28 Feb 2007

The Politics of Dr Chee's City Arrest

Why is the Singapore government intent on preventing Dr Chee from leaving the country even though the Opposition Politician has time and again shown clear indication that he will return to the country?

According to the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) website, his 12 applications to travel overseas, including, a trip to visit his ailing father-in-law have all been rejected. The remaining 11 overseas trips include events of international scale such as the World Movement for Democracy 4th Assembly in Istanbul; Meeting of the International Steering Committee of the NGO Process of the Community of Democracies in New York City, US; Liberal International Congress, in Marrakesh, Morocco; and Working Group Meeting of the Community of Democracies in Rome, Italy.

One of the reasons could be punitive. This is in addition to the various prison sentences that Dr Chee has to serve for challenging the powers to be. This is clearly an example of the authoritarian regime flexing its powers and using Dr Chee as an example to other Singaporeans of what they are capable of if they dare to challenge its authority.

The other possibility is the PAP's government aversion to negative publicity; and an effort to contain such attempts. When Dr Chee goes abroad to spread the word that the PAP government is anti-democratic in forums such as the 4th Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy, it has to take action to reduce the adverse impact. By restricting his physical presence within Singapore, the regime prevents him from establishing useful overseas contacts. Within Singapore, it has the local media in its bidding to contain such acts by denouncing SDP and Dr Chee as publicity stunt seeking; or that he is not interested in the welfares of Singaporeans but only keen to seek foreign support. Through such measures, PAP hopes to reduce the negative impact to its image.

The Singapore government also recognises that limiting bad publicity is only part of the equation to the public relations war. It is insufficient to salvage its reputation as a model of "Asian democracy". As such, it seeks, like what Dr Chee has done, by wooing foreign actors to bolster its reputation as a "modern, open and yet distinctly Asian democratic society". These ventures include setting up the Singapore International Foundation, hosting the IMF World Bank Meeting and the upcoming International Bar Association Annual Conference.

The problem with such containment and counter- efforts are that they do not work well over a long period of time. Overseas actors including businesses, and political organisations will become more sceptical of the Singapore government and look through the hollowness of its ruse.

Every effort at imprisoning or preventing Dr Chee from leaving the country only serves to make the government appear more heavy-handed. Every attempt to host an international event which tries to sell Singapore as a "contemporary Asian democracy" will only serve to make them look otherwise.

to comment