National Service: why we need a deeper discussion

Dear friends and readers, I just published my very first article for Jom, the new Singapore magazine that I’ve just co-founded. Memories of National Service always fill me with mixed feelings. I made some of my best friends there, but also saw lots of pain and suffering. Read “National Service: why we need a deeper discussion” on Jom now. And if you’re ready, do subscribe … Continue reading National Service: why we need a deeper discussion

The battle over Lee Kuan Yew’s last will

This is my final piece on this site. From now on, please follow my work at Jom, a weekly digital magazine covering arts, culture, politics, business, technology and more in Singapore.


Lee Kuan Yew wanted his entire house at 38 Oxley Road demolished—nothing else—but he was aware that it might not be.

My formulation is the product of over a year’s worth of research by our team into the two competing narratives proffered by his feuding children: Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, on the one side; and Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, executors of the estate, on the other.

It puts Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking between the two, albeit certainly closer to the executors’.

Furthermore, based on the available evidence, it is my belief that, although mistakes may have been made by some of them, the following people have been unfairly judged in this matter by their respective public critics: Ho Ching and Lee Suet Fern, Lee Kuan Yew’s daughters-in-law; as well as Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang.

There are still lingering questions in my mind about Lee Hsien Loong’s chosen path of engagement, specifically his decision not to query his father’s thinking (and possible foul play regarding the will) in court, as might have been expected, but instead to cooperate with (and thus endorse) a private investigation by the Ministerial Committee on 38 Oxley Road (MC). The committee’s formation and findings are, in my view, problematic.

These arguments are substantiated in an e-book that is available here for free (click to download the PDF), and for which this essay is meant to serve as a synopsis and entry-point.

Continue reading “The battle over Lee Kuan Yew’s last will”

Jom, our new media outfit

Dear friends and readers, Thanks for all your support these past years! As some of you know, I have, along with Charmaine Poh and Tsen-Waye Tay, recently co-founded Jom, a new media outfit. Jom will be a weekly digital magazine covering arts, culture, politics, business, technology and more in Singapore. I am slowly winding down my writing elsewhere, and will soon be writing only for … Continue reading Jom, our new media outfit

The politics of repeal

Many in Singapore cheered the sight of Henry Kwek, a People’s Action Party (PAP) politician, at last week’s Pink Dot. It was apparently the first time in 14 years that a ruling party politician had attended the event.

In another picture Jamus Lim, a Workers’ Party (WP) politician there in his personal capacity, is seen next to an attendee carrying a placard, “Change starts now”.

The sight of these two politicians there is remarkable because one of the things the PAP and WP have hitherto agreed on is that there will be no change, both seemingly content with the status quo: the maintenance of the S377A law that criminalises sex between men accompanied by a sort of legally contentious *wink wink* caveat that the cops won’t enforce it (an oddity in this supposedly “rules-based” society). 

At least the PAP and the WP have been clear about their positions. The two other major parties, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), have not. (The SDP called for repeal as far back as 2007 but in recent years has appeared to dodge the issue.)

So why was Kwek there? Rumours suggest that the PAP has decided to repeal S377A. One theory is that it will be a swansong of Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister, before he hands over the party’s reins to heir apparent Lawrence Wong, a sort of sop to Singapore’s long-disaffected liberal segment (that the party hopes to win back). 

Continue reading “The politics of repeal”

Separation

The wildest Covid-19 border story I’ve heard involves a Malaysian speeding in her car towards Singapore, only to find a huge jam at the border crossing. Arriving at six in the evening, this friend of a friend had given herself plenty of time to make the midnight cut-off, after which foreigners would no longer be easily allowed into Singapore and the complications of modern travel would kick in: quarantines, swabs and stay-at-home notices. With her family and job waiting in Singapore, she had to make it back.

To be sure, there is always some traffic on the two bridges that connect the Malay peninsula to the island of Singapore. Memang jam gao gao, surely there will be a heavy jam, a Malaysian might quip, combining three languages in the most delightful creole phrase. Memang is Malay for surely. Gao is Hokkien for thick or heavy. And jam is, well, not the strawberry kind. Memang jam gao gao, but nobody expected it to be like this.

Continue reading “Separation”

Media and democracy: A video podcast with Breaking the Spell

This is a conversation with old buddy Unsu Lee and newer one Douglas Evans about media, censorship, diversity, propaganda and democracy. Thanks for having me on your show guys! Was lots of fun.And of course, thanks a lot to Min-Wei Ting, the man behind the camera. Copy from Breaking the Spell: “Why Care About Media and Democracy in Singapore? A Conversation with Sudhir Vadaketh When … Continue reading Media and democracy: A video podcast with Breaking the Spell

Edmund Wee of Epigram Books

(Note: This is a longer version of a profile first published in May on Mekong Review. I have italicised the extra passages.)

Epigram Books owes its existence partly to Lee Kuan Yew’s secret police.

In 1981, as news broke that the Workers’ Party’s J.B. Jeyaretnam had won a by-election, thus breaking the ruling People’s Action Party’s stranglehold over Singapore’s parliament, plain-clothes officers from the Internal Security Department watched in horror as a young reporter from the Straits Times jumped up and down at the counting centre.

Continue reading “Edmund Wee of Epigram Books”

Visiting my godfather’s grave

The visit to Uncle Sushil’s grave offered me a chance to think more broadly about our loved ones far away. Not being able to see them, for those of us lucky to avoid the worst, has been one of the central tragedies of the pandemic. In a world of restricted travel, how do we maintain those bonds?

When borders first closed, I immediately thought of my mum’s mum in Indore and my father’s brother in Toronto. Nani is over ninety and Uncle Sushil had experienced a number of recent health issues and scares. Pre-Covid I had always imagined that if they were nearing the end, I’d just hop on a plane to see them.

Continue reading “Visiting my godfather’s grave”

Did we support, criticise or abuse Schooling? Let’s look at the data

For the first time since 2004, Team Singapore failed to win a single medal at the Olympics. Much attention understandably focussed on swimmer Joseph Schooling, who had won our first ever gold at Rio 2016, for the 100m butterfly, setting an Olympic record in the process. Following Schooling’s failure to qualify for the 100m semi-final at Tokyo 2020, finishing last in his heat, internet commentaries … Continue reading Did we support, criticise or abuse Schooling? Let’s look at the data