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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Outwit the PAP

Outwit The PAP

In my previous letter, "Opposition Should Go Into Business", I suggested how the hawking of party newsletters in the streets has its limitations, which could be overcome by a fixed venue for meeting the public.

I suggested a second-hand bookstore.

Now, I know that is hard to swallow. Imagine an elected Member of Parliament like Mr Jeyaretnam, a former Judge and a prominent lawyer, having to tend shop. Or Dr Chee Soon Juan, a PhD, former lecturer in our National University of Singapore until he was sacked for joining an opposition party, and a well-regarded and thoughtful author of more books than I can read in a month, tending shop. It is a bit hard.

But, there are advantages in a second-hand bookshop.

For example, the recent Political Donations Act, which is designed to strangle the flow of funds into opposition political parties, as surely as a chokehold constricts the flow of air in the windpipe, may be outwitted by the second-hand books.

By this I mean that while it is easy to define and identify "anonymous donations not exceeding $10,000 in a year" in dollar terms, how on earth is Lee Kuan Yew going to define second-hand books exceeding $10,000 worth a year? Some of the old books may be worth nothing. Others, a few dollars depending on whether it is bought. Also, a second-hand bookshop is a legitimate business and not a political party, so Lee will have to think harder to stop it.

(Of course, they can change the law. Or creatively interpret the law in the courts of their choice, with the judges of their choice, as is usual).

The good people of Singapore may not always be ready to plonk out that $5 or $10 for an opposition party but they will, I believe, happily donate their read books for a good cause that does not directly help the opposition party and therefore is less to be feared as a donation to a party. While the people have been effectively intimidated into not helping or be seen to be helping the opposition, donating books is an indirect way that may just work.

There is a huge reservoir of goodwill that is just dying to be tapped and converted into more goodwill and even hard cash and Mr Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee have earned it.

At this point, it may be pertinent to do some calculations. Assume that all our books are donated, so they cost nothing. Assume that this second-hand bookshop of ours sell 50 books a day on average. Then further assume that each book sells for $5. That works out to $250 a day or about $7,500 a month. Less rental and allowances for our staff, we could net about $2-3,000 a month. That is a lot better than the takings from selling newsletters. And using the shop's location as a base, there is nothing to stop Mr Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee from venturing outside the shop to interest passers-by.

Then consider the bookshop as a means of meeting the people. Mr Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee could meet far more people than on their walkabouts. Then consider this whole exercise as a means for the good people of Singapore to quietly support the opposition in a non-confrontational, non-antagonistic way to the PAP. (Surely giving and buying books from the opposition is not as bad as giving money to them?)

To go on an entirely different tack, being in a legitimate commercial business means that Mr Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee can advertise. For instance, now, they cannot advertise themselves, their parties or their beliefs. But as a commercial business, and with some creative copywriting, there is nothing to stop Mr Jeyaretnam from starring in a cheap, little radio commercial along this line:

Mr Jeyaretnam: "Hello. I am J B Jeyaretnam, a former judge, a former Member of Parliament, now a bankrupt and an employee of Democrat's Corner in Lucky Plaza. (Laughs ruefully). You see, there's life even after bankruptcy. So I hope you will see me in Democrat's Corner, buy some of my books or donate some of your unwanted books to me for sale. Democrat's Corner is a second-hand bookshop. It is also a second life for me."

There is also nothing (except direct censorship and a ban on our radio commercials) to stop us from advertising say, Francis Seow's books on radio, which is a fairly cheap medium. As a bookshop, what could be more natural than to advertise our books?

With a little creativity, and using our legitimate business as a base, we could explore other avenues of publicity and fund-raising. Of course, our party newsletters will also be available, in prominent shelf space. Of course, we can also have quotes from great democrats gracing our shop. We are limited only by our imagination.

To sum up, at first glance, a second-hand bookshop may seem an insult to our two best oppositionists, but it contains great possibilities that I have not even begun to explore in this and my previous letter. There is also the element of the people's goodwill, so hard fought and won over decades, at such great price as financial hardship and the circumscribed life it wrought, as well as the total loneliness of Singapore oppositionists. They have braved jail terms and bankruptcies. The people of Singapore should have a chance to make amends.