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A new answer to the succession question

Happy Easter to all who commemorate!

I haven’t woken up consistently early to an alarm clock ever since I left school. This past week, though, I started getting up early and going for a jog/walk at 7am. I am proud (and mildly surprised) to report that I haven’t keeled over yet. I’ve also started eating my vegetables and did not eat crisps or stay up late this week. Perhaps I’m finally becoming an adult?

Finally, the 4G has made up its mind

After yonks of speculation, anointing Heng Swee Keat, aborting Heng Swee Keat’s (East Coast) Plan, then more speculation, we finally have an answer to the PAP succession question (again). Lawrence Wong, the current Minister for Finance and co-chair of the multi-ministerial taskforce on Covid-19, is the new chosen one. Lee Hsien Loong announced this last night on Singapore’s main site of political discourse, Facebook. Similarly, Wong also took to Facebook to indicate all the right sorts of emotions, i.e. “humbled” and “grateful”. Both Lee and Wong made a point in their FB posts to emphasise that “the right to lead cannot be inherited”.

A whole bunch of PAP ministers posted congratulatory messages on their Facebook pages, including Ong Ye Kung and Chan Chun Sing, both of whom were also meant to be contenders for the spot.

What do you think about Lawrence Wong, Future PM? (click to vote!)
🙂 Satisfied
☹️ Not satisfied
🙄 Not convinced that it actually matters

Over the years, I’ve been asked lots and lots of times who I think the next PM will be. When this happens, I try to give my best guess, but the truth is that I never really gave that much serious thought to it, because I don’t see the PAP deviating meaningfully from its current attitudes, assumptions, and myths, regardless of who the 4G leader might be. 🤷🏻‍♀️ Of course, I’m totally up for being pleasantly surprised by Wong — maybe we’ll finally have a Cabinet that’ll advise the President to grant clemency to death row prisoners? — but I’m not holding my breath.

A new police command focusing on sexual violence

The Sexual Crime and Family Violence Command, staffed by officers with specialised training in handling sexual and/or family violence cases, will be set up by next year. We’ve also got a new charity/GONGO (Government-Organised/Sponsored Non-Governmental Organisation), SG Her Empowerment, which will provide pro bono legal advice to victim-survivors.

This announcement comes after the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development was passed in Parliament last week. During the parliamentary debate, it was also mentioned that women and their children might have the option to move to a temporary shelter right away if frontline responders are of the opinion that there is a threat of violence in her home.

Gender equality organisation AWARE has said that they are “happy” about this new police command in putting the issue of sexual violence front and centre. But a previous statement also pointed out gaps in the White Paper, saying that “the White Paper makes almost no mention of other communities who face their own sets of challenges, such as migrant domestic workers, migrant spouses, religious and ethnic minorities, and LBT [lesbian, bisexual and transgender] women.”

I don’t have any problem with more trauma-sensitive police officers — since many women have already reported that this is a horrible problem they encounter when trying to lodge reports — but the more I work with the Transformative Justice Collective, the more I’m thinking about responses and solutions that don’t involve the police and the criminal punishment system, which focuses on punitive approaches that inflict suffering as revenge, but rarely repairs the harms that have been caused or meets survivors’ needs.

Instead, I’d like to invite readers of this newsletter to consider the work that’s already been done, in multiple contexts, in accordance with principles and practices of restorative and transformative justice. Here’s a resource briefly explaining transformative justice and restorative justice. And here’s a piece by a restorative justice facilitator talking about her work on sexual violence cases. For those who would like to learn more, there’s also an upcoming event on 27 April hosted by the Barnard Center for Research on Women on transformative justice responses to sexual violence on campus (since it’s held in the US, you’ll have to tune in at 7am in Singapore). These are North American resources that I’m sharing, because this is still very new to Singapore and we don’t have a body of our own resources to share yet (there are TJC volunteers working on this!), but I hope that they nevertheless provide something for everyone to chew on and think about how things could be different if we didn’t always immediately think about law enforcement, incarceration and punishment as the first ports of call for addressing harms.

More dystopia!

While we're on the subject of policing... Singapore continues to go all-in on the tech-bro solutionism. This article outlines some of the new tech that's being developed by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency: contactless lie detectors, "automated profiling" carried out by picking up facial expressions and movements like blinking, automatic urine collection and testing. It starts with a long hypothetical scenario (which looks like it was fed to the journalist by the agency themselves), that paints a picture of a hyper-accurate, hyper-efficient system. What's not at all acknowledged, though, is that Artificial Intelligence is far from perfect and reliable, and is known to reproduce existing discrimination and create problematic feedback loops. There are also concerns about how, as police forces shift towards tech, human oversight gets eroded. Also, the scenario presented in the article doesn't mention a thing about people suspected of committing offences getting access to legal counsel before they are put through all this questioning and recorded by all these cameras and sensors.

Pro-Russia and pro-China sentiment on the war in Ukraine

I’ve already talked about this issue in previous issues, but would like to flag new stuff:

Here’s an article looking at pro-Russia disinformation on Twitter among users in Singapore and the Philippines. A quote:

While governments look into the prospect of hostile information campaigns against their respective countries, it is also important to consider the deeper drivers behind why such campaigns find resonance within certain segments of society. A stark similarity amongst the tweets in Singapore and the Philippines is its heavy focus on framing the narratives around anti-American sentiments. Amongst the 1,961 tweets identified from Singapore- and Philippines-based Twitter accounts, 838 of them mentioned the terms ‘US’, ‘USA’, ‘America’ or ‘American’. A substantial majority of these tweets carried anti-American sentiments. Analysts have highlighted how Russia seems to have masterfully curated their narratives to tap on ‘existing anti-Western messages’ that have appeal in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The goal here is to convert this reservoir of anti-Western sentiment into goodwill and support for Russia.

Associate Professor Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore, talks to The Straits Times in this podcast on pro-Russia/China talking points that proliferate in Singapore. It’s really worth a listen, unpacking the vague, hand-wavy concepts of “the West” and “Asia”, and prompting us to think more about the complexities of geopolitical relationships and political motivations.

Last one: some resources from here!

Got some more...

Just one this week. Please read this Facebook post by Kokila Annamalai, about Nagaenthran, the Court of Appeal dismissing his applications, and the shifting rules about who he does or doesn't get to speak to after court hearings.

Checking in on the neighbours

🇲🇲 It's Thingyan in Myanmar and people are bravely defying the military junta by staging protests. Activists are also calling on people to boycott traditional celebrations as a way to demonstrate that things are not "back to normal".

🇵🇭 The Philippine presidential election is coming up 9 May 2022. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the corrupt dictator Ferdinand Marcos, is actually doing well. The Washington Post takes a look at disinformation and historical whitewashing online.

Signal-boosting this! There's not much time left so head over today or tomorrow.

Thank you for reading this week! As always, please help me spread the word about this newsletter by sharing it widely.