8 May 2006

Isn't It Ironic?

LIFE ON THE RUN - TANG LIANG HONG INTERVIEW

(By James Gomez, April 4 2000)

"Hi, my name is James Gomez. I am on my book tour," I said when I met Tang Liang Hong at a Chinese restaurant in Melbourne on March 20. He scoffed in reply, "I am Tang. I am on the run!"

After all, Liang is a former Singaporean opposition politician living in exile after he was persecuted by leaders of the ruling Peoples' Action Party.

This set the tone for our two-hour conversation that afternoon. The session animated with numerous Hokkien and Mandarin phrases laid out some of Tang's basic political opinions. Among which were the issues he raised during his campaign period in the1997 elections and the events following the fallout afterwards.

One of the first things he highlighted was the length of the campaigning period in the last general elections. Given the holidays at Christmas and New Year, it effectively reduced campaigning to only five days - one of the shortest in Singapore's history. That is the extent of electoral democracy in the republic. Something that is in need of serious review.

Tang insisted that the "shit-pot cover" must be lifted from parliament to expose the inner goings on. The public for instance should know how much each MP was worth and where and how he or she made their money. He said, with PAP ministers getting such high salaries, what we have in Singapore is "legalised corruption".

Asked about the charges of chauvinism levied against him by the ruling party, Tang said that the basic problem with his candidacy was that he was able to move the Chinese ground. Although he was in social contact with many of the PAP leaders, when he contested in the general elections, they branded him as anti-Christian and a Chinese chauvinist.

This was calculated to push the minorities and the English-educated Christians away from him. More importantly to also cause dissension among the Chinese community. From a public relations point of view, the Chinese community would not want to come out looking like a chauvinist in multi-ethnic Singapore.

Thus painting him as a multi-chauvinist was a strategy the PAP adopted as Tang was perceived as an important political threat to the regime's hold on power. When asked whether there are other Chinese leaders that might take over from where he left off, he said that presently most were scared and were not prepared to stand up in a public way against the PAP.

Nevertheless, he said the Chinese as well as the other minorities needed to reclaim control from the PAP, as the ruling party rhetoric marginalises everyone who explores the ethnic issue as attempting to sow discord and chaos. In fact by continually painting the discussion of religion and ethnicity as taboo subjects, the PAP maintains the upper hand on how it harnesses such issues for its own political advantage.

With regards to political control the reality is that it is limited to the few on top of the political rung. This makes the arguments that some use that they want to change from within problematic. In reality, when they do try to work from within, they soon realise that effective political control is elsewhere and all they can do is provide suggestions and hope that they will get picked up.

On a day-to-day basis, real control is through PAP cadres and supporters that have been placed in strategic places of influence in all sectors of Singapore's economy, society and civil/political institutions.

Where the effective credibility and legitimacy of the party is challenged, things have a tendency of falling into place. An unpacking of the cadre name list and where many of them were presently positioned in and outside Singapore and their relationship with the PAP elite will show the extent of the powerful network of control. An informal system of rewards is part of this power structure.

Tang also gave an insight into the electoral process and things that went on at the polling stations. For instance he said when the ballot papers were poured out for counting at Cheng San, there were stacks of 10 to 15 slips that were folded together. He said this was unusual as all ballots were cast singly. But he said given the flurry of events during and after the elections he was unable to investigate and gather evidence around this incident.

He also drew attention to a group of 30-40 men that gathered around him during the campaign period always shouting him down and trying to intimidate him. He said they were muscular and very well organised. It was unlikely to be a spontaneous citizen grouping, he said, as there was strong ground support for him at Cheng San.

In fact this ground support was what prompted the PAP ministers to come and campaign at his constituency. When a complaint was made later that is was a violation of the campaign rules, it resulted in a silly judgement in court that since the PAP ministers were within the polling station, such a rule does not apply.

He also poked fun at the culture of Singaporeans as bequeathed by the ruling party. Presently Singaporeans have a mentality that every thing is "si bay ho" (Hokkien for "very good"). But a literal translation of this Hokkien phrase approximately means "That when father dies it is good". It eludes that when someone's father dies, it is a sign of good fortune as the family wealth then passes on to the waiting children. It subconsciously implies that children are wishing their parents dead so that they can come into some wealth effortlessly.

This effortless dependency by children on wealth generated by the parents, he said, was unhealthy for Singapore. This is precisely why a risk taking culture is absent while ironically celebrating the situation as "si bay ho". He laid the blame squarely on the PAP for this outcome.

He also pointed out that small and medium enterprises cannot make money as the government linked corporations (GLCs) dominate the business sectors and muscle out the small-time businesses. The dependency created by the PAP has snuffed out the creativity for entrepreneurship in Singapore.

Asked how he was supporting himself, Tang said he has a small amount he had put away which he uses for his living expenses. He said a donation appeal to help him when the political fallout occurred only amounted to a couple of thousand dollars. Political donations have not been forthcoming.

When asked why he chose not to stay in Singapore, he replied that he had considered the option but found that it did not further the cause in any significant way. He said he will be tried, judged and found guilty as there has been no precedent in the PAP losing any political case. Further more, there will be a media blackout and the issue will be kept away from the people's consciousness.

He said if there was any campaigning it will be by a few. And this will not be effective against a regime that is bent on control and a compliant citizenry that practises self-censorship. The international community also cannot be depended on to come to the aid of opposition politicians in Singapore. It is far more effective to be free and still work on Singapore issues from the outside for now.

At the end of the two-hour session, I was able to get an impression as well as insight into the man's political reasoning behind some of the issues. Tang has been on the run for over two years now. He remains an animated and lively person at mid-60s. But somehow the lines of weariness are beginning to show in his face. It also makes vivid the consequence of engaging in electoral politics against the ruling party. It shows that one has to be better organised, more forward thinking, anticipate all possible outcomes and more importantly, to draw first blood .

But the saddest part is that the electoral process has resulted in a Singaporean living on the run. No one should suffer such a fate. Not if every Singaporean matters.


33 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Not if every Singaporean matters."

Powerful words.

Anonymous said...

irony isn't it

One day One day One day!
It wouldn't be too long we have real democracy!

Anonymous said...

Now we know the truth. The only Singaporeans that matter to the PAP, are those who are a part of the PAP.
Anyone who disagrees with them must be destroyed.

How cunning of them to orchestrate this after the polls - they are now immune from facing the wrath of the people.

I wonder who the real "liars" are.

Anonymous said...

"Every Singaporean matters"

"We want to build a more caring, gentler society"

"We are all Singaporeans, why the need for resentment and bitterness?"

Now it is crystal clear who was trying to "WAYANG".

Anonymous said...

If the PAP doesn't get you directly, they will use the Govt agencies to do. Maybe they had suspicions that James Gomez was going to leave (not suggesting that he is fleeing) and that's why the authorities were put on alert already to stop him from doing so. After posting his interview here with Tang Liang Hong who had to flee after the 1997 Cheng San battle, I hope that after what the Mee Pok Man does to Gomez, he too does not have to flee S'pore. It would be a crying shame! And the Mee Pok Man would have gotten rid of another opposition man.

Jonny said...

Well, Gomez wasn't trying to flee.

HE WORKS IN SWEDEN AND HIS FLIGHT WAS TO SWEDEN.

He had actually applied for leave to contest the elections and work the ground.

Anonymous said...

is the malay community to be blame for the lost of freedom in singapore? are malay voters willing to give their vote when PAP offered them money? a problem in the future??

Anonymous said...

what's it got to do with the malay voters?

Anonymous said...

i never see a single malay at all WP rallies... why?????50 percent of chinese voted WP... 99 percent malay voted for PAP... we must educate the malay community that vote buying is wrong...

jOlYnNN said...

There's a policy for the malays. I don't know if it should be abolished as this policy was set long long time ago.

Others said that the Muslims are given more benefits than the others One to name, much more subsidies in education.

I'm not trying to discriminate the muslims. However, it's the policy that segregate them from others. And i feel abit of biasness from the government. Maybe some justification could be given but they say, such issue would be a sensitive issue and thus, offensive (in law).

One frend told me that it's a request from the Malaysia's authority that they must be compensated and looked after for. <-- dunno if this is true, maybe someone can verify.

Wonder if they have such subsidy in University? Someone enlighten me? If there's, i wan it for my children too.

Lastly, I'm not discriminating or but I'm on the issue of fairness. Maybe, subsidise the rest too? :)

Anonymous said...

I'm sure at least some blame can be placed on the WP's failure to reach out to the Malay people, no thanks to the language barrier. That aside, You'll find that vote choices are more clearly predicted by looking at how materially comfortable our people are, instead of their skin colour. For those thrashing in the water, a lift or flat upgrade is nearly impossible to resist.

worried said...

how does MM lee know that all young journalists is voting for the opposition ??? next few weeks PAP is going to fix all those young journalists ? is the vote secret?

quzy said...

Interesting account "... when the ballot papers were poured out for counting at Cheng San, there were stacks of 10 to 15 slips that were folded together. He said this was unusual as all ballots were cast singly."

Much has been said about the secrecy of our votes from the ballot box to the counting station to being sealed and stored and eventually incinerated.

But what about the ballot stubs? Who has the right to check if the number of ballot slips cast correspond exactly to the number of persons who voted? That no slips are stuffed into the ballot boxes on the way from polling station to counting station?

Anonymous said...

Jolynnn,
The Malays are not subsidised in school - they don't have to pay school fees all the way to university.

Anonymous said...

unfortunately all those young journalists are being censored by the shameless running dogs like the chua sisters. they have no credibility whatsoever, they are a disgrace to their profession and a disgrace to singapore. no wonder the singapore media is ranked 140th. at least, prostitutes only sell their bodies - these people have sold their souls.

Anonymous said...

Jolynn

Malays are not subsidised on a ethnic basis. The basis criteria is based on household income in which due to predominance in past in the statistics on the lower socioeconomic ladder, they as an ethnic group received the most assistance ie no school fees.Hence, in line with raison de entre'of the government of meritocracy and self-help

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (5/08/2006 11:45:55 AM) said:
"i never see a single malay at all WP rallies... why?????50 percent of chinese voted WP... 99 percent malay voted for PAP... we must educate the malay community that vote buying is wrong... "

wft?! are you saying the malays place material well-being over everything else? pls do not generalise and give simplistic conclusions.

you never see a single malay at wp rally, because you're blind. and since 50% of the chinese voted for pap, do you also need to educate them that vote-buying is wrong??

low thia kiang himself has said that wp lost to pap among the malay voters in aljunied due to wp not having a strong malay candidate, as compared to pap's zainul abidin. this is not an issue about educating "the malay community that vote buying is wrong..." do not give stupid reasons to justify your claims.

- Annoyed

Anonymous said...

Actually, more Malays tend to vote for the opposition than the average Singaporean.

Is it any wonder that the Opposition only contested GRCs in the east and northeast, areas where Malays predominate (think Bedok, Tampines, Geyland, etc). They make up a larger percentage of the population in those GRCs, compared to the rest of Singapore.

And if you look at the situation before the Malays were dispersed from traditionally Malay areas, those areas either voted for the opposition or were very weak PAP wards. Now that Malays have been dispersed (to the benefit of the PAP), we don't have any one place where Malays constitute a large percentage of the population, and its much harder to gauge the PAP's traditional lack of support from the Malays, but its there.

As for the qn of the government subsidising the Malays through school, etc, the reality is that the Govt has a constitutional responsibility "to care for the interests" of the Malays (Specifically Art. 152). Its not a legal obligation, i.e., something which can be sued upon, but just a responsibility and it does not specify how its to be done, only to say that the government should "protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote" the Malays "political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests"

The govt obviously feels that one way to fulfill this responsibility is by subsidising education, and its true that Malays from primary school to jc do not have to pay the (very small) amounts for school fees. These subsudies are automatic, regardless of the means of the Malays. But more importantly, the fees for tertiary education (e.g. poly, university) are not automatically subsidised. In order to obtain them, you are means-tested. Only students whose parents are earning below a certain level of income can receive the subsidy. No doubt this is not open to members of other races who are equally cash-strapped, but I suppose this is one of the ways the govt feels its constitutional responsibility can be fulfilled.

Again, one might say that this is still quite unfair. It is an open qn whether the govt would adopt such subsidies if there was no constitutional responsibility placed on them, but I think we have to recall some sobering statistics, such as how Malays are disproprotionaly represented amongst the poor, how Malays underperform during the national exams, how they are not proportionately represented in the universities, etc to realise that helping the Malays in this one respect (education subsidies) is not really so evil or unfair.

Anonymous said...

Nonetheless, the GRCs should either be scrapped or revert back to the 3 man team.

It's been acknowledge that Malays are mainly less hardworking than the Chinese. No offence but this is the truth.

Anonymous said...

The existence of racists on this blog is very unfortunate. I am not advocating censorship, but freedom of speech does not mean freedom to spread hate speech especially of any ethnic or religious community.

Note also that I am completely disgusted by the view above that posits that one 'racial' category is more or less hardworking than another.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I think a statement such as "its been acknowledged that Malays are mainly less hardworking than the Chinese" cannot be asserted as the (objective?) truth without many qualifications. No doubt you used the qualifier "mainly" but still.

I tried to show (in my previous post) how Malays have underperformed in national exams, compared to the average Singaporean. These are objective facts which can be backed by statistics. Calling a whole ethnic group less or more hardworking is arguably a subjective statement, and cannot be backed by statistics or any other objective facts. It is also doubtful that one can infer from objective facts such as performance during national examinations characteristics such as 'hardworking' or 'lazy'.

In fact, your statement is not helpful at all in the same way that generalisations about WHOLE races and ethnicities are unhelpful. If you are saying that Malays are lazy and therefore should not be helped by govt subsidies since all their problems are 'caused by them', I would say that govt subsidies for primary to jc level are minimal. And I don't think one can say that Malay students who have managed to get entry to poly and university can be said to be lazy, unless you are saying that all students who have entered into poly and university are lazy too. If we can accept that such Malays students, like the average Singapore student who gets into poly and university, are not, in fact, lazy, then your argument that subsidies should be denied to them on account of their laziness must necessarily fall.

Anonymous said...

"It's been acknowledge that Malays are mainly less hardworking than the Chinese. No offence but this is the truth."

- Acknowledged? By whom?
- Malays are mainly less hardworking than Chinese? "Mainly"? How do you define "hardworking"? I presume when you say "mainly" you mean a statistical average? Would you like to show us some evidence then?
- The truth? I find that really insulting, and no I'm not a Malay.

I think it is precisely comments like these from people like you that issues like race have become a touchy political issue.

Before you start pointing fingers start thinking about your own maturity level.

- Really disgusted

But that aside, if you read the press release (regardless of how biased they may be):

"WORKERS' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang says the election results show that Singaporeans are willing to give the opposition a chance and has provided the WP with an incentive to continue engaging the public - especially the young."

I will like to draw attention to the final bit of the sentence. I shall not speculate here, and leave this to each of your own thoughts. Before you all start jumping into conclusions about whether the vote is secret or not.

Anonymous said...

when George Orwell penned his his international best seller 1984 academic around the world said impossible, it could never happen, a figure like BIG BROTHER would never be allowed to exist.

Following the recent GE, and arrest of James Gomes, Singapores,my feeble mindless beings have become living prove that Orwell's far fetched ieas have become reality.

The cast; mini lee is Winston Smith a civil serveant in the Ministry of Truth rewriting history.
Papa lee has become big brother.
I suggest all Singaporeans if they are able to understand the complex plot find a copy of 1984, and read those words.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard about exit polls or others?
Okay, they are forbidden and not conducted in Singapore, but if you just ask around your neighbourhood you might get the feeling that young people are more resistant to biased propaganda, hence less voters for PAP.

Anonymous said...

Not sure whether the past balloting procedure is the same as now but below voting procedure is extracted from WP's pamphlet bought from the rally site (page 4 of MITA (P) No. 134/09/2005 Issue No. 05/01):

Quote

Your Vote is Secret
-------------------

1) A voter queues for his/her turn to vote. the returning officer will then call out the name and NRIC number of the voter and verify his/her identity. He will then present the voter with a ballot paper. The voter will then proceed to the balloting booth to cast his vote.

Calling out the voter's name and NRIC in public will enable the polling agents of the WP and PAP at the polling centre to note and to prevent the same voter from attempting to vote more than once. The serial numbers behind the ballots are there to ensure that every ballot paper is accounted for, so as to prevent the possibility of any fraud.

2) After the polling has closed, all the ballot boxes are then be sealed with specially made security seals in the presence of the polling agents from all the contesting parties. The boxes are then transported under police surveillance to the designated counting centres, witnessed by the representatives of the contesting parties.

How do you know your vote is countered?
---------------------------------------------
3) Upon reaching the designated counting centres, the counting agents from the WP and PAP will gather at the main counting area, with the counters (civil servants from different govt depts) sitting at open counting tables. The counting agents will then inspect the ballot boxes and when they are opened and the ballots poured out onto the counting tables,under the close supervision of the counting agents. (Counting agents are not allowed to touch the ballot papers.)

4) The counting of the votes then begins. The counters will stack the voting slips on the counting table. Each candidate will have his/her own stacks, in bundles of 100 votes each. Spoilt votes and disputable votes will be placed aside.

5) Upon completion of the counting process, a tabulation of the votes is done at the counting tables. If any of the counting agents is dissatisfied witht he initial count, he or she can request for a recount. Otherwise, the returning officer will do the final tabulation of the results and declare the winner of the electoral contest.

What will happen to the Ballot papers after the Election?
------------------------------------------------------------------

6) After this, all the ballot papers, including the unused ballot papers, will be tallied against the total number issued per constitutency. Then together with the voting and counting documetns, they are then gathered and placed into the boxes, in the presence of the counting agents from all the contesting parties. The boxes are then sealed with the specially made security seals, which are temper proof. In addition, counting agents may sign their names over the seals to further reinforce the secrecy of the ballots.

7) Once the sealing and signing are done, the boxes are then transported under police escort to the Supreme Court Valult for a storage period of 6 months and the key to the vault is handed to a judge. During this period, the document can only be retrieved by court order.

Six months later, representatives from contesting parties will be invited to witness the destruction of the ballots. The WP representative has always been present to inspect and ensure that the seals are intact. He will also follow the ballot boxes all the way to the incinerator to witness the whole destruction process.

Unquote

Anonymous said...

Not all the young journalists are anti-pap, some are hardcore PAP dogs. Peh Shing Huei for example is a young running dog and bootlicker. His father is Peh Chin Hua, an ex-PAP mp.

Anonymous said...

Are they 'FIXING' James Gomez coz HE SEEMS SMART n a POTENTIAL CANDIDATE that might THREATHEN them?

so no one capable enough can complete with them mah. No wonder hard to get capable person to join Opposition!

Anonymous said...

"so no one capable enough can complete with them mah. No wonder hard to get capable person to join Opposition!"

excellent english, mate.

Eugene Wee said...

"I suggest all Singaporeans if they are able to understand the complex plot find a copy of 1984, and read those words."
The novel is online at:
http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/

Though I do not see how PM Lee can be cast as Winston Smith.

Anonymous said...

Literature can be a powerful tool, but I hope it will not be misused. Do not equate real-life personalities to characters in a book; you can draw similarities if you want but the context is entirely different.

And Peh Shing Huei is as entitled to his political inclination as everyone here. Just as many of us squirm in our seats when we hear MM Lee calling Gomez a "liar", my reaction is no lesser when you starting calling someone a "dog".

Anonymous said...

http://www.pathfinder.com/asiaweek/features/power50.2001/p44.html

Anonymous said...

http://www.pathfinder.com/asiaweek/features/power50.2001/p30.html

Anonymous said...

To all WP supporter here, I hope it is not just talk and no action. I have subscribed to their newsletter for $20 (very afforable) as means of contributing to their funds. As my work requires me to fly overseas at least once a month, I am not sure whether I have time to join as a volunteer in their youth wing or something. I will do so when my work load loosen up. Anyway, my point is, if you guys really feels strongly about supporting WP or any other opposition parties, please take action and not just make lotsa post here but end of the day just go back to daily life. For ppl who has already some form of actions, you have my respect. WP has open house every monday (check out on their website) so do check it out if you are interested to know more.

To be fair, I would recommend PAP supporters to do likewise. If you strongly believe in one political party and hopes to make a difference, please take action. Though I am a WP supporter, what saddens me is not so much of whether WP lost Aljunie or Ang Mo Kio or that sort. It is the lack of participation nation-wide that makes me feel like I am living in a country where no-one cared enough to take action. Out of the TOTAL voters, how many bothers to even just go and listen to rallies (be it opposition or PAP) even they are free or have means to do so? How many bothers to just download their manifestoes and read it despite having internet access and being educated?