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Solidarity, Singapore-style: Crowdfunding as a mode of protest

Thanks to a kind supporter of the newsletter who helped me get over my kiam siap ways, we now have a legit custom URL: This is the first time WTC has ever had its own domain; it suddenly feels like this whole thing has really levelled up. 😎

To match the shiny new URL, I’ve also been tinkering around with Ghost and themes, so if you check out the WTC page you’ll see that it’s now prettier than the default template I was using before.

Covid-19 Update

It wasn’t possible for Singaporeans to choose what Covid-19 vaccine to get before; you just booked your slot and got whatever you got. That’s changing. The government now says that you can choose what you want to get jabbed with. The only two vaccines currently approved are Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. This website will tell you which vaccination centres are offering each vaccine, so you can book your slot at a centre offering the vaccine of your choice. You can register for vaccination here (it’s currently open to those 45 and above); if you have special circumstances and want to appeal for early vaccination, check this page out.

Crowdfunding as solidarity protest

In last week’s wrap, I wrote about Roy Ngerng crowdfunding the remaining S$144,000 in damages that he has to pay to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, for a defamation case that concluded years ago. He hit his target yesterday morning, with 2,097 people chipping in to raise S$144,389.14. You can check out the breakdown of donors and donations in this meticulously kept Google Sheet.

“After 7 long years, you have come together to help me cross this hurdle, and move on into a next chapter of my life. I cannot thank you enough,” he wrote in his Facebook post.

Roy’s success comes soon after Leong Sze Hian also successfully crowdfunded S$133,000 to cover the damages the court ordered him to pay for defaming Lee Hsien Loong by sharing a link on Facebook. (I wrote for Rest of World about the implications of this case on online freedom of expression in Singapore.) These crowdfunding campaigns are a way for Singaporeans—whose options for political organising and collective action are generally limited—to show solidarity and signal either support for an individual, or displeasure over excessive penalties or bullying. During Roy’s crowdfunding campaign, for instance, there were people who said that they weren't fans of his blog, and had disagreed with him on many points before, but were nevertheless urging their friends and family to contribute to the fundraising effort as a way to send a message to Lee Hsien Loong that enough is enough.

It’s heartening to see Singaporeans take a stand like this; every opportunity for us to practise showing solidarity is important. As a tactic, though, crowdfunding campaigns are still rather limited. In these cases, for instance, the money is still being paid to Lee Hsien Loong, and we continue to have this legal precedent of public leaders being granted higher damages in defamation suits related to their integrity than other people would be able to get. This is what paragraph 38 of the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 34 says:

“[…] concerning the content of political discourse, the Committee has observed that in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures in the political domain and public institutions, the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high. Thus, the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties, albeit public figures may also benefit from the provisions of the Covenant. Moreover, all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition. Accordingly […] laws should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned.”

Crowdfunding might not be a sustainable tactic because we can expect donor fatigue to set in, especially if there continue to be more cases of dissidents or activists needing to raise money to pay off damages or fines. As it is, Leong Sze Hian is now back to crowdfunding because, apart from the damages, Lee Hsien Loong is now seeking almost S$130,000 from him to cover legal fees and disbursements.

So my point is: keep showing support to these crowdfunding campaigns for as long as you can, but we also need to find more tactics and strategies to stand together and challenge unjust systems and structures.

Chatting about Singapore’s political leadership issues

There's lots of interest in where the ruling PAP is at in terms of figuring out its succession plans, and we've gone off the deep end when it comes to reading tea leaves, as you can see:

Last night I experimented with Twitter Spaces with political scientists Ian Chong and Elvin Ong, as well as Liyana Dhamirah of Red Dot United, to talk about this issue. We talked about how the PAP leadership selection process works—basically, no one really knows—and got a little crash course on the PAP cadre system. We also talked about whether it's beneficial for the public to have more transparency into how political parties pick their leaders, and why. There was some veering into Game of Thrones analogies, but also comments about personal and civic values. All in all, it was good fun! Hopefully we'll be able to get to do another Twitter Space (or maybe Telegram group voice chat?) soon. This could be a nice complement to democracy classrooms in the era of Covid-19.

By the way, here are the results of last week's poll on who you think Singapore's next PM is going to be:

Can Singapore be part of the #MilkTeaAlliance?

Last Thursday night, I participated in another Twitter Space, talking about the #MilkTeaAlliance with activists working on issues in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Myanmar, etc.

The #MilkTeaAlliance is a movement that's emerged online, bringing together Asian activists fighting authoritarianism in a range of contexts. It started with Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Thailand, but has now expanded to include countries like Myanmar, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

The conversation made me think about where Singapore can come in on all this. #MilkTeaAlliance hasn't got much traction in Singapore at all, even though it's something that should be really relevant to us. After all, Singapore has an outsized role in this region, we're actively complicit in some of the authoritarianism elsewhere (see: Myanmar), and we have our own struggles for democracy and civil liberties.

Does the #MilkTeaAlliance concept resonate with you? Would you like to see Singapore "join" (it's a very loose and decentralised thing, so it's not like there's an actual membership process) this movement? Click to vote below:

✅ Yes, Singapore should be in the #MilkTeaAlliance!
❌ No, I don't see what it has to do with us.
🤷🏻‍♀️ I don't know enough about the #MilkTeaAlliance to know either way.