Sunday, 24 April 2011

Disgust and loathing in Singapore

UPDATE: I should have added that so far in this campaign, I have respected SM Goh Chok Tong for his call to keep things "clean" (even though it is self-serving since Tin Pei Lin is in his GRC, but it was the right thing to say), Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng (and indeed the rest of PAP) for not mentioning Mr Chiam's health, and Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang for declining to make any personal comment about Tan Jee Say. I would also express disappointment at the NSP's Yip Yew Weng for perpetuating race-based politics (see the piece in last Saturday's(?) Straits Times about multi-cornered fights) thereby playing into the PAP's hands in terms of justifying the continued existence of GRCs.

Not much in Singapore politics gets me really worked up anymore. All too often, it just feels like "been there seen that".

In fact, nowadays, the things that tend to rile me are not about the substantive issues themselves -- it's gotten too easy to predict the PAP's response and arguments to explain why something I agree with is "not right" for Singapore. Instead, what gets my blood boiling will be questions of (un)fairness and (in)justice.

Most recently, it was the attacks on Tin Pei Ling, who does enough to destroy her own credibility in her own speeches and responses to questions without needing any help from gutter would-be-journalists trawling her Facebook account. Today, it was this personal attack by the PAP.

The PAP can try all it wants, but the objective here is transparently clear to everyone: to tell the world that Vincent Wijeysingha is gay, and thereby win the votes of that part of the population that will vote based on just this single wedge issue, regardless of any other issue.

The rest of the statement -- in particular the allusion to an alleged discussion about "sex with boys and whether the age of consent for boys should be 14 years of age" -- is just outright unjustified mudslinging insinuation that seems designed to imply a linkage between Vincent Wijeysingha and that discussion. If you watch the video in question, you will find that:

(a) Vincent Wijeysingha does not talk about sex with boys or lowering the age of consent for boys.

(b) only M. Ravi talked about that, and he also does not advocate lowering the age of consent for boys. Instead, he seemed to be talking about the age of consent for boys in the context of making a more general point (it's hard to tell precisely what the point is, because the clip has been edited -- perhaps deliberately -- such that what went on before is not shown).

[At this point, I hope that those responsible for posting the video and the misleading description about "lowering age of consent for sex with boys aged 14" are aware that they may have contravened Section 61(d) of the Parliamentary Elections Act. And I certainly hope that the Elections Department will be fair and investigate this case, and prosecute if the culprit is found.]

Considering that the constituency in question is Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, a fairly rich area which may well have a higher than average proportion of conservative Christians, this move may yet pay off in terms of votes. But it would fundamentally damage the fabric of Singapore politics, by opening the door to the slippery slope of mudslinging attack politics, where personal attacks are disguised as questions about "agenda".

This PAP statement is no different from, and is in fact worse than, the gutter attacks on Tin Pei Ling to degrade the political discourse in Singapore. I did not want Singapore politics to degrade like this, so imagine my dismay that it is the PAP itself bringing politics down.

I hope -- no, I trust and believe -- that Singaporeans will see through this PAP statement for what it is. Now that the SDP has posted its response, the ball is really in the PAP's court. Will the PAP retract its statement? Will the PAP apologise? Will the PAP understand that there will be a backlash to this, the same way there was a backlash to their efforts to demonise James Gomez in 2006?

Well, we can all let the PAP know exactly what we think of this. Speak up, whether online or in the papers. Ask your grassroots leaders what they think about it, and whether they agree with the tactics apologised. Ask the next PAP candidate who asks for your vote, what he/she thinks about this and when the PAP will apologise. Ask the PM if the Government's stand on all this has changed, since he presumably had the last word on this during the Section 377A debate in 2007.

The strangest part of all this is that the political parties, including the PAP, have historically been discreet on personal lifestyles and indiscretions, as noted by Cherian George. It is unclear if this statement has been endorsed by the PAP leadership, but in the absence of any public dissociation by the party from the statement, we can only conclude that it was. That would mark the PAP leading us to the kind of "First World Parliament" that we know we do not want, namely the gay-bashing tactics of US conservative right-wing politics.

31 comments:

sgcynic said...

For all that Vivian has said and done (and not done) during his term in office, I have utter contempt for this so called minister, one among several actually.

Wee Liat said...

Vivian has indeed stooped too low. But I am not sure I am surprised he did it.

I also wonder why the rest of his team signed on to that statement as well.

Point taken. We should all ask our PAP candidates what they think about the Vivian's statement and their personal position on this type of politics.

ruen3 said...

I am extremely disappointed that Sim Ann also signed on to the statement. I had a very good impression of her from her press interviews, but now that she has formally associated herself with Vivian's attempt to stoke homophobia and gay panic among the electorate, my opinion of her has plummeted.

motochan said...

The unfortunate truth is the majority of voters who would be swayed would most probably never view the video themselves. I'm unsure if any newspapers will ever present the truth objectively in a follow up anyway. It's a sad sad day for politics in Singapore.

pacific202 said...

This is absolutely disgusting. I am so angry I am going to vivian's PAP rally to personally BOO him!

Soodo said...

"In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me."

-- The statement was written by the Rev. Martin Niemoeller, a German Lutheran pastor who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938.

He was sent to the concentration camp at Dachau, where he remained until he was freed by the Allied forces in 1945.

Nicholas said...

mr siew,

there has not been a 'backlash'

those who are criticising the PAP online were never going to vote them anyway

those who were swing voters will now see the 'wisdom' of the PAP and vote for them

the pink vote is insignificant and most of them were never going to vote PAP anyway

so yes, the gay-hating PAP and Vivian Bala has won, because they have managed to get the large bloc of moderate + conservative voters to swing in their favour

that was the original objective and it has been achieved, unfortunately in this manner

0ne said...

Sir

It wasn't Vivian B or the PAP that insinuated that Vincent W. is gay - it is the online community that completed the 'kill chain' and outed him and sensationalised the episode.

What the PAP did, was to state that such and such an event happened (fact), and merely wanted the SDP to clarify their agenda.

Vivian B and team did not make an issue of Vincent W's orientation, nor did it do so in a pejorative manner. But insinuations of 'gay' and 'homo' came from the Netizens.

It is fair play for PAP to address the transparency of SDP's agenda (and knowing how a narrow interest group had attempted to hijack an NGO during its AGM to push its agenda) or if the party itself knew about it.

The strange bedfellow comment was apt because it appears that Tan SJ and Ang YG appear to be conservative Christians that oppose casino and other religiously determined ills.

Of course, on the politics side of the matter - letting the conservative majority of Singaporeans knowing of the SDP's possible intent of pushing the gay rights is one thing, the real substantive effect is to break the cohesion within the SDP.

TORRANCE said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ecnarrot said...

hey there, got sent here from a friend's email. i never write or participate in all this political discussions and honestly couldn't care less most of the time. but this morning news on this gay thing is too much. watched the youtube, share same sentiments with mr siew and rest assure my vote is set for holland grc.

The Student said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Student said...

0ne makes a compelling statement except that I would add that PAP most likely expected the online community to sensationalise th episode. I have also watched the video in question and here's my thoughts.

I also do agree that it is fair play to address his stance of homosexuality. While Vincent has no obligations to reveal his sexuality, it can be said that any possible agendas he had that is raised is fair play. Similarly, what is revealed of Teh Peh ling connection to the PAP is also fair play though that has nothing to do with capability.
This on the other hand brings into question on his stance on 377A.

To be fair, one should weigh this issue TOGETHER with other issues, that being of his ability to serve the national interest. Should and would people vote base on this issue alone? No to first, yes to 2nd. We should not vote based on this alone, if the PAP's candidates sent to contest the opposition (Vincent) are all incapable, then for the sake of the national interest, voting has to be done based on meritocracy with considerations to personal beliefs. Neither should be neglected, and neither should be too strongly adhered to.

For the record, this is my first time voting and I'm also a so called 'conservative' Christian.

Siew Kum Hong said...

@0ne and The Student I hope that the PAP has no connection with the "JohnTan88888" user who posted the clip, and I hope that the PAP will publicly confirm this. Because certainly, for a video that was being "suppressed", it was really easy to find.

In any case, I wrote this on my FB in response to someone who argued that it was fair for PAP to question the so-called agenda, and I will repeat it here:

"Vincent's sexual orientation is also a personal matter. And yet this is now out in the open, and if you are honest you will not deny that it will be held against him. So do we just accept that as "collateral damage" for this so-called agenda? There are so many ways, OBVIOUS ways, to qn SDP if it does intend to adopt this so-called agenda, without necessarily exposing Vincent's sexual orientation. After all, SDP's support for repeal of 377A is public knowledge. The PAP could simply ask SDP to state its manifesto and ask about that as well. It does not take a genius to figure something out."

The way this has been done, leads one to the conclusion that this was an attempt to make Vincent's sexual orientation the issue itself.

Kevin Jang said...

Honestly, if sexual orientation is a "private matter" as LKY suggested in his personal interview with the press and all, why then is the incumbent party making such a buzz over the sexual orientation of an opposition candidate and his alleged sympathies? This is mere self-contradiction. Also, just because someone attends an event arguing for various points of view regarded to be alternative to the mainstream, does it automatically imply that he is gay? This is so ridiculous, and could potentially backfire against the PAP if they go along that line the same way they did with Gomez in 2006.

Felicia said...

What sickens me the most is not the homophobic nature of the smear campaign. (Frankly, coming from Vivian, it wasn't at all surprising) It is the use of the term "gay agenda" and the insinuation that the SDP has some sort of secret "gay cause" that they are trying to pursue.

Firstly, no one but conservative hardline Christians actually uses the term "gay agenda" or "gay cause". The only thing homosexuals and liberals want to achieve is equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation. How is that the "gay agenda"? Is being anti-slavery a "black agenda"? The hardline conservatives use such terms to create fear in each others' minds, associating homosexuality with paedophilia and being anti-family etc when it is obviously nothing of the sort.

Secondly, it is already clear where SDP stands on the issue of 377A. They have publicly stated that they were against it and have publicly added "sexual orientation" to the list of things that Singaporeans shouldn't be discriminated based on. The PAP constantly asking them to clarify their position is yet another dirty tactic meant to suggest that the SDP's anti-377A stance is something scandalous worth exposing.

The Student said...

@Siew Kum Hong:

Well, I guess no one will know about the source of the video until someone says something about it.

I was thinking of the alternative - what if PAP shoot SDP straight on without touching on the candidate?

PAP: Hi SDP, you guys gonna push for repeal of 377A?
SDP: Nonsense! Where did you get that idea from?? Yea, we think it's not fair but we are not going to push for a repeal (yet). Reveal or they are just empty words!
PAP: Uhhh, video by one of your candidate?
SDP: SMEAR CAMPAIGN!
PAP: ...

In the end, after going 1 big round, PAP would still have to reveal the source of their 'inspiration'. The issue here I think, is whether the rights for gays (equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation)is a valid issue to be raised in light of other issues.
@Felicia: I think people use gay rights because it is short and sweet even though it might seem to simplify the idea of individual rights behind it, it will be a whole mouthful to spew out too but I jest.

We do have people, minority of singapore, majority of that particular ward?, who are unwilling to vote for gay MPs into parliament due to prejudice or religious reasons (let me touch on this later on). Yes, I know PAP is counting exactly on this to swing votes over but still, some of the general public (like me) didn't know that SDP was for the repeal of 377A.

@Felicia:
I personally would have to disagree that conservative hardliners which can also include non-christians! "use such terms to create fear in each others' minds, associating homosexuality with paedophilia and being anti-family etc" Paedophilia can swings both ways, be it hetero or homo so if some Christians think that way, it is illogical. It is 'anti-family' if the whole world converts to homosexuality and there's no more children to adopt. However, obviously that's not going to happen so I doubt the 'anti-family' is based on practical real life scenarios but more of an ideal and strong belief that Christians hold of a 'family' being between a man and woman which others will of course disagree with.

Everyone is entitled to their views right and have the right to defend it? I do understand that people, both hetero and homo-sexuals believe that it is fair for everyone to have equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation. So, does anyone know why christanity is adverse to voting gay MPs into parliament?

Siew Kum Hong said...

@The Student I think the PAP are smarter than that. Plus, as I've said, the SDP has repeatedly stated in public, for the record, that it is in favour of repeal.

Aurvandil said...

In the reply to VV's press release, the SDP issued a youtube. In that youtube, SDP questioned VV on the YOG spending and asked VV to release the YOG accounts. VV had spent a huge amount of money and there are a lot of unanswered questions. Previously, Goh Meng Seng of the NSP had done the following youtube to put the YOG spending in perspective to the problems currently faced by Singapore.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tECcYnYQ7A8&feature=player_embedded

Food for Thought said...

@Felicia: In general, I agree that people should be viewed equally regardless of race, religion and sexual orientation. However....

@The student: On the inquiry of whether the issue of standing for the repeal of 377A is as important as other national bread-and-butter issues facing us now, to my interpretation, it is.

My understanding is that HIV infection leading to Aids rates are much higher in the lifestyles of practising homosexual and transexual men. This is also the reason why Thailand in recent news have most of their strategies to reduce HIV infection rates targetted at this particular segment of the population.

We all know how inter-connected we all are in relation to each other, even if we are not at first degree of acquiantanceship. I wonder about the known social costs as well as opportunity costs to society when we lose men (and women) of talent from this higher risks?

Add to it the unintended consequence of lower natural birth-rates when our nation is already facing a challenge here? Are these social costs worth the exercise of individual rights?

Bringing in parties that may help solve our current issues AND potentially create new social issues which we as a nation will have to struggle with is I think not a pragmatic approach. That is why to @The Student, I think it is as important as these other national issues we're grappling with.

And to @Felicia, although in general I agree with you that all people should be viewed equally, I wonder whether the whole society should bear the costs of a few?

Some people think it is a moral issue, some a personal preference issue. I think that it is an issue which has an impact on our social fabric.

I hope that these viewpoints don't come across as homophobic, I do not intend for them to be these way and I hold respect for all people especially to Dr W who is passionately putting himself forth to bring up issues for Singaporeans. However, I personally have reservations about the repeal of 377A, especially if a party stands for it, which I think has implications for our society as a whole.

Lim Soon Chung said...

The question is really not about homophobia or the repealing of 377A.

It may be really nice to have polite politicians but to me it's not critical. In a place as small as Singapore, every piece of information, every bit of good or bad behaviour, by any politician seeking election, is relevant to voters. There is no such thing as bad publicity and it's up to Wijeysingha to turn the situation to his advantage. We can't be the only ones to think the homophobia is a red herring.

In fact, I wish politicians in Singapore would have more balls and speak up instead of acting like robots. It's the elections, man!

Alan said...

I saw that as a smear tactic. Even if it wasn't an overly-unsubtle hint that an opposition member was gay, it was a bait that was designed to play the conservative hardliners like a fiddle.

It was a mention of an unconstitutional law which played along the lines of prejudice, and certain sectors of society would have interpreted the issue such that the aforementioned opposition party had an agenda to promote gayism in parliament.

Since the PAP raised the matter, I would like them to publicly elaborate their position on 377A. And explain why they are for or against it.

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