Posts Tagged ‘People’s Action Party’

Singapore Rejects Human Rights Report “Kill the Chicken to Scare the Monkeys”

March 27, 2018

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The Straits Times

SINGAPORE – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has responded to accusations that it was unwilling to defend a report that it published last December, calling such suggestions from the Ministry of Law and members of the People’s Action Party (PAP) “ironic and absurd”.

In a media statement on Tuesday (March 27), the United States-based non-governmental organisation said it had sent a letter to members of the Government on Oct 30 last year, requesting their response to the findings of its report, “Kill The Chicken To Scare The Monkeys” – Suppression Of Free Expression And Assembly In Singapore.

The NGO said it did not receive a response by the time it published its report on Dec 13 last year.

Nor has the Government responded since to the letter, which was sent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, said HRW in its statement.

“As the government has not disputed our factual findings and has not replied to our recommendations… it is both ironic and absurd that the Ministry of Law and members of the ruling People’s Action Party are now accusing Human Rights Watch of being unwilling to defend our report,” said HRW.

At the Select Committee hearing on deliberate online falsehoods last Friday, Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, representing the PAP Policy Forum, criticised the NGO’s report and labelled it as a type of deliberate falsehood.

In a statement after the hearing, the Ministry of Law said HRW has chosen not to come to Singapore to publicly defend its views as “it knows that its report will not withstand any scrutiny”.

It also said HRW’s report contains “serious inaccuracies, misimpressions, untrue statements”.

Select Committee chair Charles Chong noted during the hearing that HRW was invited to give oral evidence and was initially willing to come. But it later said its staff member could not make it after being told it would be asked about its report, Mr Chong said.

He added that the Parliament Secretariat had offered to fund the costs of HRW’s representative flying in, or arrange for video conferencing at any time between March 15 and 29. But the group has said it is unavailable to do so. The invitation to HRW to give oral evidence still stands, he added.

To this, HRW said it had offered to send its staff member on a particular date, but the committee did not confirm a date that could work for the staff member until other commitments had been made.

It said it had told Parliament that it looks forward to reading any submissions to the committee on the report and will respond “if we think it is necessary and appropriate”.
To date, no submission has raised any serious question about its factual findings, it added.

The NGO said it has offered to meet government officials in Singapore or elsewhere, or Members of Parliament, at a mutually convenient date to discuss the report.

It also said: “It is now clear that the purpose of the hearing was not to discuss our findings and recommendations in good faith, or to get our input into dealing with deliberate online falsehoods in a manner consistent with international standards, but to engage in ridiculous and irrelevant arguments aimed to discredit our report and Human Rights Watch.”

“The people of Singapore are not served by a government and ruling party that appears to be more interested in public grandstanding than having a substantive discussion about threats to the internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” it added.

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here and watch more videos.

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/human-rights-watch-responds-to-criticisms-from-select-committee-hearing-on-its-report

See also:

Singapore: Laws Chill Free Speech, Assembly

https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/13/singapore-laws-chill-free-speech-assembly

The Singapore government’s use of overly broad criminal laws, oppressive regulations, and civil lawsuits severely curtails freedom of speech and assembly, Human Rights Watch said in a report…

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The politics of dominance: Don’t take it to the limit

October 2, 2017

By Han Fook Kwang
The Straits Times

OPINION

An overly dominant ruling party faces dangers such as resistance to change and complacency

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s victory in the recent elections made headlines around the world because her party’s winning margin was much reduced due to the gains of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

For Singaporeans though, the more peculiar feature of the result might be that her party won only 33 per cent of the votes and would need a coalition with others to form the government. That has been a hallmark of German politics for decades. Yet, despite not winning a majority, Chancellor Merkel is now into her fourth term in office and is widely regarded as the leader of the Western world, after United States President Donald Trump was unofficially stripped of the title because of his inward-looking “America First” policy. Under her leadership, Germany has strengthened its position as one of the strongest economies in the world and demonstrated forthright stewardship of the troubled European Union.

Question: How has the country been able to achieve all these despite its politics of coalition government? Or, is its ability to accommodate a wide range of views one of the secrets to its strength?

I do not know the answer but whatever it is, it is a world apart from Singapore, where the defining characteristic has been the dominant position of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which has won every general election since independence in 1965. So overwhelming has its hold been that there has not been a single year when the opposition held more than 10 per cent of the seats and many in which it held none.

Singapore has done exceptionally well during these years of PAP dominance. The economy has grown, per capita income is one of the highest in the world, and the city has been transformed beyond recognition. There are many reasons for its success but political stability has often been touted as a major factor.

Indeed, the Government has repeatedly stressed that because of Singapore’s small size and limited talent pool, it cannot afford to have the revolving-door politics seen in many Western democracies, with parties taking turns at the helm, or worse, suffer a coalition government.

Singaporeans, by and large, understand the benefits of a strong government: the ability to plan for the long term, and to be able to implement policies quickly without politics getting in the way.

In contrast, the Germans would recoil at the thought of having one party dominate the country, having learnt their painful lesson in the brutal years leading to World War II when the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler muscled its way to power.

To each his own then, and never the twain shall meet?

Every country has to decide which system works best for it, shaped by its own history and the unique circumstances of its people and culture. There is no universal model.

Every country has to decide which system works best for it, shaped by its own history and the unique circumstances of its people and culture. There is no universal model. But there are dangers when any one system is taken to extremes.

But there are dangers when any one system is taken to extremes.

In Germany, seats are allocated by proportional representation, which encourages multi-party democracy and works against a dominant party system. This has helped extreme right-wing parties such as the AfD gain a foothold, the first time in 60 years they have been able to do so. Analysts predict a rough time ahead as fringe parties enter the fray with their divisive politics.

In Singapore, danger comes from the other end of the spectrum, from an overly dominant government. It can lead to complacency when leaders lose touch with the ground and ordinary people’s concerns. Without a strong opposition and other influential voices outside the party, groupthink can set in.

The PAP suffered from some of this in the years leading to the 2011 General Election (GE), when it failed to address issues such as rising property prices, overcrowded MRT trains and an overly liberal immigration policy leading to a large influx of foreign workers. It was accused of being elitist in its approach.

To its credit, it acknowledged its weaknesses after suffering one of its worst setbacks in the GE, tackled the problems, and reaped the benefits in the 2015 GE.

Now, there are renewed concerns it is exercising its dominant powers by introducing the reserved presidency despite unhappiness among the people. Its overwhelming electoral victory in 2015 has no doubt made it more assured in dealing with these politically sensitive issues.

There is a familiar cycle to the politics of dominance, with the ruling party testing the limits of its power and recalibrating it at every election depending on how well it performs.

But it has to watch that it does not overplay its card because the Singapore political landscape is a flat one and can be swayed by one major nationwide issue, such as the reserved presidency. There might still be a political reckoning to come in the next election.

Besides complacency, there are two other dangers of an overly dominant government.

One is the blurring of lines between the party and the state. This is a pertinent risk in Singapore because the ruling party has been in power for so long, the public service has known no other political master. Public servants are supposed to be politically neutral in theory, but in practice it can be difficult to draw the line.

For example, opposition politicians have long complained that the People’s Association (PA) discriminates against them in not appointing opposition Members of Parliament as grassroots advisers even though they have been duly elected by the people. The Government has argued that the PA exists to explain and promote government programmes, a role it does not expect the opposition to support.

In reality, any ruling party anywhere will want to maximise the advantage it enjoys in incumbency. That’s only natural, and the PAP, because of its longevity, knows this better than anyone.

But if overdone, it risks undermining the integrity of public institutions and public confidence in them.

This would have serious consequences for Singapore because its public service is among the best in the world, with a reputation painstakingly built over the years.

The other danger an overly dominant ruling party faces is resistance to change even when circumstances require it. I do not mean adjustments of government policies but more fundamental changes to the party’s internal workings, such as who and how it attracts new members, how it selects its leaders, and what its approach is to alternative views.

The tendency of most dominant systems is to preserve the status quo because of inertia and vested interests. Can change come voluntarily from within, or will it be forced by external circumstances? The record of most dominant parties around the world, including the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, Umno in Malaysia and the African National Congress in South Africa, favours the latter. The PAP, being politically stronger than any of these parties, might yet prove the exception.

None of these potential risks will make Singaporeans desire coalition government or Germans embrace a dominant-party system. But both would do well to recognise the dangers of taking any one form to the extreme.

• The writer is also a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/the-politics-of-dominance-dont-take-it-to-the-limit

Singapore PM Lee addresses abuse of power allegations, MPs question platform to clear issue

July 3, 2017

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting and indoor

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has delivered a ministerial statement refuting the allegations made by his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, in Parliament on Monday (Jul 3).

The dispute between the siblings over the house of their late father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, at 38 Oxley Road spilled into the public sphere on Jun 14, when Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang issued a joint statement accusing their brother of abusing his powers in Government, saying they have “lost confidence” in him.

This led to PM Lee apologising to Singaporeans for the dispute, saying it has affected Singaporeans’ confidence in the Government, and that the “baseless accusations” against the Government must be dealt with openly

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean has also delivered his ministerial statement on the matter.

PM Lee has lifted the party whip for People’s Action Party MPs, and called on all MPs to “examine the issues thoroughly” and question him and his Cabinet colleagues “vigorously”.

Read more at http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/live-blog-pm-lee-addresses-abuse-of-power-allegations-mps-8992270

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Singapore PM to face questions in parliament over family feud

July 3, 2017

Reuters

By Fathin Ungku | SINGAPORE

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was set to face questions at a special sitting of parliament on Monday over whether he had abused his power in a dispute with his brother and sister over what to do with their late father’s house.

The bad blood between the heirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, has gripped the country since mid-June, when the younger siblings launched a series of attacks on their elder brother in social media postings.

Monday’s parliamentary session is extraordinary for Singapore, a small but wealthy island state that prides itself on being a rock of stability in Southeast Asia.

The prime minister will make an official statement about the matter before taking questions. Prime Minister Lee’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) controls 83 of the 89 elected seats in parliament, and lawmakers submitted their questions in writing at the end of last week.

In a rare move, the prime minister removed the Party Whip for the debate, allowing PAP lawmakers to question their own cabinet regardless of the party line.

The prime minister’s younger brother and sister, Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling, allege Lee Hsien Loong has abused his power in the dispute over the old family home at 38 Oxley Road, and fear that he would use the organs of the state against them.

Lee Hsien Yang said he and his wife, lawyer Lee Suet Fern, would be leaving Singapore because they felt closely monitored and hugely unwelcome.

The prime minister has consistently denied the allegations, and said he was very disappointed that they have chosen to publicize private family matters.

The accusation of abuse of power prompted Prime Minister Lee to call for the special sitting of parliament in order to defend the integrity of his government.

Lee Hsien Yang has said that parliament is an inappropriate forum for airing the dispute, as his brother will be legally protected by “parliamentary privilege” to say what he wants.

Lee Hsien Yang and his sister, Lee Wei Ling, say they want to honor their father’s wishes for the house to be demolished, once Lee Wei Ling vacates the property, rather than be turned in to some kind of museum.

Prime Minister Lee has questioned the will, while a government committee, from which has recused himself, considers whether the old family home should eventually be turned into a heritage site.

(Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Why Singapore’s mix of authoritarianism and democracy is a warning for Hong Kong

September 17, 2015

By  Hanshih Toh

The landslide victory for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore’s September 11 general elections shocked many within the PAP, the opposition parties, Singaporeans and foreign observers. The PAP won 70 per cent of the popular vote and 83 of 89 seats, 10 percentage points and two seats more than the last general election in 2011.

Such results would be the envy of any political party in many democracies. Yet judging by the massive turnout at the rallies of some opposition parties and the more tepid attendance at the PAP’s rallies, one can be forgiven for thinking the opposition should have won more seats and votes.

As a Singaporean living in Hong Kong, I made a short visit to my country while campaigning was in full swing in early September. I attended the rallies of three opposition parties: the Reform Party, the Workers’ Party and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP rally in Raffles Place in Singapore’s financial district on September 7 was packed, while a huge crowd filled the large field at the Workers’ Party rally on September 5.

A much smaller crowd was present at the Reform Party rally on September 4. Although I did not attend any PAP rally, reports on the Internet and social media said most PAP rallies attracted far fewer people than the Workers’ Party and SDP rallies.

Workers' Party rally

Why have the big crowds at some opposition rallies not translated into votes for the opposition?

One key reason is the opposition was the victim of its own success. The massive crowds at the rallies of the Workers’ Party and SDP made the prospect of the PAP losing many seats or even losing power all too real in the minds of many Singaporean voters.

For the Singaporean voters who did not attend opposition rallies, the message was brought home to them in a front page story in the Straits Times, Singapore’s main newspaper, on September 8, quoting a Singapore minister, Khaw Boon Wan, saying there was no guarantee the PAP would remain in government after polling on September 11.

The story was accompanied by a big photo of the SDP rally in Singapore’s financial district with the huge crowds.

Singapore's political parties. Photo: HKFP.

Many Singaporeans want opposition politicians in Parliament to check the PAP, but are not mentally prepared for any other government besides the PAP. Having been ruled by the PAP for 56 years, which have seen Singapore grow to be one of the world’s richest cities, many Singaporeans view the PAP as their guarantor of prosperity—although some may grumble against the authoritarian aspects of their government, such as restrictions on freedom of expression and demonstrations.

Hence, the latest election in Singapore was somewhat like mathematical game theory.

Each Singaporean voter attends an opposition rally and looks at the large numbers of other voters also attending the same rally. Each voter thinks that on one hand, he would like more opposition candidates voted into Parliament; but on the other hand, if everyone in that big crowd including himself votes for the opposition, then the PAP risks getting booted out of government.

Thus the Singaporean voter decides to play it safe and vote for the PAP. Add together all the Singaporeans who thought this way and you get the big swing to the PAP that we saw on September 11.

PAP supporters

The results of Singapore’s latest elections offer some lesson and questions for Hong Kong.

Singapore has universal suffrage but much less freedom of expression compared to Hong Kong. If critics complain of the Singapore government’s limitations on freedom of expression, the Singapore government can point to the majority who voted it into power. Hong Kongers, who have never had full democracy, resort to a free press and demonstration to air their grievances.

Hong Kong has seen huge demonstrations, sometimes numbering hundreds of thousands, such as the Tiananmen vigil, the July 1 pro-democracy march and other demonstrations calling for universal suffrage.

The question is, will such huge demonstrations translate into substantial support among Hong Kongers or result in any real political action?

Suppose Hong Kong gained universal suffrage one day. Suppose an authoritarian, pro-Beijing party gets voted into power in Hong Kong by a huge landslide, as with the PAP’s recent landslide win.

If a pro-Beijing authoritarian party got swept into power in a landslide victory, will it tell the protestors that they are a noisy but irrelevant minority?

Perhaps both Hong Kong and Singapore need a more nuanced relationship between demonstrations and democracy. Citizens of both Asian cities should be able to make their voices heard, their concerns known and exert their power through both the rally and the ballot box.

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2015/09/16/why-singapores-mix-of-authoritarianism-and-democracy-is-a-warning-for-hong-kong/

Why Singapore Is a Safe Harbor in Asia’s Economic Tempest

September 13, 2015

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Election result confirms Singapore’s status as a stable spot for foreign investment

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanks supporters after the election on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. 
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanks supporters after the election on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. Photo: Reuters

The decisive mandate that Singaporeans handed to their long-ruling party last week reinforced the tiny country’s status as a bastion of stability for foreign investment in a region grappling with growing instability.

In a resounding election win, the People’s Action Party led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong overturned expectations that the opposition would build on gains made in the previous polls in 2011.

It scored 69.9% of the popular vote, up from the record low 60.1%, and won 83 of 89 parliamentary seats. The PAP came within a hair’s breadth of taking five more seats in one hotly contested district where a recount was held. Of the eight opposition parties, only one captured any seats.

The overwhelming parliamentary majority was widely expected and Singapore’s status as a financial center was never threatened, but the result eased a sense of uncertainty that had taken root since 2011. The mandate is Mr. Lee’s strongest since 2001 and will give the PAP five more years to carry out curbs on immigration and transform an economy that, for all of Singapore’s status as a gleaming economic hub rivaled in Asia only by Hong Kong, has remained dependent on low-cost foreign labor to build infrastructure and staff manufacturing for exports.

“The results tonight will be noted by the outside world, by the media of course, but by investors, by other powers and by our neighbors and I believe these results will greatly bolster confidence in Singapore,” Mr. Lee said in a news conference early Saturday morning.

In the five decades since the PAP took over what was a backwater trading port, Singapore’s GDP has grown nearly 40-fold and its 5.5 million people have become richer, per capita, than Americans. Much of the development was overseen by Mr. Lee’s father and Singapore’s first post-independence prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March.

The stability comes in sharp contrast with most of Singapore’s neighbors, where political leaders are losing support. Malaysia is facing its most serious crisis of confidence since the Asian financial meltdown of 1997-98. Investigators are poring over the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s private bank accounts through entities linked to an economic-development fund known as 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The country’s antigraft agency said the money in Mr. Najib’s account was a donor contribution that originated from the Middle East. The donor wasn’t specified. Mr. Najib has denied wrongdoing and said he didn’t take money for personal gain.

 

ENLARGE

In Thailand, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a general who seized power last year in a coup d’état, is gradually extending a period of military-backed rule over a deeply divided country against an uncertain backdrop as the health of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej deteriorates. Last month, a bomb exploded in central Bangkok and killed 20 people, threatening the country’s mainstay tourism industry. Several people have been arrested, but no motive has been found and the prime suspect—a man seen on CCTV leaving a bag at the blast site—hasn’t been identified.

And in Southeast Asia’s largest country, Indonesia, with its 250 million people the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority nation, President Joko Widodo’s first year in office has been marked by a deteriorating commodity-based economy dependent on a slowing China and worsened by confusion in his cabinet, which has variously been trying to woo foreign investment but increasingly implemented restrictions on foreigners seeking to work there.

As global economic growth slows and markets remain volatile, Singapore’s neighbors have suffered market outflows that have hurt their currencies and stock markets. Foreigners withdrew $2.4 billion from Malaysian government bonds in the first six months of this year, according to data from ANZ.

“The people of Singapore have rewarded the PAP for their good stewardship of the economy. It’s hard not to compare the political stability in Singapore to the recent events in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok,” said David Adelman, a partner in law firm Reed Smith LLP, which operates in Singapore, and a former U.S. ambassador to the city-state.

The enormity of China’s turmoil, however, poses a problem that even the PAP’s stable rule can’t counter. Slowing growth in the world’s second-largest economy has roiled global markets, including in Singapore. The city’s small population means that many of its largest companies have had to expand their businesses in other Asian markets, particularly China, which is Singapore’s third-largest export market.

Before the election there was a strong sense among eligible voters that Singapore was experiencing a generational shift and that younger people who grew up in the fat years after modernization wouldn’t have the same loyalty to the PAP that their parents had. But this election, as Mr. Lee noted, could not have been so decisively won without support from the young.

Singapore Goes to the Polls

The ruling People’s Action Party and a record eight other parties are competing for votes in Friday’s general election

Supporters at a campaign rally by the opposition Workers' Party. <strong>Corrections &amp; Amplifications: </strong>Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party will compete with eight other parties in Friday’s poll. An earlier version incorrectly said it would compete with nine other parties. (Sept. 10, 2015)
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Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is also secretary-general of the ruling People’s Action Party, campaigned this week ahead of Friday’s election.

This election “settles any question about whether Singapore is moving unilaterally toward a two-party system: that is a no,” said Michael Barr, associate professor at Flinders University in Australia.

Mr. Barr noted that the PAP had changed its focus since 2011 to concentrate on redistributing wealth and improving social safety nets, a move that appears to have worked. The PAP’s leaders also man an effort to get out into the neighborhoods to touch base with the electorate, and Mr. Lee himself has built one of the most effective social media presences in the region.

“This generation of politicians have learned how to do politics,” Mr. Barr said. “They’ve never had to in the past.”

Hilary Goh, 22, a student and first-time voter, said that she had voted for the PAP because of its strong track record and experience running the economy. She was the kind of voter the opposition had been banking on but failed to win over in sufficient numbers.

“Originally I was considering voting opposition, but after all their rallies and hearing what they had to say, I was more toward the PAP,” she said. “I believe they provide more visible policies and we’ve seen it over the past 50 years because they have been the ruling party.”

External economic uncertainty has been a boon to the PAP, which has long prioritized security and long-term policy-making and has a track record to show what can be accomplished. The party understood the country’s deeply-rooted sense of being a small outpost that needs to be exceptional to survive in a volatile region.

“There is no [other] reason why people would want to locate in a high-cost, increasingly expensive Singapore at all,” said Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies in Singapore. The island remains a standout in Southeast Asia for its strong governance, but also relies on the region for growth. The financial services industry is a magnet for outflows from around Southeast Asia.

Singapore’s election will be watched for signs of whether voters continue their drift toward the opposition, or have swung back to the ruling People’s Action Party. Photo/Video: Guilad Kahn for The Wall Street Journal

Some of the world’s biggest companies, such as U.S. manufacturing giant Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ -0.66 % , investment-banking firm J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.16 % & Co. and technology giants such as Microsoft Corp. MSFT 0.44 % and Google Inc., GOOG 0.71 % have a presence in the country. Singapore is the largest foreign-exchange trading hub in Asia and the third largest globally.

“Markets prefer consistency and stability of policy, which Singapore offers,” said Rohit Chatterji, Southeast Asia head of banking for J.P. Morgan.

To be sure, the election result doesn’t mean the status quo will last. Singapore’s longtime embrace of immigration helped build the country. But many Singaporeans are discontented with overcrowding that they blame on the influx of both white- and blue-collar workers. Around three in 10 people in Singapore are foreign.

In the last four years, the government has squeezed the inflow of foreign workers and sought to restructure the economy to one that grows through productivity and innovation. The party is also embracing social-welfare spending as it reacts to complaints from voters about the rising cost of living, especially housing and health care. Singapore is one of the world’s most expensive cities.

Whether or not the PAP succeeds in boosting productivity—its record in the past four years has been sketchy at best—the role of foreign businesses will have to change. The government is becoming fussier about which foreign businesses it welcomes, preferring those that innovate rather than simply use the city as a regional headquarters for its infrastructure.

But Mr. Lee is confident that Singapore will succeed. His government has tried to take a softer approach from the scolding tone often used by his father, whose core principles—a focus on clean and efficient government, business-friendly economic policies, and social order—built the nation but critics say came at the expense of individual liberty, with stifling controls on freedom of speech and assembly.

“These results are also a strong signal of confidence to ourselves that we Singaporeans in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era are able to find the winning formula which can keep us progressing and succeeding,” Mr. Lee said.

Write to Jake Maxwell Watts at jake.watts@wsj.com and P.R. Venkat at venkat.pr@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-singapore-is-a-safe-harbor-in-asias-economic-tempest-1442144121

Leading Singaporeans criticise ‘harsh’ treatment of teenager Amos Yee over online comments

July 4, 2015

AFP

Prominent Singaporean intellectuals, artists and activists have criticised the government’s “harsh” treatment of a teenage boy behind online attacks on the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the former leader’s son, the 77 signatories said they were “aware of the negative aspects” of 16-year-old Amos Yee’s pronouncements in a YouTube video and on his blog.

“Nonetheless, we are troubled by the State’s harsh reactions to them, including the prosecution’s request for reformative training lasting at least 18 months,” said the letter, which was also sent to the attorney general, education and interior ministers.

Yee was convicted in May on two criminal charges: wounding religious feelings in an expletive-laden video comparing Lee Kuan Yew to Jesus, and circulating an obscene cartoon of the former prime minister, who died in March.

He is due to appear in court on Monday following two weeks at the Institute of Mental Health after a judge had ordered psychiatric tests before he was sentenced.

A psychiatrist previously said Yee might have autism, though he was declared mentally and physically fit for an 18-month stint in a reform centre.

Hong Kong students protest against the treatment of Singapore teen blogger Amos Yee outside the Singapore Consulate in Hong Kong last week. Photo: AP

The activists said sending Yee to the facility could deter young people in the city-state from expressing their views openly for fear of reprisals.

“We can make every claim to encourage independence of thought and creativity, but if our actions reveal an inability to tolerate non-conformists, young people will view our exhortations to speak up as mere platitudes,” they said.

Among the letter’s signatories were prominent Singaporean academic Cherian George, lawyer Peter Low, a former president of the Law Society of Singapore, as well as leading rights activists, academics, filmmakers and members of the arts community.

Yee’s case has gained international attention after critics of the long-ruling People’s Action Party, co-founded by Lee Kuan Yew, said he was a victim of censorship and excessive punishment.

But others attacked the boy for insulting both Christianity and the nation’s founding father, who was given a hero’s funeral on March 29.

International rights advocates including the United Nations Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia and the US-based Human Rights Watch have previously called on the government to dismiss the case and immediately release Yee.

On Friday, Amnesty International also called for his release, saying it considered the teenager “a prisoner of conscience, held solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression”.

The letter’s appearance, meanwhile, came a day after a Singaporean activist found guilty of defaming the current prime minister broke down under intense questioning in court, during the final day of hearings to determine the amount of damages to be awarded.

Prime Minister Lee sued Roy Ngerng in May 2014 over a blog post that accused the 63-year-old leader of misusing money from the state pension scheme, the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

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