No coup

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 March, 1999, 12:00am

The letter from Chan Heng Wing headlined 'Treasuring harmony' (Sunday Morning Post, March 7) nicely illustrates the kind of abuse that genuine opposition figures are subjected to in Singapore. Let me address one point raised in the Consul-General of Singapore's letter.

Mr Chan writes that 'Dr Chee [Chee Soon Juan] ousted his mentor, Chiam See Tong, as leader of the SDP', which seems to suggest that Dr Chee led a coup against Mr Chiam. As a matter of fact, Mr Chiam voluntarily resigned as Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) following Dr Chee's hunger strike. Mr Chiam subsequently attacked the SDP's Central Executive Committee (CEC) in public and the party established a disciplinary committee which voted 12-2 to expel Mr Chiam. Mr Chiam then took this matter to court and the court directed that he be re-instated as a member of the party on the grounds of a procedural error. Judge Khoo, however, specifically rejected allegations (by Mr Chiam) of bad faith or bias on the part of the CEC. He also observed that Mr Chiam had brought his troubles upon himself.

The deeper issue at stake involves choosing between two kinds of oppositional politics in Singapore. Some members of the 'opposition' - the kind that gets quoted in letters by representatives of the government - work closely within parameters set by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). They never question the government's good faith or the overall direction of the government. 'Opposition' takes the form of polite ('constructive') criticism of particular legislation proposed by the PAP.

Other members of the opposition like Dr Chee do not play the game according to PAP rules. Dr Chee's public talk last December, for example, questioned the use of funds by the Government Investment Corporation (GIC), a S$100 billion corporation headed by Lee Kuan Yew that does not have to report to Parliament. Dr Chee also questioned the government's dealings with military dictators and drug dealers in Burma. Needless to say, the government does not take kindly to this form of opposition. Rather than respond to the substance of the criticisms, however, the PAP replies with ugly personal attacks, jailings, and lawsuits for 'defamation'.

DANIEL A. BELL Associate Professor Department of Philosophy University of Hong Kong