The question of the future of politics in Singapore ultimately depends on the impending demise of Lee Kuan Yew. That is a certainty and is a question of time. For those that are looking for change unfortunately it will be a wish to have it earlier rather than later. The central question is whether the Post Lee Kuan Yew era, will necessarily bring about some fundamental changes in Singapore. Some may take that view that the PAP will reinvent itself with a more responsive opposition party. My view on this question is that the PAP is incapable of bringing about any fundamental changes in Singapore because of the way interests are structured in Singapore. Those that are earning millions whether as Prime Ministers or Ministers or even holding high positions in government controlled organizations and agencies have sucked into a particular political culture. It is a political culture which is one that serves the interests of a very small class. For want of a better expression I will call this a bureaucratic capitalist class in that their self-interests in a perpetuation in a system which justifies extremely high reward. Rewards which evenconventional capitalists can only dream of. Because one need not fight for such reward where one is born into such reward either by virtue of family connection or by virtue of one having academic intelligence. The rest of the population as we see in Singapore is then treated as mere digits. Information is withheld. Singapore is not transparent despite whatever that has been going on with some degree of liberalization it is still towards a high degree of political control. Notwithstanding the fact that there are more opposition members in parliament.
Why do you consider the PAP as unable to provide basic fundamental rights and equalityas mentioned in the Singapore Constitution?
I do not have any interests at who will be at the helm of the PAP is because in my own view ultimately one has to change the whole constitution of Singapore to bring back the fundamental freedoms, fundamental accountability and transparency. None of these exists in Singapore, even events in the last few months is testimony of such arcane form of control which is inconsistent with the democratic norm that is brought about by cyberspace. And if one were to ask will a PAP new leadership be in a position to form Singapore to the degree where they will relinquish control of the Straits Times and my answer is NO. And if you agree with my analysis that the PAP will not relinquish its control of Singapore and the Straits Times, then the necessary conclusion is that there is a need for a fundamental change. It is the control of information that makes it possible for the PAP to continue its rule in the last five decades and we cannot have that any longer. In so far as the constitution itself is concerned there were 38 if not more changes to the constitution in the last 50 years if not more. And if one were to study those changes that are brought about in the constitution they were always brought about for greater CONTROL. Which party is to advocate bringing the constitution back to what the fundamental protection of rights is supposed to be? It surely cannot be the PAP.
How do you restructure Singapore without overhauling its system?
The challenge for the opposition is whether the opposition can go beyond a limited ambition of merely being more than a co-driver. I think the opposition holds a responsibility to the population of Singapore to achieve a fundamental change so that we can take the opportunity as the pending demise of Lee Kuan Yew to restructure Singapore on a new platform and that platform can only be on a democratic basis. This is not an advocacy for revolution. This is an advocacy to bring about change which is consistent with the aspirations of the younger generation. Will this change bring about a decline in wealth in Singapore and the answer is no. It will bring about a more accountable and more equitable form of distribution. There are Asian societies such as Korea and Taiwan that went through military dictatorships and they are still running successful and progressive political systems. There may be defects in the system but fundamentally whatever the form of democracy that they have; the people do not have to endure that degree of fear as in Singapore. Some may argue that things were slightly better as compared to things many years ago but slightly better does not mean it is good.
Why is the Singapore government still talking about Operation Spectrum and saying that you were involved as the person behind the scene organizing and orchestrating it?
They have to create a myth and justify why in 1987, 22 social activist were deprived of their fundamental rights. And if one goes down to the truth of Operation Spectrum it was an exercise to wipe out a generation of potential political leaders who could challenge Lee Hsien Loong. One must not underestimate the impact of Operation Spectrum. It was not merely ostracizing those 22 political detainees at that time. It was to teach a lesson to everyone else who were in the NGO. Ask those NGOs that were around at that time especially those involved in cultural activities and my understanding is that after the 10 years of 1987, Singapore became a political desert. Those who were prosecuted in 1987 were isolated and prosecuted through their efforts many years ago and started reemerging like Teo Soh Long and Vincent Cheng. During that 10 year period people who were working in NGOs kept their head down. They were afraid to confront real issues and that was what the government intended. That is why to this day the government will not have a public enquiry on Operation Spectrum.
Were you linked politically or ideologically to the former head of the Communist Party of Malaya – Chin Peng? And were you ever a member of the Communist Party of Malaya?
That is why I put to the Singapore government that I would like them to publish the two conversations that Lee Kuan Yew had with Chin Peng in Singapore and the conversations that Goh Chok Tong had with Chin Peng when he visited Singapore. And if in 1987, there was really a communist threat linked to the Communist Party of Malaya and therefore linked to Chin Peng. I would expect that subject to be raised in the conversations that Lee Kuan Yew or Goh Chok Tong had with Chin Peng. And in so far as I know the government has not responded to those challenges. Hence we still continue with the myth that I had some special form of link and communication with Chin Peng and with the Communist Party of Malaya as we see in the recent issue about the funeral wreath that was sent to Chin Peng in his funeral. It alleges me as having close links to Chin Peng. This is fiction and this fiction must have come from those detractors in Singapore.
I have been involved in various activities and trade councils but being a member of the Communist Party of Malaya…. not in my wildest dreams.
So you have no links whatsoever to Chin Peng and the communist threat mentioned by the government?
My thesis is that if there was a communist threat in 1987, one would expect something of that nature to be raised to Chin Peng. What were Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong talking to Chin Peng about? Let’s refer to the notes of their conversation. And the notes itself would clarify me. And if they have no interests in raising 1987 to Chin Peng and if they were only interested in finding out about Chia Thye Poh than something is amiss. Why were they talking about 1963 rather than 1987? Hence my theory that the 1987 communist threat was just a concocted incident by the government to justify the arrests of the 22 people. You must understand that the Communist Party of Malaya folded up two years after Operation Spectrum. And Lee Kuan Yew in particular had two conversations with Chin Peng in Singapore after the folding up of the Communist Party of Malaya.
Would you in any way idolize Chin Peng for what he stands for?
Look… if you look at Singapore at the start of the Second World War, that by per capita we have the most people that were brutally killed by the Japanese in the most brutal way possible in Singapore as opposed to anywhere else in the world. This can be proven statistically. What was the young manwho was in his early 20s doing? Just like Chin Peng many of them fled to the jungles to fight the Japanese not just in Malaya but in Singapore as well. What did our gallant Lee Kuan Yew do? He worked for the Japanese. And if you ask me who I should look forward to as a model for Singaporeans inthe face of such foreign invasion I would say Chin Peng is the model and not Lee Kuan Yew. So there are many facets of Chin Peng as an anti – Japanese warrior. And he was also known as a liberator for Malaya and Singapore. There is another facet of him as a leader of a communist party. There are different aspects to a person. In so far as Singapore is concerned I find it rather strange then when we talk historically about the contributions of Chin Peng to the war effort, very little is spoken about Chin Peng and documented in history and the sacrifices made by him and those around him. Why is history so selective? This aspect of Chin Peng we cannot deny. We can differ about Chin Peng’s political beliefs but we cannot differ on the fact that Chin Peng was a key player in the anti-colonial movement. History under the PAP has to be selective.
What real threatwere these 22 people to the regime of the Singapore government?
It is not what the 22 people can do to the regime of the PAP government. It is a nucleus of people who were in a position if they choose to challenge the hegemony of the PAP. Not forgetting that some of them were accused of helping Workers Party in running the Hammer publication. Not forgetting those things. As we know before 1987 and after, JB Jeyaratnam from the Workers Party was a loner. He was a one man show running the Workers Party. And the government was worried that there were some people at that stage to quietly give support to JB Jeyaratnam. By way of giving support I mean by writing articles in the Hammer etc. Then there was fear that things could escalate if Lee Kuan Yew leaves the scene. The 1987 Operation Spectrum paved the way for Lee Hsien Loong to be handed over an island without opposition. Without a nucleus of people who could oppose him. And what was the common element among the 22 people? They were all people that shared certain common beliefs. They believed in an egalitarian society. They were people who knew each other who had a working relationship. And if one wants to form a political challenge one needs such nucleus of people. They could be a catalyst for change if not cut down by the government in 1987. In the same way that we were cut down in 1975. In the same way as people like DR G Raman was cut down in 1976 and 1977 and a whole generation of political activist that were similarly cut down. And for that reason the people of 1987 were important as they represented a group of people born in the 1950s and later. And within that age group it was felt that they posed a challenge to Lee Hsien Loong. Let’s put it this way, people that give financial support to the opposition; have the energy, the organizational skills are those that the government had to cut down.
It is understood that members of the Catholic Church were part of the 22 strong that were detained in Operation Spectrum. Were they acting alone or as members of the Catholic Church?
The Catholic Church is absolutely within their realm of competence to comment on social injustice. One has to make a distinction between religion and politics. And church and state. All religions have the right to make political commentaries on what is going on in society at any one point of time. That is the role of religion to talk about morality, equality etc. It was perfectly right in any democratic society for religious organizations and their clerics to comment on politics as in the UK and as in most other countries. During elections in the UK, you have the church organizing political debates and their candidates to address certain issues that may interest their congregation. There is therefore no reason for religious organizations to have an embargo or non-involvement of political issues. The government is Singapore is trying to constrain the two separate issues of religion and politics versus Church and State. You can’t really separate politics and religion in any given society. That is the right of any religious leader to make comments on political issues that impact them. The intolerance of the Singapore government is a question of hegemony of the PAP.
Can there ever be any sweeping reforms within the ranks of the PAP ?
That is the reason why if there is any talk of any reforms within the PAP it is misguided because the PAP is incapable of reforming and restructuring Singapore society because they have self-interests and the self-interests of each one of them earning millions and becoming millionaires through politics. Their very basic personal interests rely on the perpetuation of that format of control. And I am not interested in the little tinkering they are talking about. Like for example proposing to have a slightly egalitarian tax structure where the middle class will have to pay more and putting one social group against another. What we need however is something very fundamental and that is possible provided that the opposition is able to put its act together.
If tomorrow say a new government were to come into place in Singapore and they reopen Operation Spectrum, what would you hope for?
If we don’t attempt to put right history we won’t be in a position to plan for the future. I am not talking about a personal level. It’s a broader issue of how we are going to learn from history to help design a path for the future.
Would you be interested to be a politician then in Singapore?
Politician is a dirty word. I am all along been more interested in ideas. Of course we need politicians to put forward programs to bring about changes to society and so on. I always see myself as someone that believes in a certain set of ideas and certain set of values. I see myself as an advocate of ideas and a do-er of things. Not sitting on some fancy titles and drawing on millions of dollars. Politics has to be a service. You don’t go into politics for the reward.