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The election countdown clock ⏰ begins

Issue 71

What was I saying about it being quiet last week? It’s kicked off this week—I don’t even know which news item I want to lead with first…

Lee Hsien Loong vs. Terry Xu/TOC

Here we go again—the prime minister is feeding his defamation lawsuit habit. This time, he has his sights set on The Online Citizen. On 1 September Lee Hsien Loong’s Press Secretary sent Terry a letter saying that he had repeated libellous claims made by LHL’s younger siblings. The letter demanded that Terry take down the article and post on Facebook, and issue an unconditional apology.

In his response, Terry took the position that the article was not defamatory and constituted fair comment. He therefore chose not to comply with the demand, and now Davinder Singh Chambers LLC has served him with a Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim.

Things to keep in mind (in no particular order):
1) Why did the prime minister’s press secretary send that first letter? A defamation suit is a civil matter; why did Lee Hsien Loong get a civil servant to send the letter for him rather than his private lawyers?
2) Lee Hsien Loong did not sue his own siblings when they made those allegations, because he said that it would further besmirch the family name. Then why sue TOC/Terry for referencing and repeating what the siblings said? The siblings claims are still out there on Facebook—LHL didn’t even ask them to take it down. So why come down so hard on Terry when he wasn’t actually the source?

It’s election time

And here we go… the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee has been convened, and is “in the midst of its deliberations”. Problematically, the Committee reports to the Prime Minister and is being chaired by his secretary. Why isn’t the Committee an independent body? 😫

This has kicked off speculation about when the next election is going to be. Of course all this rampant guessing is ridiculous considering that we’re all at the mercy of Lee Hsien Loong here, who has the power to call the election whenever he wants after the EBRC’s report is out. It’s worth noting that the press release from the Elections Department didn’t say that the EBRC had just been convened, but that they had already been convened and were in the middle of deliberations, so they might not have that much longer to go before they decide on the new electoral boundaries.

(That crackly sound you hear is the sound of me scratching all proposed travel plans out of my diary from end of October onwards, just in case.)

There’s also been plenty of political analysis and developments this past week. I’m going to, of course, start with Sudhir Vadaketh’s piece on New Naratif, profiling Dr Tan Cheng Bock and his Progress Singapore Party, asking a very important question: is the Doctor presenting a vision for Singapore’s future, or a nostalgia for the past? Also on TCB and the PSP is Michael Barr looking at how they’re appealing to a particular segment of voters who are generally satisfied with the status quo but unhappy with the current crop of political leaders.

On another party front, the Singapore People’s Party is electing a new Central Executive Committee next month. Will Chiam See Tong still remain Secretary-General? There are hints that there’ll be changes, and so there should be, particularly in the light of Chiam’s age and health. He’s served Singapore long enough and done enough—someone else take the reins! It won’t be Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss, though, because she’s decided to leave the party.

Finally, Loke Hoe Yeong, author of the recently launched book The First Wave: JBJ, Chiam, and the Opposition in Singapore, said that an opposition coalition can’t just be a “coalition of losers” for the next election—they’ve got to get the Workers’ Party, the only other party in Parliament right now.

Amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill was first read on 2 September (you have to read the amendments alongside the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act). One major change is the requirement for disclosure of large foreign donations, which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Then there's changes made to restraining orders, and also consolidating Penal Code laws related to wounding religious feelings under the Act. There’s also the proposed introduction of restraining orders (to be made by Ministers) that would require people to take down content considered to be inflammatory—this would be the one that makes my ears prick up the most.

Still got some more…

A man has plead guilty to one charge of causing alarm under the Protection from Harassment Act after he was arrested in 2017 for placing a toy grenade near the entrance of the Clarke Quay MRT station, closest to Hong Lim Park. He’d been unhappy about the protesters gathered there to protest against the reserved presidential election.

Only 8% of 2 million public government records are searchable online. We’ve got to do better with access to information and the archives.

Vote in Stage 2 of New Naratif’s Citizens’ Agenda!

Thank you to everyone who responded to Stage 1 of New Naratif’s Citizens’ Agenda! We received 447 responses, which have been summarised into 28 broad issues which you can check out here. Now we’re inviting people to vote in Stage 2: pick what you think are the top five issues out of this 28! This will help guide our coverage and approach to the Singapore elections.

Don’t forget Kashmir

This isn’t about Singapore and is a little further out than the usual “About the Neighbours” section, but I think it’s important that people know about this:

Right now, Indian-administered Kashmir is now in the middle of an internet shutdown and communications blackout. The Indian government has also abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, scrapping the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which means that the region is now under direct Indian government rule and people from outside of the area can now buy property in Kashmir (so they’re expecting demographic changes in the Muslim-majority area).

An internet shutdown and communications blackout might sound very academic to those of us who are addicted to our smartphones and so used to being connected to the rest of the world all the time. It’s miserable to imagine: once you’re outside of Kashmir, you have little to no way of finding out how your friends and family are doing. Information comes in scraps, sometimes incomplete, sometimes hard to verify. Even people within the area don’t necessarily know what’s happening in the next neighbourhood. This is scary and isolating for most people, but especially so for the already marginalised, such as LGBT Kashmiris.

The blackout also makes it more difficult to report. So while pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are receiving plenty of coverage in the international press and on social media, there’s a lot less said about the struggle and protests in Kashmir. But you can still read reports on platforms like Al Jazeera English.