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Why being based overseas does not matter

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Note: The following is an edited version of a letter sent to The Temasek Review.

With the recent outcry in Singapore’s blogosphere and political scene over the news that The Online Citizen has been gazetted and demanded by the MDA to register within 14 days, attention has turned to the Temasek Review, a Singapore opinionated news blog whose web traffic in Singapore exceeds TOC (at least by Alexa’s ranking). While the local papers and media did not appear to discuss why TR was not gazetted as well, it is understood by most to have evaded the requirement because they are largely based overseas. As TR puts it in a press release today:

Temasek Review is indeed technically “funded” by foreigners and we are not hiding that fact. The server lease is paid by us (editors) and most of us have obtained foreign citizenship although we used to be Singaporean. The present server lease was paid in full for a year by a Chinese lady whom we sold the domain to following the Temasek Holdings fiasco.  The Chinese lady has no editorial or administrative control over our site and has agreed to allow us to continue using the domain until she decides to sell it or use it personally for her own venture.

Of the 7 editors in our team, 4 are now “foreigners” with 3 pending. 95% of contributions (authors and contributors) are received from Singaporeans (we do check) and all our moderators are Singaporeans. The remaining 5% are editorial pieces from us.

Predictably, the reaction from some online quarters have been furious. On the comments page of that TR article carrying the announcement some of the reactions includes charges that TR does not represent Singaporeans or cannot do so because of where they are based or due to the composition of their editorial board. Yet for many reasons such a claim remain unfounded.

It’s important to realise that an organisation can represent the interests of citizens of an undemocratic country even if they are based overseas or have renounced or lost their citizenship. As an example, let’s take a look at Burma’s government in exile.

After the Burmese junta, a good friend and ally of the ruling PAP party, lost the 1990 elections to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in a landslide, the NLD government was forced into exile overseas while the poll results were invalidated. The NLD was recently outlawed last year after it failed to register for elections which Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo was quoted as saying was “a major step forward” despite much of the rest of the world decrying it as sham.  Yet the NLD has never been looked upon by ordinary Burmese as being unrepresentative of them. Hence those who argue that TR is foreign-run and funded without any care for Singaporean issues should take a step back and look at various other countries where democratic parties and organisations have been outlawed and operate in exile.

Are they also implying that these exiled governments are illegitimate and shouldn’t claim to speak up for their oppressed citizens? Or how about the various democracy advocacy groups in support of Burma? Does being based in New York instead of Rangoon mean that they cannot effectively represent the interests of the Burmese people? Or that the officially sanctioned Burmese junta-approved political organisations based in Burma are a better representative of the Burmese people?

Another example of a government-in-exile is the Central Tibetan Administration which was was outlawed in 1959 by the Communist government in China.  Is anyone willing to claim that its head, the Dalai Lama who is also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient is a complete foreigner who doesn’t have Tibetan interests at heart? Of course it’s not surprising that China regards the current Dalai Lama as a “terrorist”. But the world and most of us know better.

In addition, here’s a list of other governments-in-exile.

If anything, what the above has shown is that sometimes organisations are forced overseas simply because the political climate in their originating country do not tolerate its existence or as in the case of TOC, vulnerable to legal harassment by the authorities. It doesn’t mean, as some have myopically said that they cannot and do not represent the interests of Singaporeans.

Further reading:

Foreign funding a necessary antidote in authoritarian states by Alex Au.

Local funding for politics a self-serving PAP rule by Alex Au


Written by defennder

January 13, 2011 at 3:50 PM

Posted in Singapore affairs

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10 Responses

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  1. For once, I support the decision of TR editors to go underground.

    We have seen what happened to TOC even though they are a very open socio political blog. It does them no good though some have speculated that nothing untoward will happen to them after the gazette.

    Then why gazette them in the first place?

    Gilbert Goh

    January 14, 2011 at 4:11 AM

  2. Gilbert
    I’m no longtime political observer and can only offer an amateurish opinion on this. But it seems to me that the gazetting is part of a long-running trend we see in the PAP government; each time an opposition or opposing party or organisations succeeds in playing by already unfair rules calculated to foil the opposition, the government changes them so as to maintain a competitive advantage.

    This behaviour is apparent right from the start of the PAP government. The only potent political threat posed to the PAP’s rule was from the Barisan Socsialis in the run-up to the 1963 elections. Barisan, well aware that the PAP would exploit any slight misbehaviour on their part deliberately kept a low-key profile in the run-up, even choosing to keep the commemoration of the party’s 1st year anniversary to a minimum. However, it wasn’t until when Barisan merely expressed solidarity (through a press statement) with their leftist allies at a 1962 left-wing revolt in Brunei did the PAP government, in conjunction with the Federation seized upon this to justify the 1963 Operation Cold Store crackdown on their political enemies and thereby ensured the political dominance of the PAP in the crucial early years.

    Later on, when JBJ became the first opposing non-PAP candidate to win in 1981 in Anson (David Marshall’s old seat), the PAP introduced GRCs for the first time, again changing the political rules to suit their advantage. At the same time, noting that most of the opposition victories till date had been won in by-elections, the ruling party made sure that seats in GRCs do not have to be put up for by-elecions unless every other MP seat in the GRC was also vacated.

    Similarly when it came to the Presidency, the PAP amended the requirements of the office to ensure that in the rare event that the opposition takes control of Parliament, a President still has the final keys and say over how Singapore reserves are to be used. This happened after the 1991 general elections in Singapore when the PAP lost more seats than expected. Alex Au explains:

    Goh foresaw that in the event of a showdown between a government that wanted to spend the reserves and a president that wanted to be more prudent, it would be necessary for the president to have a stronger mandate from the people. Thus, at the same time as the veto powers were enshrined in the constitution, provision was also made for direct elections (i.e. by citizens) to fill the office of President. Previously, when the presidency was just a ceremonial position, it was Parliament who voted the candidate into office.

    Furthermore, to ensure that only candidates who were financially trustworthy could every make it to the newly empowered presidency, the constitution was changed to stipulate that only those who met these criteria were eligible to stand for election: they had to be at least 45 years old, and have had at least three years’ experience as ministers, heads of statutory boards or key government agencies, or have headed a company whose minimum paid-up capital was $100 million, or had equivalent experience.

    These conditions make it virtually impossible for the opposition parties to field any candidate for the foreseeable future, which is hardly a surprise since the whole idea of veto powers is to put a safe person in place in order to deny any non-PAP government freedom of manoeuvre with the finances.

    Fast forward many years later, Sintercom makes a splash on the online scene in 1994, covers the 1997 GE and is later gazetted despite having been linked to and praised by the government as being an example of online freedom of expression. Mindful of its popularity, the government passed the 1996 Internet Code of Practice which regulates online content, leaving MDA to be sole judge of when a website should be considered a political entity worth of gazetting. In this case, the government was smart enough to know that it’s not always possible to set new rules all the time especially when it doesn’t always know how the new playing field would turn out to be so the act of making it very ambiguous as to when exactly a website would have to register was left to the MDA to make.

    Similarly in 2009, Speaker’s Corner which saw a resurgence of popularity was fitted with CCTV cameras:

    In 2008, Speakers’ Corner was the scene for meetings held over several weeks by Tan Kin Lian, former chief executive of insurance company NTUC Income, to advise purchasers of structured products that had become virtually valueless upon the collapse of Lehman Brothers of their legal recourse.[78] On 23 January 2009 during an event at Speakers’ Corner, the National Solidarity Party gave its views on the national budget one day after it was announced, criticizing the Government for not doing enough to assist unemployed breadwinners during the recession.[79] The Party’s secretary-general, Ken Sunn, said the event was to let Singaporeans “participate, speak and hear various views and opinions on the Singapore Government’s 2009 Budget statement, and discuss ways to improve our Singapore Economy”.[80] The first public rally by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore, called Pink Dot, was held on 16 May 2009. Estimates of the number of people who attended ranged from 1,000 to 2,500 people.[81] On 31 May 2009, more than a hundred people attended a demonstration at Speakers’ Corner organized by human rights advocacy group Maruah to call for Myanmar’s military junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi. Participants from Myanmar were requested to remain outside a cordoned-off area since only Singaporeans and permanent residents may attend demonstrations at Speakers’ Corner.[82]

    A security camera on the grounds of the Telok Ayer Hong Lim Green Community Centre next to Speakers’ Corner. The centre does not form part of Speakers’ Corner.
    In July 2009, the police installed closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras for “safety and security”. The police said that the cameras complemented the presence of their officers on the ground and did not record audio inputs.

    I think the pattern is apparent. Each time dissidents and alternate parties learn to play by the rules, the authorities changes them or takes new action to ensure that they don’t lose any political ground. The TOC gazetting and MDA license registration notification is a response to a growing threat perceived by the authorities to a group which has largely played by the rules and is becoming more popular than they would like it to be.


    January 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM

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  4. PAP has been like this – setting, changing, twisting and distorting the rules not long after they came into power in 1959. When this still failed, they would ‘outlaw’ the existing laws to help them remain in power.

    It is just the same as a substandard athlete who before the date of competition, paying for the hitmen to assassinate all other competitors; thus, he is the only one in the race and with all manners of brazen audacity claim to be the winner of the competition. If that was not enough, when some other competitors escaped his assassins, he would use his “very intelligent mind” to think out of another idea to spike poison in his competitors’ drinks.

    After this, leaving only one of his competitors left, fully aware of that he would even lose to this one competitor, he would threaten this competitor with violence if this competitor wins.

    Think of it. Does this not look like that of LKY?

    Remember, when David Marshal as well as JBJ who gained overwhelming support at pre-election rallies, how he threatened BLOODSHED if each of these ‘gentlemen’ won the election?

    Alas! those events had passed. We now know what actually he did to win. Read Robert Ho’s website: google – “I came I saw I solved it” – THE SECRET IS EXPOSED!

    Singaporeans, doubt no more!

    Natives Supporter

    January 14, 2011 at 3:58 PM

  5. Natives Supporter
    Hi yes, it’s a sad thing if political change through legal and constitutional means becomes impossible if rules keep changing. But I wonder what does anyone make of LKY’s 2006 remark where he said that they would have to call the army in if there’s a “freak” election result?

    From what I know, he has not retracted those remarks. Neither has any one in the government disavowed them.


    January 16, 2011 at 3:21 PM

  6. A freak election result during Lee Kuan Yew’s life time will not happen.
    However, if it freakily does, me am of the opinion that he will have no hesitation to activate the armed forces.
    And me opines the army will take his order as edict and act without question.



    January 17, 2011 at 10:47 AM

  7. defennder January 16, 2011 at 3.21

    Hi, sorry for this belated reply. Have been busy and did not get back to this site.

    He is such a demonic creature. It is incomprehensible based on our normal human reasoning and the way our human conscience dictates.

    Through all 5 decades, my observation of him is one that is very crooked, calculating, unforgiving, extremely arrogant, very deceitful, absolutely devoid of any conscience when dealing with oppo, he is, to the point of a full-blown psychotic person.
    To be more precise, which I read about, he is truly demonic. I would recommend those who are interested to know the reason and understand why LKY is such a person to read “PEOPLE OF THE LIE” by M. Scott Peck who is a well known American psychiatrist who had to recourse to perform exorcism to cure some of his patients.

    Further reading: “GLIMPSES OF THE DEVIL” – same author. “HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL” by Malachi Martin (an eminent theologian, premier authority on the Roman Catholic Church, and former professor at the Vatican’s Pontifical Biblical Institute.

    In fact, all such adjectives cannot adequately describe his character.

    Initially, he was such a great leader when we voted him in in 1959 31st May. It lasted only a few years. After that, he turned vicious and had degenerated to become worse and worse unabated. I believe the only hope for Singaporeans, is for him to stop breathing. Even then, Singaporeans are faced with the mammoth problem of the ‘out of proportion’ number of FTs.

    The only hope for Singapore is really for KJ or Dr Chee to be elected into power to carry out a complete reformation. Yes, it will not be easy to do. But can be done with the co-operation of the citizenry. My generation had seen that before. With the knowledge of the past, coupled with the knowledge of the present era, the progress and prosperity is certain.

    Natives Supporter

    January 29, 2011 at 8:48 AM

  8. defennder January 16, 2011 at 3.21

    ****But I wonder what does anyone make of LKY’s 2006 remark where he said that they would have to call the army in if there’s a “freak” election result?****

    I think every individual has a different opinion/reaction to his ultra vires allegation to threaten and intimate the citizens.

    This can trace to the kind of mindset he has. Through all that he has done to those who did not comply to his whims and fancy and disputed with him, he had inflicted untold mental and physical sufferings, some were ‘destroyed’ in retention, and many were reported ‘missing’ in the ST classified advertisement column. I believe, after observing his rhetoric, mentioned by you, I cannot see any trace of conscience or humanity in him.

    What a man is that to impose such punishments (even death) to his fellow citizens who merely verbally disputed with him with the good intentions of improving the lives of the citizens.

    After 50 years, he still has not learned/realised his wrong-doings, and still insisted that JBJ & Dr Chee ‘deserve to be demolished’ ‘without regret’.

    After reading those books which I recommended reading for all, I fail to see the demonic force is anywhere near to the intensity of hatred and evilness of LKY.

    What I can understand with my knowledge of the teaching of christianity, is that when a person has fallen far too deep in sins with full intention, and persistently refused to right the wrongs right to his last breath, there is definitely no hope for such an individual. Everybody knows the eternal destination of these individuals.

    On the practical or perhaps psychological view point, it is that he has got himself stuck too deep into the hellhole of his ego. It is for him, impossible to extricate himself. To him, it is ‘natural’ and it is the easiest way – just to continue his ego path and the evil doings. Perhaps he is fearful of the consequences if he were to turn back onto the right path. I still remember his ‘quotation’ in the early days after getting into power. He said he was “Riding a Tiger” – he cannot unsurmount.

    Natives Supporter

    January 30, 2011 at 11:13 PM

  9. Natives Supporter

    When LKY finally passes on, like all humans do eventually it’s my hope that his legacy would be assessed in more factual terms. At present, too many school children have been brought up to memorise Social Studies and History education bordering on state-sanctioned propaganda it’s hard to give a fair assessment of the contributions of others to Singapore’s growth. Whether by his design or not, LKY has acquired the reputation of a demi-god whose thoughts are always seen to be a cut above the rest even when in recent times he has repeatedly made predictions which more often than not flopped.

    Many people claim Singapore would not be what it is today if it were not for LKY. This is highly dubious. If other ministers in his Cabinet such as Goh Keng Swee or Toh Chin Chye had been PM instead, it’s highly likely that Singapore would have enjoyed similar or the same standards of success. I see LKY’s role in building Singapore not through the roles of economic policy-maker but rather a strongman whose greatest success has been more of crushing political dissent and maintaining stability. All the credit for economic policies must go to individuals such as Dr Goh Keng Swee, Dr Albert Winsemius and other like-minded individuals which have often been overlooked in history in deference to LKY.

    Perhaps when I have time I would write a post on the legacy of LKY on Singapore, outlining what I believe are his true contributions to the country, as well as elaborate on the various ideologies has has tried to impose on Singapore to mould the nation to his liking. Policies like population control measures, ethnic identity re-definition (for the sake of nation-building) coupled with the assault on dialects which eroded real historical cultural norms, a rigid education system which emphasises deference to the educator over the creativity of students, as well as state-directed economic policies which killed the entrepreneurial spirit in Singapore all belong there. Of course not all of these policies may be credited largely to him and the actors and their proper places in history have to be written. That legacy, largely ignored in most accounts, even by politically apathetic or neutral people needs to be told.


    February 14, 2011 at 12:23 PM

  10. defennder

    February 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I support your idea of writing on the legacy of LKY on Singapore.

    Initially, when he was voted into power, he was genuine about developing Singapore and to present it to the international arena so as to attract MNCs into Singapore in order to create employment for the population, despite Singapore was and is an insignificant island (in size). His intention was praiseworthy.

    Due to this and other positive actions he took (e.g. the building of HDB housing) were for the benefit of the people, the population had gradually overlooked and discarded the feeling of injustice on what he did to his fellow PAP members – Lim Chin Siong, the three doctors who wrote “The Fajar Generation”, and others whom he incarcerated via the ISA. Another positive was the total annihilation of gangsterism in Singapore.

    The first few years after 1959 all he did for Singapore was impressive. He in fact, called himself a ‘salesman’ of Singapore travelled to US and other countries publicised Singapore as an attractive destination for MNCs to set up factories.

    After those less-than-ten years of impressive performance, he began to become very arrogant.
    His systematic dismantlement of the democratic sysstem had commenced. Many people were detained via the ISA. His procedure of intimitation of the population also shifted to high gear. The serial numbering of ballot paper was introduced.

    (At this point, Prof. Tommy Koh who was a Dean or Sub-Dean at the Faculty of Law in Bukit Timah campus wrote against this – the serial number on ballot paper. Within the year before or after this, Mr. Jaya Kumar who was a law lecturer, also wrote something against the PAP govt being undemocratic.)


    I still remember when he was speaking at a rally in the empty land at the end section of Jalan Membina (now, junction with Kim Tian Road) some time after the Bukit Ho Swee Fire, whenever he emphasised a point during his speech, someone behind the stage would create some noise of ‘rolling thunder’ to conjure a sense of awe-feeling amongst the spectators.

    Regarding his numerous lying to the citizenry; I practically ‘seeing’ those words of lie flowing out of his mouth whenever he did on TV (after I read the book on ‘Bodylanguage’ by Alan Pease sometime in early 60s).

    There was a time when Devan Nair was President, there was problem in SIA pilots’ negotiation for pay increase. (SIA pilots & cabin crew were amongst the lowest paid in the airlines industry then) LKY came on TV and lied to the people.

    His lie was: “SIA 21 years old pilots demanded to be promoted to Captains – I would be worried when I am in the plane and the announcement comes on made by the captain who is only 21”

    (Within days after that “performance” on TV, I happened to meet the then Chief Pilot, R Koh who was the leader of the SIA pilot’s union. I spoke to him that LKY lied on TV on the above. He responded: “You can’t call the PM a liar. Can you?”)

    The truth was that all pilots knew they had to achieve the required number of flying hours together with a series reports on their efficiency performance, the numerous tests written and practical, as well as the required minimum age before one can ever hope to be promoted to be a captain.

    Before the promotion to captain, one must go through stages: cadet pilot, first officer, second officer, then only captain. The stages of promotion are not automatic.

    It is absolutely nonsensical for any pilot to ask to be promoted to be a captain as told to the population by LKY.

    As he was saying this with a deceptive smile, his right hand was partially covering his mouth and chin. A classic sign in bodylanguage of lying according to Alan Pease – the subject unaware of himself was ‘trying to hide his words’ with his hand ‘literally’ blocking them as they were flowing out because he knew those words were untrue.

    Most of time, when he lied, he would ACT as if what he said was very, very important – he would RAISED his voice and ‘unnaturally’ forcing his eyes open wide until the skin on his forehead was folded.

    Based on accounting method of assessment, the total credits LKY has achieved is far ‘out-performed’ by his total debits in unaccountable number. In other words, if a Balance Sheet is drawn, it would be a totally UN-Balance Sheet!

    Natives Supporter

    February 28, 2011 at 1:31 AM

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