.

Tonight GBA’s event is testimony of that– he could have chosen not to continue the speech. But knowing that this event would probably appear on the global press the next day (well, it IS a big deal that Singapore’s prime minister sort of “collapsed” briefly during its own National Day Rally), he had to and wanted to finish the speech.

And he did! 

The position of Prime Minister of Singapore–in spite of its perceived huge pay cheque– is hardly enviable. For one, Prime Minister LHL probably has to worry about the issues of this small country all the time– will we survive another 50 years? Will we be the next targets of terrorism? etc. It doesn’t take much for Singapore to suddenly perish as a country–after all, small cities have risen and vanished in the past.

Then anti-government folks always complain about lack of freedom of expression, lack of support for local arts/sports/entrepreneurship, lack of human rights in Singapore. Oh yes, and huge income gap of course. Then it is always the Prime Minister’s fault and of course the 69.9% (including me since I vote for PAP) who are blamed.

I don’t think the “Singapore system” will ever change in the next 20 years, but apparently for most Singaporeans, it works fine. And to head this system as Prime Minister with no doubt, with compassion and with the utmost mental strength is absolutely admirable.:)

Oh yes and as a sidenote, haha, LHL actually is a great photographer and coder as well. I’m proud of my Prime Minister! And how many citizens of the world can say that of their Prime Minister?

Singapore: 50 years : The National Day Parade through the years–Down Memory Lane


August 13, 2016

Singapore: 50 years : The National Day Parade through the years–Down Memory Lane

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/the-parade-through-the-years

1966: Singapore’s first National Day Parade kicks off at 9am at the Padang. President Yusof Ishak, resplendent in military uniform, takes the salute, with PM Lee Kuan Yew and ministers behind him. The parade features 23,000 participants and a military parade that marches through Chinatown. According to an interview from the National Archives, a seven-man committee helmed the event.

1966

Singapore’s first National Day Parade kicks off at 9am at the Padang. President Yusof Ishak, resplendent in military uniform, takes the salute, with PM Lee Kuan Yew and ministers behind him. The parade features 23,000 participants and a military parade that marches through Chinatown. According to an interview from the National Archives, a seven-man committee helmed the event.

1967

The second National Day Parade, also at the Padang, sees an increase in the participation of women, with 36 female bagpipers a main draw. The women – young office workers, teachers and students – had less than five months of training. The day also features the “longest and loudest bang” in Singapore’s history – firecrackers are set off for 15 minutes by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

1968

Bedraggled contingents stand stoically throughout an unexpected downpour. MPs, the Cabinet and PM Lee Kuan Yew also take seats in the rain at the Padang. Mr Lee says later that he was worried about the children and asked how many had fallen ill the next day. He says in 1988 that this was his most memorable parade.

With foreign guests – Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Princess Alexandra, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak, and representatives from New Zealand, Britain and Australia – in the stands, this parade sets out to impress. PM Lee Kuan Yew greeting the princess after the parade, while Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee chats with her husband, Mr Angus Ogilvy.

The stars of the show from Singapore’s armoury – 18 tanks, 16 unimogs with 120mm mortars and 32 jeep-mounted recoilless guns.

1970

Jets make their debut, with nine BAC Strikemaster jet-trainers and Alouette III helicopters flying low over the Padang. Participants and guests are asked to tune in to the radio at 5am to find out if there would be a likelihood of rain, in which case the parade would have to be postponed. This parade also features the first fly-past of the state flag, which would become an annual highlight.

1971

This is President Benjamin Sheares’ first National Day Parade as head of state. The parade finale has a “blue-collar” theme, focusing on industrialisation and the importance of blue-collar workers.

1972

Floats are the highlight of this parade, with the People’s Association presenting six of the 10 floats. Progress and multiculturalism are the main themes.

1973

For the first time, the parade is held in the evening. Another first is a contingent of police and army dogs – 50 labradors and alsatians march on-leash.SAF dogs and their handlers at the parade.

1974

The parade is seen on TV in colour for the first time, with colourful floats taking centre stage. It also features the biggest fly-past so far, involving 56 aircraft from the Singapore Air Defence Command. The parade ends with a spectacular fireworks display over the harbour.

1975

On Singapore’s 10th birthday, the parade breaks out into “pocket pageants”, with celebrations taking place at 13 locations around the island for the first time.Bicycle acrobats entertaining the crowds at the Maxwell Road centre.

1976

The parade is held at the National Stadium for the first time, with some 60,000 Singaporeans packed into the parade site. Contingents also march a 6km route from the stadium through streets lined with thousands of people. Singapore Airlines’ 21m replica of a jumbo jet – with 36 stewardesses perched atop it – is reportedly the most attractive float.

1977

Celebrations are held at six decentralised locations – Jurong, Toa Payoh, Tiong Bahru, Jalan Besar, Bedok and Queenstown. However, the centres are reportedly overwhelmed by crowds.

1978

The big parade returns to the Padang. The first troupe of women lion dancers participate in the largest lion and dragon dance performance which comprises 140 lions and nine dragons.

1979

The parade, at six locations in the heartland, is ticketed for the first time to manage crowds that had overwhelmed the 1977 celebrations.

1980

Back at the National Stadium with a crowd of 100,000, the parade is bigger than ever before. It is captured on TV from the air for the first time and is President Benjamin Sheares’ last parade as head of state.

1981

Decentralised celebrations are held at six locations, with some drama reported: At Ang Mo Kio Secondary School, a platform for VIPs collapses under their weight half an hour before the parade begins, and a policeman draws his revolver to break up a fight between members of two dragon dance troupes; in Toa Payoh, a commando skydiver deploys his emergency parachute when the main one fails and two other skydivers land off target – to applause nonetheless – at an electronics factory50mfrom the stadium.

1982

This marks President Devan Nair’s first parade as head of state. The parade is back at the Padang, but the highlight is a display of 1,800 fireworks which are set off near East Coast Parkway. While only 21,000 attend  the parade proper, the crowds lining the streets are said to be the largest in 12 years.

1983

This is Singapore’s last decentralised parade. One commando, aiming to land at Toa Payoh Stadium, ends up in Whampoa when his parachute fails to deploy in Toa Payoh and he has to use his emergency chute.

1984

The famous Stand Up For Singapore is first sung at this parade. A grand military column of 116 vehicles trundles from City Hall to Serangoon Road.

1985

Despite news of a recession, about 60,000 spectators pack the National Stadium. Above: Children lining the street to catch the marching contingents at the full dress rehearsal.

1986

President Wee Kim Wee makes his first appearance as head of state. The year sees the introduction of the popular song Count On Me, Singapore, and marks many firsts: Never before has a parade started so late – 6pm; never before has a rock group been featured – Tokyo Square mimes hits before the parade. There are also no tanks this year.

1987

Another beloved tune –We Are Singapore – makes its debut. The year also sees a street party finale with people dancing and singing in the streets and at the Padang. About 100,000 lights are strung up around the Padang area and lit simultaneously, literally lighting up the night.

1988

Swing Singapore, the first street party, is held on Aug 8 with about 100,000 people packing Orchard Road. Dancing is cancelled due to the unexpectedly large crowd, but Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew says in the following days that it was a mistake to cut the party short. He suggests a second party and one is held at the end of the month with about 250,000 people showing up (above). It is planned in just 17 days.

1989

This year’s parade is remembered for the first daytime fireworks – 20 smoke strings forming the shapes of flowers, palms and willows. They are kept under wraps and come as a surprise to the crowd at the National Stadium. The Red Lions make their first appearance as a formalised team, and continue to be an NDP favourite till today.

1990

Singapore celebrates her 25th year of independence with the catchy song, One People, One Nation, One Singapore. The parade marks Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last year as Prime Minister of Singapore. It also sees a comeback of the military mobile column, made up of a record 250 vehicles.

1991

Mr Goh Chok Tong is greeted with loud applause at his first parade as Prime Minister. Commandos execute the highest Omega Descent from the National Stadium light towers – about 20 storeys high – and there is a heart-stopping moment when half of the Happy Birthday banner they release fails to unfurl. NDP funpacks are introduced.

1992

The parade is specially significant to the SAF as it is the 25th year of NS. National servicemen put on an impressive show using 64 physical training logs. Super Skyhawks execute a precision bomb burst manoeuvre and commandos hang mid-air from Super Puma copters.

1993

Mr Wee Kim Wee attends his last parade as President at the Padang, noting that he felt “not one but two lumps in (his) throat”. He had just recuperated from two operations and stepped down the following month.

1994

The first night parade, starting at 7.15pm, is Mr Ong Teng Cheong’s first as President. It is also the first time the 25-pounder guns used for the traditional 21-gun Presidential Salute are placed inside the stadium. First mass display performance by the Singapore Civil Defence Force, with regulars swooping down via cables from the towers at the top of the gallery.

1995

Singapore celebrates its 30th birthday at the Padang with the mobile column making an appearance after a five-year absence. The parade is a youth-oriented one.

1996

Poet Edwin Thumboo pens a drama on the story of Singapore for the parade. Almost two centuries of history unfold in 40 minutes at the National Stadium as a cast of 4,000 play out the Singapore Story.

1997

The Red Lions parachute into the National Stadium bearing the Asean flag and state flags of member countries for the first time. The centrepiece is a giant inflated rainbow which symbolises the pursuit of the Singapore dream. This is also the year that the National Education Show – for Primary 5 pupils – is launched.

1998

Kit Chan debuts the Dick Lee song Home, which becomes an instant favourite. Two parade venues are rolled into one with a replica of City Hall built at the National Stadium.

1999

Overseas Singaporeans watch the parade live for the first time over the Internet. It is Mr Ong Teng Cheong’s last parade as President. Parade committee chairman Brigadier-General Andrew Tan comes up with the NDP tattoo which has since become a National Day staple.

2000

The first National Day of the new millennium offers several firsts – a four-day carnival, the RSAF Fighting Falcons, a new submarine – and the return of the mobile column. It is also President S R Nathan’s first parade as head of state.

2001

Captain Christine Sim (above) is the first woman to take part in the state-flag fly-past since 1970. A colourful 80m-long “bridge” connecting an island of people to a giant, glowing globe is the parade centrepiece at the National Stadium, while Tanya Chua sings the self-composed Where I Belong.

2002

Coming out of an economic recession, Singapore’s 37th birthday is celebrated with great joy. Parade-goers also get to sample the newly released Newater found in their funpacks.

2003

The parade takes place at the National Stadium just three months after the Sars outbreak kills 33 people in Singapore. The crowd pays tribute to 240 healthcare workers who enter the stadium bearing glowing hearts to the strains of a specially written song – Through Your Eyes.

2004

The 21/2-hour parade is capped with a surprise video tribute to Mr Goh Chok Tong, who would hand in his letter to the President the next morning to step down as Prime Minister. He gets a standing ovation from the crowd.

2005

Singapore celebrates its 40th birthday with simultaneous parties at five locations – a main parade at the Padang and four other celebrations in Marina South, Tampines, Yishun and Jurong East. All are linked by a live feed. This is Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s first parade as Prime Minister.

Above: One of 12 floats depicting aspects of Singapore’s history trundling by the Padang.

2006

The National Stadium hosts the parade for the last time before being torn down. The crowd pays tribute to former deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam, who died in February, reciting the Pledge which he wrote.

2007

The first parade on the Marina Bay floating platform (above) gets the thumbs up, with many praising the waterfront ambience.

2008

It is a wet parade but spirits are hardly dampened as parade-goers put their funpack ponchos to good use.

2009

At 8.22pm, SCDF sirens sound across the island and Singaporeans – including thousands overseas – recite the Pledge.

2010

The parade returns to the Padang. Singer Kit Chan belts out Home and Singaporeans follow with a “One Voice” moment, reciting the Pledge and singing the National Anthem. The parade is also celebrated at five heartland locations.

2011

This year marks the final NDP for President S R Nathan as head of state. It is the first time the parade – at the Floating Platform – is held against a completed Marina Bay skyline. It is also the first time former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong do not have front-row seats. Both have retired from Cabinet and are seated behind with the MPs. The parade also gets its first female regimental sergeant major – Master Warrant Officer Jennifer Tan.

2012

Singapore celebrates its 47th birthday with an Olympic win at the ongoing London Games. President Tony Tan Keng Yam observes his inaugural parade as head of state and MPs show up in red and white for the first time, instead of the usual all-white for the People’s Action Party and blue for the Workers’ Party.

2013

Third Warrant Officer Shirley Ng is denied the chance to make history as the first woman to skydive onto the parade floor as part of the annual Red Lions parachuting display after cloudy conditions force the team to cancel its appearance at the Floating Platform.

2014

Third Warrant Officer Shirley Ng becomes the first female Red Lion parachutist to perform at an NDP celebration.

2015

Singapore’s 50th birthday is celebrated with gusto at the Padang, but there are also reflective moments as founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March, is remembered in a video segment. Earlier in the day, public warning sirens herald the broadcast of a recording of Mr Lee reading the Proclamation of Singapore.

2016

The parade will be held today for the first time at the Sports Hub with indoor fireworks, aerial performers and a flying unicorn to wow the crowd. The show also goes high-tech – giant props will be brought to life using 3D projection mapping, while the funpack will include a souvenir booklet that can activate a free augmented reality app.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline ‘The parade through the years’. Print Edition | Subscribe