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Friday, February 16, 2007

Opposition up against past; PAP up against future

Opposition Up Against Past; PAP Up Against Future

One writer recently wrote that, in the coming General Election, the Singapore Opposition could be running against the past (in that the PAP's past record in economic growth rates had been quite good).

If the Opposition is indeed running against the past, then the PAP is running against the future.

Consider. In the realm of the media, few countries professedly democratic and modern or modernising has such a stranglehold over its publications. In Singapore, all the print media except one (also pro-Government) newspaper belongs to the same monopoly, which is controlled by a former PAP cabinet minister and a former director of the secret police (with several journalists also hailing from the ISD).

Even the foreign media circulating in Singapore has been successfully controlled through threat of being banned (otherwise known as 'restriction orders').

And if one thinks that with the decreasing size of the world into one global village in which it takes no time for one ripple in one corner to travel to another, that the PAP would be forced to relax its control over foreign TV broadcasts, think again. A recent law effectively extends the same principle of 'restriction' to foreign broadcast TV that foreign papers have been subjected to, if they 'interfere in local politics', meaning that they publicise Opposition figures and issues instead of the PAP leaders.

Such an offence is not defined. The PAP, as usual, deliberately leaves vague what constitutes an offence. Thus, everything can be justified and interpreted later, by the Minister, giving him great leeway to define any alleged breach. Not knowing the exact boundaries can also inspire greater fear and circumspection in foreign print and broadcast media.

The Internet, with its borderless licence, has long been identified as a potential threat to the total control of information flow and propagation in the country. All users of the Internet and email in Singapore must go through one of the few ISPs, which, like the telephone companies, consider State requests for information or snooping on their subscribers more important than the subscribers' rights and privacy. There is no privacy in Singapore and no judge would countenance any lawsuit based on such a Western notion in a "Asian Values" State. The law, as practised here, is essentially Imperial edicts. One analyst described it as "thinly disguised rule by decree".

Instead of recent Internet developments leading to greater information flow and dissemination of views and even gossip, the PAP is now devising further curbs. With the looming General Election, the PAP will soon punish, ban, censor or close down websites that infringe some mysterious Out Of Bounds Markers -- in short, at the Minister's whim, with whatever justifications and reasons he deems sufficient.

In view of this latest development and avowed intentions, I would advise the editors of this website to start planning alternatives if indeed, this website is blocked by the ISPs of Singapore, thereby becoming unavailable to Singapore readers. Singapore readers who wish to continue reading the SFD should now join the Yahoo! Groups (SFD) at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sfd so that should this website be blocked and it has to relocate to another URL, then readers can go to the Yahoo! Groups (SFD) to find out its new URL. Also, if the editors can kindly post a message in soc.culture.singapore informing us of the new URL, then we can perhaps keep one step ahead of the PAP. Similarly, other Singapore sites that may be blocked may also post messages in soc.culture.singapore and if that is also blocked, then visit Yahoo! Groups (SFD) to find out the new URLs.

All this is taken very seriously by the PAP. Indeed, the PAP does not joke or find anything funny. It takes itself very seriously. It expects us all to take the PAP seriously. And seriously speaking, all these attempts by the PAP to continue its total control of information, news and views in the Republic are rather pathetic and even laughable if so many people were not being hurt, and hurt very seriously. In the absence of alternative news (read 'the truth'), how are the voters going to be able to vote for a government that is best for them, their children and their short, medium and long-term interests?

If all these PAP railings and measures against the forces of openness, transparency and accountability seem quixotic and doomed to failure, just bear in mind that they have not only been successful (so far) in Singapore but also exported to Burma, Vietnam and China. However, this writer is of the opinion that further developments will soon reduce the PAP to spitting into the wind. In another decade or less, we'd all look back with amusement that the PAP even attempted this.

Already now, space-based satellites unfettered by territorial borders and therefore governments beam down TV (satellite dishes are banned in Singapore), radio, telephone and Internet signals. With just another decade or less of development, they could render telcos like SingTel obsolete (with or without Optus), radio and TV State monopolies, history and Internet blocks impossible. Space and satellites are the next big thing.

Thus, the PAP is up against the future. A future it cannot win. At least, not the PAP that we now know. If it transforms itself after the death of Lee Kuan Yew and perhaps the dethronement of Lee Hsien Loong, the PAP may well go on to a second wind of (genuine) popularity with the people and become unassailable in its contest for the votes, hearts and minds of its people. Otherwise, the people will take back what is rightly theirs, denied for so long. Perhaps as soon as the coming General Election.