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). 

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Should the opposition be speaking out more against racism in Singapore?

This is what K Shanmugam, Singapore’s home affairs and law minister, called for this week in response to some quite awful anti-Indian incidents around town.

Yes, I agree with him. The opposition should. We all should. It is a daily battle.

However, we should also recognise the efforts made by the opposition over the years to distance themselves from racist and xenophobic strands. Here are two examples.

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The elites have run The Straits Times into the ground. What’s next?

Today we heard the news that Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) is spinning off its media unit, including The Straits Times and many other publications, into a non-profit entity. This follows years of consistently poor performance amid digital disruption and other changes to the media industry.

Wiser minds will engage in more thorough post-mortems—has anybody seen Ho Ching’s feed today?—but I wanted to spark a small conversation on the culture of elite governance in Singapore. 

“If not for the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), the loss would have been a deeper S$39.5 million,” Lee Boon Yang, SPH’s chairman, said in reference to the media business’s first-ever lost of S$11.4m, for the financial year which ended Aug 31 2020. 

(Which includes management salaries. In case you missed it, since the JSS began in February 2020, the Singaporean taxpayer has helped pay even more for the upkeep of numerous millionaire elites.)

All this got me thinking. Why exactly is Lee Boon Yang the chairman of SPH?

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Why is there a paucity of political leadership in SG?

Over the past few days many in Singapore and overseas have expressed surprise at the seeming paucity of political leadership talent in the ruling People’s Action Party.

I actually think this has been a long time coming, and in many ways is just reflective of our city-state’s economic and democratic maturation, about which there is plenty to cheer.

I explain why in a commentary, “Concerns about ‘seeming paucity’ of PAP leadership talent”, published in The Home Ground Asia, a new Singapore-based media outfit.

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Singapore’s leadership crisis: Lawrence and Pritam

This is the last of five in a series on Singapore’s prospective next prime minister. If you have enjoyed this series, please consider making a donation here to support my future work.

The pandemic has been tragic. Yet the assorted losses and disruptions to ordinary life have also prodded many Singaporeans to think about better ways of doing things, of living the good life. 

Some are enjoying more time with old friends and family; others have opened their hearts (and wallets) to migrant workers they hitherto ignored.

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Singapore’s leadership crisis: Shan, the phenom

This is the fourth of five in a series on Singapore’s prospective next prime minister. See here for the third, on Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, 61, minister for law & minister for home affairs

It may seem odd to include Shanmugam, never touted as a potential leader of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), in this series. Yet he is clearly a, if not the, power behind the throne. And observers do wonder if he harbours even greater ambitions.

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Singapore’s leadership crisis: why not Tharman?

This is the third of five in a series on Singapore’s prospective next prime minister. See here for the second, on Ong Ye Kung and Chan Chun Sing.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 63, senior minister

May 7th 2015 is a day that will live long in the memory of many Singaporeans. At the forty-fifth St Gallen Symposium in Switzerland, the BBC’s Stephen Sackur, whose piercing questions on HARDtalk have left many guests floundering, took on then deputy prime minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. 

In a broad conversation about the Singapore model, Sackur critiqued, among other things, our form of democracy, the lack of press freedoms and our relatively weak social protections.

It would be a bit unfair to say that Sackur left with a bloody nose—unfair to Tharman, who never once engaged in the viciousness, the defensive moralising or the whataboutisms that one associates with many in the Singapore establishment. 

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Singapore’s leadership crisis: Ong Ye Kung and Chan Chun Sing

This is the second of five in a series on Singapore’s prospective next prime minister. See here for the first, on Heng Swee Keat.

Ong Ye Kung, 51, minister for transport

To his fans, Ong Ye Kung (centre) is precisely the sort of leader Singapore needs in these uncertain times. Somebody who is affable and politically savvy; and who is able to listen to diverse views and then act quickly and decisively, with a conviction steely enough to fend off naysayers.

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Singapore’s leadership crisis: will Heng Swee Keat be our next PM?

If you think the pandemic has left your own plans in tatters, spare a thought for poor Lee Hsien Loong (middle), Singapore’s sixty-eight-year-old prime minister.

Recently on the verge of stepping down after sixteen years at the helm, he now does not know when he can.

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