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#41: Watch out, here come the Political Uncles.

Kirsten Han
Kirsten Han
4 min read

A very Happy Lunar New Year 新年快乐 to all who celebrate it!

I’m writing this newsletter while on the way home on a Friday night—typing this out on my phone as I walk to/ride the bus. It makes me sound extremely hardworking, but the actual reason is that I’m addicted to a Chinese TV drama (for those who must know, it’s 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦 a.k.a. The Story of Ming Lan, you’re welcome) and I’m trying to find ways to eke out as much free time as possible at home to binge watch.

Let’s get to it because that OTP isn't going to watch itself.

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Because last week’s issue focused solely on the HIV registry data leak, I’m going to pick up on other newsworthy developments over the past two weeks in this issue. (It works out since the Lunar New Year break means there hasn't been as much big news this week.)

Let’s talk politics

Everyone I know thinks the general election is going to be called this year, so it only makes sense to start with the politics.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock, the former PAP MP who is now registering the new Progress Singapore Party, held his Lunar New Year open house this past week. It was Opposition Politician Central, prompting speculation of more cooperation between Singapore’s opposition parties. Don't forget that, post the Malaysian election, the idea of a coalition led by Tan was floated. Mahathir turned politics on its head in Malaysia, and now Singapore has our own Doc wading into the fray.

I’m not convinced this is our tsunami rakyat moment, but it’s one to watch. The PAP isn't exactly looking its best right now, creating an opportunity for a well put-together, credible opposition to take the ruling party down a peg or two (or three?)

Tan’s team contains former PAP cadres; while that means that it’s kind of an Uncle Posse right now, it also means he’s got guys with experience in walking the ground and all the political manoeuvring that comes with fighting an election. Tan also has the endorsement of Lee Hsien Yang, second son of the House of Lee. Not only has Lee described Tan as the “leader Singapore deserves” on Facebook, the two have been breakfasting again. This time, they had breakfast at a hawker centre in Ang Mo Kio, the GRC that’s Big Brother Lee Hsien Loong’s stronghold. They even went on a short walkabout in LHL’s ward. And they ate mee siam, the noodle dish so remembered as being the subject of a 2006 food #fail by the prime minister that it’s even the title of a compilation of the “darndest things our politicians say”.

Paggro breakfasting at its finest.

Other movements are afoot, too. The Singapore Democratic Party is kicking off their election campaigning later this month. Benjamin Pwee, who has led the Democratic Progressive Party for six years, has left DPP for a bigger party. He won't tell us which party that is yet, but says “has a much more longstanding, recognisable and credible senior leader” with “parliamentary experience and a good strong and wide support base”. He might as well have said, “I’m not going to tell you which party it is, but their leader’s name rhymes with Fun Keng Jock.”

Simi bicentennial

Last week was also the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore, and the beginning of our colonisation. Lee Hsien Loong, who hadn’t said anything publicly about the death of Aloysius Pang or the leaking of personal information of people living with HIV (as far as I’ve seen—please correct me if I’m wrong so I can add the links to next week’s issue!), emerged to give a speech that engaged in some blatant rewriting of history, as I detailed in this Twitter thread.

Over at New Naratif, we marked the bicentennial by publishing this lecture by Dr Thum Ping Tjin at the University of Cambridge, and also releasing our latest episode of Political Agenda focusing on colonialism in Singapore.

Anti-discrimination law now pls

In the wake of the leak of PLHIV’s confidential information, civil society groups have called for anti-discrimination legislation to protect people who have had their HIV status outed against their will. The Ministry of Manpower says that, under the Employment Act, PLHIV can’t be fired on the grounds of their HIV+ status. But this TODAY article opens with someone who was fired because his employer found out about his HIV status and said that he hadn’t been truthful about his medical status when applying for the job. Now, MOM is still right because in this case the guy didn’t get fired because of his HIV status per se, but it does demonstrate how the lack of anti-discrimination law that would prevent employers from asking about someone’s HIV status (even if it has nothing to do with the job) could trap PLHIV in an impossible situation: damned if they do disclose their status while applying for jobs, and damned if they don’t disclose it and get outed later.


About the neighbours...

This week I want to draw your attention to this story about children living with HIV in Samosir Regency in North Sumatra. Because of the stigma against people living with HIV, these kids are expected to spend their childhood in quarantine, isolated from other children and the rest of the community. It shows us how difficult it can be to overcome myths and prejudices about HIV, while highlighting the love, care, and hope that come from the good people who are now devoted to these children.

Over in the Philippines, the Department of Justice has filed cyber libel charges against Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa for a story written almost seven years ago, before the cyber libel law had even been enacted. It’s a ridiculous assault on press freedom, and I’m constantly in awe of how Maria keeps her head up and just keeps moving on. In solidarity with Maria and Rappler! #HoldTheLine

Weekly Wraps