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Well, that didn't go well for the Workers' Party MPs

Issue 76

Happy Saturday! If you’re in town this afternoon I’ll be moderating a discussion with Liyana Dhamirah and her co-author Manisha about their book Homeless at Kinokuniya, 2pm. See you there!


The High Court has found three WP Members of Parliament liable for damages suffered by two town councils—Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council. The court said that Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim had breached their fiduciary duties to the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, while Pritam Singh was found to have breached his “duties of skill and care”. The exact quantum of compensation that the town councils are entitled to hasn’t been decided yet, but the three could owe some of the S$33.7 million (wah lau eh) in claims by the two town councils. On their website, In Good Faith, the three say that they’re reviewing the judgment and will share more later.

POFMA’s in effect, but are these clarifications under POFMA?

POFMA came into effect on 2 October. The ominously named POFMA Office has been set up. There’s also a good initiative that’s popped up: the POFMA Watch blog, that’ll attempt to monitor the way that POFMA is used.

Three ministries have piled on The Online Citizen in two days, accusing chief editor of Terry Xu of spreading falsehoods. But POFMA Watch says that Terry didn’t make some of the assertions that he’s accused of making. It’s also not clear if anything is going to happen to TOC beyond these clarifications—are they going to charge him under Part 2 of the law, or are they just going to leave it as clarifications on their Facebook pages? 🤔

Related and worth reading: Cherian George’s speech on disinformation, delivered at Columbia Journalism School a day after POFMA came into effect.

Movements on the LGBT front

Section 377A is going to be challenged in the courts again—this November, three men have filed cases against the law that criminalises sex between men. The challenges filed claim that Section 377A is consistent with Singapore’s Constitution.

Separately, amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act have been approved by Parliament, and there’s cause for some happiness among the LGBT community and their allies: new provisions make it an offence to knowingly urge violence, based on religious grounds, against a group of people based on, among other things, their sexual orientation. Congratulations to Sayoni and allies for their advocacy!

On poetry and disloyalty

Speaking in Parliament about the cancellation of the “Dissent and Resistance” programme at Yale-NUS, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung made some alarming comments, quoting selectively from Alfian Sa’at’s poem Singapore You Are Not My Country to question Alfian’s love for the country and suggest that he was being disloyal to the nation. Ong also essentially suggested that universities not deal with activists like Jolovan Wham, Seelan Palay, PJ Thum or myself. 😳 I would really recommend reading his speech in full. It’s part of a series of attacks suggesting that critics of the ruling party are unpatriotic. Thankfully, there’s been some pushback in support of Alfian.

Another piece worth reading again: Teo You Yenn’s piece, Speaking out of turn.

Come join the next democracy classroom!

New Naratif’s next democracy classroom will be on 18 October, and we’ll be discussing youth activism. It’s an especially timely topic now, especially given Ong Ye Kung’s comments, while Nominated Members of Parliament like Anthea Indira Ong have spoken for youth activism.  Get your ticket (we’re running out) to join the conversation!

As part of the move to connect my two babies—this newsletter + New Naratif—I’m incorporating a “this week on New Naratif” section at the end of every issue. It’ll replace the “About the neighbours…” section because, let’s be real, I kept linking to NN articles in that section anyway. 😅 Also, Milo Peng Funders of this newsletter get a discount code for New Naratif membership!

This week on New Naratif, we released the results of The Citizens’ Agenda: out of a list of 28 issues, our Singaporean community voted for Transparency & Accountability as the most important issue in Singapore today. Check out the results here.

We also published a piece from Indonesia with beautiful, evocative portraits of women who had been caught up in the anti-Communist purge in the 1960s. Even though the prison camps they’d been held in have now been converted into shopping complexes or tourist attractions, these women still have their memories and stories to tell. You can read about them in English and Bahasa Indonesia.

Another one from Indonesia, this time from the Aru Islands: I love this story that brings up issues of trade, migration, ancestry, heritage, love, marriage, history and state policy. Read it in English and Bahasa Indonesia.

Our fortnightly podcast, Southeast Asia Dispatches, is back! Episode 18 (following on from the Road To Raqqa two-part special) brings you segments from Timor Leste, Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

You might notice that some of the New Naratif links have banners above the header image saying that I’ve gifted the article to you; while New Naratif has a paywall, members have unique member URLs that they can share with anyone they want, anywhere, anytime. It’s our way of balancing access to information with reminding people that such work needs to be paid for—please support our work (longform journalism, research articles, comics, podcasts, events like the democracy classroom) by becoming a member of New Naratif!