June 22, 2017

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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
Aerial display of white roses at the Garden Festival.

by Bertha Henson

When the Financial Times first broke the story of Dr Shane Todd’s death, what were the aspects that caught the reader’s eye? That there was a conspiracy to kill an American expatriate caught in the web of espionage? That Singapore institutions and Chinese players were covering up a murder?

Or that nuts, bolts and pulleys were involved?

The “nuts, bolts and pulley’’ allegation is probably is the most damning. The Todd family claimed that Singapore police told them that they were used as part of the “killing apparatus’’ – although why Dr Todd or even his supposed assassins would devise such a complicated system is beyond belief. Nuts and bolts had to be screwed into the bathroom wall so it can be assumed that Dr Todd or his “assassins’’ had a toolkit handy. Anyway, that was what the Todds say the police had told them when they arrived in Singapore. But when they went to their son’s Chinatown flat, they saw no evidence of nuts, bolts or pulleys being used.

The first thing that comes to a reader’s mind would be: How could the police have screwed up on something like this? It smacks of unprofessionalism at the very least, if not outright dishonesty. But on the last day of the coroner’s trial, the policeman involved said he did not mention nuts, bolts and pulleys – nor were they in the police report. Seems Mrs Todd conjured the scenario out of thin air. It’s a pity that the Todds walked out of the inquiry. They claimed that they will not get justice, after a key witness of theirs recanted his statement that Dr Todd had been garrotted. If they had stuck around, we might have got down to the heart of the pulley business.

Now, here’s the strange thing: there was someone who could have sorted this out. An American embassy staffer was present during the supposed nuts, bolts and pulley discussion between the Todds and the police. But Ms Traci Goins “declined to assist’’ with the proceedings, said the state prosecutor.

What gives?

Over 40 witnesses, some from the US and elsewhere, corroborating reports by the FBI – and an American diplomat based in Singapore “declined to assist’’ in the investigations? So much fuss kicked up by Senators in the US and in the Western media – and an American diplomat based here isn’t going to tell us the truth about the conversation between the Todds and Singapore police?

That’s a real shame! The integrity of the Singapore police has been brought into question and the US embassy owes justice an answer. The next question is whether Ms Goins can be compelled to give evidence. Probably not, since the inquiry is over. Another question, were statements taken from her earlier that could be tendered in court?

What are Singaporeans to make of this? An accusation has been made alleging cover-ups and the key accusers have boycotted the proceedings. One can empathise with the Todds who might be distraught that things weren’t going their way. But what to make of the embassy’s refusal to participate? Could this be because Ms Goins’ testimony might make the Todds – or the Singapore police – look bad? The embassy doesn’t want to be seen as forsaking one of their own – or do not want to antagonise the police here? Which is it?

Come on! Speak up!

Photo By Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A lego replica of Singapore's Fullerton area in Legoland Malaysia.

by Bertha Henson

So the Malaysian opposition politicians went to the Singapore High Commission to remonstrate against the G’s supposedly harsh treatment of its nationals who mounted silent protests at Merlion Park on 8 and 11 May.

It’s to be expected. The protesters were clearly on the side of the opposition and it wouldn’t look good if some sort of display was not made on their behalf.

What’s interesting though was how the Malaysian politicians pitched their case. Said PKR’s Chua Jui Meng: “We recognise the need for Malaysians in Singapore to respect the law of Singapore. However, we call on the Singapore authorities to exercise proportionality and fairness in applying the law.”

“It is heavy handed to arrest them and cancel or review their work and visit passes simply for their quest for democracy, which is a universal struggle.”

Now what is the proportionality and fairness yardstick is he using here? Is it between Singapore and Malaysia laws?

According to ST, Mr Chua goes on to note that Malaysians comprise the largest foreign workforce in Singapore and contribute significantly to the country’s economic development. “The harshness of the Singapore authorities’ action completely runs counter to this spirit of cooperation.”

Singapore has revoked the work pass of one protester, as well as the social visit passes of two others. The remaining 18 will have their work passes reviewed, the Singapore police said. Apparently, one of them is serving out a scholarship bond and will have to pay out $100,000 to her employer if she can no longer work here.

It’s a bit galling to always hear Malaysians talk about Singapore’s heavy handedness or arrogance in the same breath that they invoke a spirit of co-operation and adherence to domestic laws. And how Malaysians contribute to the economy in such large numbers – and Singapore is therefore indebted to them? What’s surprising is that the phrase “not being sensitive” hasn’t been uttered.

Never mind that. Probably just political posturing. But it would actually have made better sense if the politicians talked about how police here said that their investigations on the activities of former Johor menteri besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman when he visited Singapore during the Malaysian GE did not amount to campaigning, as alleged in a police report. Some had wondered if this was indeed so or if the G here was merely giving Malaysia some face.

Frankly, it would not skin off Singapore’s nose to let the Malaysian protesters here off with a slap on the wrist. After all, they did not disturb public order and the “review” of their passes would probably have convinced them enough of Singapore’s tough stance on such activities. We should give these ordinary Malaysians some face too. After all, the Malaysian politicians will probably have their hands full now with their own G’s arrests of activists and protesters…

by Vinod Ashvin Ravi

A Democrat President holds office in the White House but has to confront an increasingly difficult and intractable Congress.

Meanwhile, a Singaporean court-case involving an American makes international headlines, including and particularly in his home country.

Official exchanges pertinent to the case are shared by high-ranking interlocutors on both sides.

Some American politicians even go so far as to employ and issue strategic threats presumably so as to persuade their Singaporean counterparts to accede to their demands.

No, it’s not 1994 and the American in question is not Michael Fay. But one could perhaps be forgiven for thinking so. Because the Shane Todd saga – and how it has played itself out on the pages of international media – certainly serves up a delicious slice of déjà vu.

The American protagonist in the story is now a victim and not an accused, but the two cases certainly share shades of similarity. Singaporeans themselves may have been more enamoured with the other high-profile court case unfurling this week – that involving the former City Harvest Church executives – but the coroner’s inquiry into Shane Todd’s passing has nonetheless registered a presence in the foreign media’s radar.

The Western media in particular seems to be reporting the developments in the story predominantly through the lens of the parents’ perspective. So the senior Todds – hapless and distressed as they are – are the David confronting the Goliath of the Singapore justice system in pursuit of the truth.

Details of pathological facts and findings – presumably at the heart of any coroner’s inquiry – have garnered comparatively minimal traction in the Western media, with the focus instead centered seemingly on sound bytes, insinuations and allegations from the victims’ parents. On the whole, it remains unclear – from what has been reported thus far – whose anatomy the Western media remain primarily interested in: Shane Todd’s, or the Singaporean state’s?

***

Three distinct but arguably interlinked narratives appear to dominate the reportage of the Shane Todd saga this past week.

The first – and to date least prominent – one has been the critical questioning of the victim’s psychological state prior to his death. The Guardian reports Todd’s then-girlfriend to have admitted to him “confiding in her about his suspected depression” and his “mounting unhappiness with the ‘dishonest’ environment in the workplace.” In addition, State Counsel Tai Wei Shyong is reported to have produced Todd’s laptop search history detailing a history of access to suicide and depression-related websites and webpages.

Todd’s parents ostensibly firmly reject all notions of their son being depressed or harbouring suicidal proclivities. Instead, they reportedly distill their son’s distress to “work-related anxiety”. Their stand is further buttressed by the testimony of one of Todd’s neighbours who portrayed him as an “upbeat and positive guy” who “displayed no evidence that he would take his own life.”

Bloomberg – attempting perhaps to reconcile the two diametrically divergent points of view above – reports that Todd “suffered from depression without appearing suicidal”, and that he had been diagnosed with “moderate-severity major depressive disorder”.

As mentioned above however, it appears that what has emerged from this first week of the coroner’s inquiry has been at least equal parts conjecture and fact.

The second narrative gripping the foreign press this past week has been intimations – including by Mrs Todd herself – questioning the integrity of Singapore’s justice system. That the Todds have been unhappy and unsatisfied with the Singapore Police Force’s conduct of the investigation into their son’s death has been made amply clear since the beginning, but the Wall Street Journal reported Mrs Mary Todd as explicitly describing Singapore’s court process as “corrupt” when speaking to interviewers before the fourth day of the inquiry. CBS News further quotes Mrs Todd as having said “I believe 100 percent there is a cover-up going on”.

Building upon past claims, the Todds are reportedly continuing to denounce the suicide notes found by the police at the scenes of their son’s death as fake, decrying their validity on a number of grounds including his thanking of his former employer – the Institute of Microelectronics – whom he had reportedly “grown to hate”. Western media establishments themselves seem to be abetting Mrs Todd’s cynicism towards Singapore’s legal system.

The Financial Times – the media house that was largely responsible for mooting the case’s international prominence in the first place – looks to highlight the shift in the police’s testimony behind the mechanics of Todd’s death. Contrary to their earlier bolt-and-pulley theory, the FT reports that police now believe that Todd “fashioned a noose from a computer bag strap” and used it to commit suicide instead.

For sure, the Todds’ point of view must necessarily be understood with some empathy. After all, losing a child is far from easy to deal with, and so it can be argued that the Todds’ loss fuels their drive to pursue justice for their son.

Yet it seems to precisely be the allegations and insinuations they are leveling that threaten to take the case out of its personal context and undermine the clarity and of their appeal.

For one, it seems unclear what the Todds hope to achieve by implying their certainty of a cover-up by authorities and of corruption within the broader Singapore justice establishment. Surely they realize that any answers they hope to crystallize through the process necessarily entails cooperation – if not outright agreement – with Singapore authorities? Verbally antagonizing the very agencies that they should instead be collaborating with in pursuit of justice and the truth doesn’t therefore particularly resonate as the most sensible strategy, at least at this point in time.

Also, perhaps the Todds should understand that ‘transparency’ is a game for two. Clarity is never best attained by lighting up only one end of a dark room. It was reported earlier that the Todd family had refused to share Shane’s hard-drive – a critical cornerstone evidence in the investigation – with even the FBI, unless the FBI had unimpeded access to and jurisdiction over the case.

They have since relented, but their allegations that Singaporean authorities could have tampered with documents on the hard-drive – premised primarily on the logic of self-preservation and self-interest – may similarly be leveled against themselves, especially since the family arguably has the greatest vested interest in the case.

In seeking – consciously or otherwise – to call into question the repute and integrity of Singapore’s justice system, the Todd family may well only be exacerbating the lack of clarity and coherence behind their son’s demise.

The allegations of vested interest are in themselves inherently problematic, and serve as a prelude to the third – and arguably most disturbing – narrative that plagues the foreign media’s treatment of the coroner’s inquiry this week. The death of Shane Todd seems to have been located squarely amidst broader concerns of China’s growing potential to threaten, undermine and compromise America’s national security.

More specifically, the Todd family’s allegations seem to imply their belief that Singapore – insofar as IME is concerned – has been willingly and consciously abetting such potential Chinese infringements of American security.

On the basis of conversations shared with their late son, the Todd family believes that his involvement with – and knowledge of – projects potentially inimical to America’s security may have been fundamental to causing his death. Suggestions that the IME was closely engaged in collaborative projects with Chinese tech-conglomerate Huawei Technologies – on top of Huawei’s designation as a “potential security threat” by the US Congress – has only fuelled the proposition that Todd paid the ultimate price for coming to know too much about projects compromising American security.

 ***

Such allegations – and their constant reflection in the pages of the Western media – arguably highlight two pertinent and particular issues. The first is that Singapore straddles a delicate and precarious position along the US-China relationship paradigm that so stringently dominates international politics today. We enjoy stable and fruitful relations with both great powers; an asset – particularly for a small state – which many other nations aspire for. Yet episodic developments like these only serve to reveal that whilst stable, such relations remain tenuous and fragile.

In a series of departing interviews last July, former Ambassador to the United States Chan Heng Chee expounded at length as to how resetting Singapore’s image in the American conscience was her primary objective in the mid-1990s in the wake of the Michael Fay saga.

That episode may well be consigned to the history books now, but its bitter aftertaste arguably continues to linger on. Perhaps we should remember that developments like the Shane Todd saga – to whatever proportion of conjecture and fact – run the risk of depleting and detracting from the hard-earned goodwill established between us and our valued international partners.

In wanting to remain tight friends with as many other states as possible, it would perhaps serve us well to constantly and carefully calibrate our engagements so as to avoid both overstretch, as well as future parlous allegations like the ones currently leveled against us by the Todds.

A second key takeaway is how paranoid and sensitive the West remains to the ‘China’ question. The slightest hint of linkages and partnerships established between a friendly state and China is promptly transmuted into concerns and suggestions centered critically on what the implications are – for better or worse – for the United States.

It would seem that insofar as the American security calculus is concerned, most – if not all – roads to American insecurity pass through China. As an actor in the international system, America has long been a master at imposing and entrenching – or at least attempting to – its own vested narratives on the rest of the world to shape their perspectives and preferences, and the Western media’s seeming proclivity to play up the ‘Huawei’ angle in this first week of the coroner’s inquiry appear starkly indicative of that.

***

All said and done, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this remains first and foremost a coroner’s inquiry. And that a coroner’s inquiry is tasked primarily with determining the cause and nature of an individual’s death. On the whole, the Western media in particular seems to be pre-occupied with speculation more than scientific observations, and conjecture more than concrete findings.

Undoubtedly, the Shane Todd saga is one that’s here to stay, and we’re likely to only have seen the tip of the iceberg so far. Given that the slightest miscommunication and misguided antagonism may only serve to exacerbate unnecessary tensions and impede the rightful proceedings, it would perhaps be prudent to focus on the pathology and not the politics – for now.

by Pavan Mano

The 2012/13 edition of the English Premier League (EPL) drew to a close last night, and in spectacular fashion – goals were scored everywhere. With the champions already crowned, and the relegation dogfight settled, the spotlight was firmly on the fight for fourth place – the final Champions League spot. Going into the weekend a point ahead of Spurs, Arsenal took on Newcastle knowing that a simple win would secure that lucrative Champions League spot, regardless of what happened at White Hart Lane, where Spurs were playing while hoping that the Gunners would stumble at the final hurdle.

There was also the small matter of final farewells to be bid to a number of luminaries after David Beckham said au revoir a day ago in Paris; Michael Owen, on the bench again, as has become customary in the latter part of his career; Jamie Carragher, playing his final game before joining Gary Neville in the Sky Sports studios; Paul Scholes, intent on quietly slipping away into the shadows; and of course, the grandmaster, Fergie, who’d already said his goodbyes last week at Old Trafford.

The two significant contests were still finely balanced on a knife-edge at the end of rather drab first halves. Both sparked into life in the second though. Arsenal went ahead in the 52nd minute courtesy of a scrappy goal from defender Laurent Koscielny. Spurs’ Gareth Bale then ensured nerves all over London were kept jangling by netting a screamer to put them in front. Ultimately though, Arsenal saw the game out, and claimed that all-important fourth spot, the equivalent of winning a trophy, if you choose to believe Arsene Wenger.

Meanwhile, over at The Hawthorns, Manchester United were busy sending off Sir Alex Ferguson by playing out an epic 10-goal thriller against West Brom, drawing 5-5; Norwich overcame former champions Manchester City 3-2; West Ham beat Reading 4-2, with two late goals giving them the victory; Wigan drew 2-2 with Aston Villa to end their stay in the top-flight; Swansea capitulated 3-0 at Fulham; Southampton drew 1-1 with Stoke; Liverpool beat QPR 1-0; and Chelsea beat Everton 2-1, capping a decent season with a victory. Ten games, end-to-end stuff, breathtaking football, played at breakneck pace all round. And then it ended, all too soon.

Final whistles blew across England, marking the start of a three month hiatus for football fans in Singapore: no more going into work on Monday bleary-eyed for the gainfully employed; no more sleeping in and missing that early class for students; no more weekly football fix for everyone. There’s still one final title battle to look forward to, for followers of local football at least – the Lions XII are charging towards the title across the Causeway, with three or four Malaysian teams in hot pursuit. It’s going to be a tight run-in, and is definitely be a battle to savour.

For now though, cue the obligatory summer transfer speculation as the football merry-go-round swings into action; players, agents, and managers alike will link themselves, and everyone else, to clubs all over the land; we will lap it up for all it’s worth, hoping and praying that the next club the latest star chooses to grace is ours. Because that’s all we’ll have to hang on to till August comes round.

by Kwan Jin Yao

ST and TODAY ran their reports on the developing Shane Todd court case with similar headlines: “no doubt” that the American researcher had killed himself.

During the Coroner’s Inquiry, the pathologist who had conducted the autopsy – Dr. Wee Keng Poh – explained Dr Todd’s cause of death, and refuted the findings of Dr Edward Adelstein, who had penned a report raising murder as the cause of death. The United States-based pathologist was consulted by the Todd family. Furthermore, the State had consulted two other American examiners as independent experts, and they agreed with the conclusions made by Dr Wee.

It would appear that the State is doing its utmost to answer the questions the Todds have, and the public is getting a clearer picture of the investigations. In fact, it is an education in the sort of marks death by hanging or strangulation would leave!

What of the Todd family? How are they taking the revelations in court so far? They had pursued a “murder’’ line of inquiry and have said some not-very-flattering things about the state of justice in Singapore. TODAY’s report said that the parents pronounced themselves “happy with the evidence adduced yesterday”.

They weren’t earlier, and had made some comments to the media during the lunch break which they subsequently retracted and apologised for. Apparently, terms like “not up to international standards” and “corrupt” had been used. Well, emotions do get the better of people and the quantity of information and detail on their son’s death would have been hard for them to listen to. Plus, they are in a foreign land, with unfamiliar people and immersed in an unfamiliar justice system.

The proceedings will hopefully show that Singapore’s investigation practices and agencies are not only rigorous, but competent enough to stand up to scrutiny. Justice will be served, whether American style or Singapore’s.

by Pavan Mano

Old Trafford was a cauldron of noise last night as Manchester United bid farewell to their chief of 26 years. A guard of honour was put on for the Scot, who looked slightly bashful as he walked onto the pitch – this is not a man who is comfortable with individual tributes. A sea of red gave rise to a cacophony of noise as The Boss climbed into the dugout for the final time.

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Old Trafford comes together to bid farewell to Sir Alex Ferguson. (Source: Manchester United Facebook page)

The players played their part in giving him the perfect send-off, playing rambunctiously right from the go, eventually scoring through Javier Hernandez. The energy died down midway through the game and Swansea equalized, threatening to rain on United’s parade. Then of course, it ended, almost poetically, in the manner that has come to typify a Sir Alex Ferguson team – a winner right at the end – Rio Ferdinand smashed home a volley to send Old Trafford into raptures.

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Rio Ferdinand celebrating after his winning goal. (Source: Manchester United Facebook page)

Not quite in “Fergie-time”, but close enough. The old Scot leapt out of his seat in celebration – a scene we have seen so many times over the years. It was a poignant moment of joy and disbelief, yet tinged with nostalgia and some sadness that this was it. Beautiful.

In an interview with BBC two days ago, Michael Carrick said the United players were left silent after Sir Alex told them he was retiring – I was similarly stunned when I heard the news. My first reaction was outright denial. When the news first broke, it was not supported by any official statements; only “reports” were cited. “No”, I told myself, “these are merely unconfirmed rumours. They must be.” But deep down I feared the worst; some stories are just so incredible that no editor would even bother running them without a significant assurance of reliability – Sir Alex retiring is one such incredible story. And so, within a few hours, it was confirmed with an official statement from Manchester United, and the man himself, that he was indeed stepping down after more than a quarter of a century in charge.

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Ferguson celebrates an end-game goal. (Source: Manchester United Facebook page)

I am young enough to have only known Man United under the management of Sir Alex. Ever since Dad, a United supporter himself, introduced me to the Red Devils, the gum-chewing, referee-haranguing, hairdryer-administering Scot was the only boss of United that I have ever known. While supporters of other clubs have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with new managers every few years, that never happened at United – stability was the name of the game. And so was success – I was spoilt by the success that Sir Alex brought about. Winning the league was a matter of course, rivals swatted aside with relative ease. Pretenders to the throne emerged, but they were swiftly acknowledged and usurped. Dad introduced me to United in, of all years, 1999 – that famous Treble-winning season. I recall Dad telling me assuredly “Man United are the kings.”

“Kings of what?” I innocently asked.

“Kings of England, the whole of Europe!” he replied.

That was when my love affair with the biggest club in the world began. I was fortunate enough to support a team in the charge of the greatest manager of modern-day football, who was steering his club to championship after championship. I had the luxury of going to school every Monday bragging that we had just beaten this team, or won this title and that title. As I grew older I began to learn more about the rich history of Manchester United, the traditions associated with it, and its culture. The more I read, the more I fell in love with the club. Best of all, in Sir Alex, they had a manager who epitomized old-fashioned classical values of loyalty, hard work, and team spirit while embracing change and evolution to meet, and overcome, new challenges.

The closest I have ever come to the Devils was in 2001 when they visited Singapore during their pre-season tour of Asia. Caught in my own club vs. country battle, I was torn between supporting my beloved United and rooting for my beloved country. In the end I chose both – I celebrated as United knocked eight past us; and rejoiced when Indra Sahdan Daud scored. I remember that game as the one in which the loony goalkeeper, Fabian Barthez, played outfield. Watching it all happen against the familiar backdrop of Kallang Stadium was almost unreal. It is, personally, one of the more memorable experiences I have had supporting United. And there have been many – so many it would be ridiculous to even try listing them; that must be the greatest accomplishment of Sir Alex’s reign – the fact that it is nigh-on impossible to decide upon his greatest accomplishment – there have just been so many peaks, all of them great in their own right.

Most of my generation don’t know of a reality in which Sir Alex isn’t at the helm of Man United. The older generation knows what it was like when Sir Alex wasn’t – and it was not pretty. We are all entering uncharted waters – it is unnerving, uncomfortable, and perhaps even scary, to a point. In his final speech at Old Trafford last night, the Boss called for the fans to get behind his successor David Moyes, reminding them that they had stood by him similarly in the past when things looked shaky. We’ve trusted The Boss’s judgement all these years – we would do well to trust this final judgement call of his.

Throughout Sir Alex’s reign, there was one mantra he kept repeating: “No one person is bigger than the club.” And perhaps that’s the best way to treat his retirement too; nobody, not even Sir Alex himself, is bigger than Manchester United; his departure is indeed a sad day for all concerned, a day United supporters everywhere hoped would never come, but the club will move on – and you get the feeling the great Scottish knight would settle for nothing less.

by Bertha Henson

An exchange between two foreign workers in Singapore:

FW1: These Singaporeans really love us! They held some candlelight vigil for Malaysians last night. Even though there was a police warning and all.

FW2: Don’t be silly. Not many people turned up. Scared off. Only a few hundred versus 4,000 or so at that Population White Paper rally. Don’t forget some Malaysians got arrested too earlier.

FW1: But that they even turned up at all was quite something no? People say Singaporeans very, what they call it? kiasi. Seems some of them aren’t that afraid. They were even taunting the plainclothes policemen!

FW2: Hey, don’t you read what some people on the Internet said? They think Singaporeans shouldn’t be protesting on the Malaysians’ behalf. Frankly, Singaporeans should mind their own business. What can the people in this small country do anyway? They’re just asking for trouble.

FW1: But some Singaporeans have always done so. For the Indian gang rape victim, displaced Sri Lankans and I don’t know who else. There’s actually some support for those of us who work here. A good sign.

FW2: You’re being too optimistic. Have you counted how many of us have been sent home because our passes haven’t been renewed? I tell you, we’re not welcomed here. They say we are taking away their jobs.

FW1: Hah! As though Singaporeans want to do the work we do. They need us to build those flats they live in.

FW2: That’s easy for you to say. You’re in the construction business. I’m in F&B and my boss says there’s a quota on hiring foreigners. My pass is up for renewal. I think I might have to go home.

FW1: Can’t you go to those migrant centres? They are very good to people like us. They pay legal fees, fight for our salaries and let us stay in their quarters. Even in their homes. Ask them to petition or make a case for you.

FW2: Are you mad? What if my employer finds out? What if police found out? You want me to be roughed up like those Chinese SMRT bus drivers?

FW1: But police said that didn’t happen. You can’t believe everything on the internet!

FW2: Well, you can’t believe everything the police say! In fact, I am going online to tell the Singaporeans what I think of them! These lazy fellows who don’t want to do the dirty jobs and then complain when people like us do. We’re doing it for so little money!

FW1: But more than what we’ll make at home, I think. My family is very pleased that there’s money. Except I’m getting worried. My boss hasn’t paid me in two months. You think I should complain to someone? To mother?

FW2: You mean that place in Havelock road? Useless, I hear they will ask you for so many different documents and you have to keep returning. You think your boss won’t find out where you’ve been? He’ll probably put you on the next plane home. By the way, how’s that girlfriend of yours? The one working in that big house?

FW1: Terrible! She wants me to marry her. She keeps forgetting I’m already married. I am just afraid she will kill herself, or worse, kill me! I’ve been reading so many such stories in the newspapers.

FW2: Well, the good thing is that the police don’t care how many women we run around with. They only care if it’s a big name civil servant. Anyway, I’m off for a beer. Thank goodness for 7/11.

FW1: Okay, I have to run and meet my woman now. Her employer is out of town. Big house! I think I built it!

by Shawn Danker and Lim Weixiang

Hong Lim Park became alive once more over the weekend, as both Singaporeans and Malaysians gathered in a “solidarity” rally held in the early evening on Mother’s day, with most of them decked out in black top dress code. Breakfast Network presents a photo composition describing how the event unfolded.

The demonstration begins in earnest with Mr Wham addressing and thanking the gathered crowd for their attendence (Photo by Shawn Danker)
The demonstration begins in earnest with Mr Wham addressing and thanking the gathered crowd for their attendence (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Sometime controversial Alfian Sa'at is 2nd at the bullhorn as he recites a monologue in both Malay and English from a play due to open in Kuala Lumpur on May 16 (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Sometime controversial Alfian Sa’at is 2nd at the bullhorn as he recites a monologue in both Malay and English from a play due to open in Kuala Lumpur on May 16 (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Jolovan and Alfian speak under the watchful gaze of the police (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Jolovan and Alfian speak under the watchful gaze of the police (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

A man penning a message of support to Malaysians on mahjong paper (Photo by Lim Weixiang)
A man penning a message of support to Malaysians on mahjong paper (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

Social Worker and Human Rights defender Jolovan Wham lights the first candle for the night's candle light vigil (Photo by Shawn Danker))
Social Worker and Human Rights defender Jolovan Wham lights the first candle for the night’s candle light vigil (Photo by Shawn Danker))

 

With the speeches over, the crowd moves on to show their solidarity with their northern compatriots by adding to the candle light vigil (Photo by Shawn Danker)
With the speeches over, the crowd moves on to show their solidarity with their northern compatriots by adding to the candle light vigil (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

People holding candles over the song sheet as they sang the song "We shall overcome", which was then followed by the Malaysian anthem (Photo by Lim Weixiang)
People holding candles over the song sheet as they sang the song “We shall overcome”, which was then followed by the Malaysian anthem (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

Check out the day’s Bread & Butter to also learn more about what happened!

 

by Bertha Henson

The Malaysians turned up. Unobtrusively. Quietly. In the black top dress code that the organisers of the “solidarity’’ rally suggested. Only when they spoke to each other could they be identified – not quite Singapore English, nor Singapore-like Chinese dialect. And finally, at the close the hour-long affair, they stood out when the people gathered at Hong Lim Park were asked to sing the Negara Ku.

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Participants singing Negara Ku, the Malaysian national anthem, at the end of the event (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

Some had a lighted yellow candle in hand; some seemed determined not to hold anything in light of police warnings against “participation’’ in the event at Speakers Corner.

One group of six young Malaysians from Ipoh working here told Breakfast Network that they were grateful to see Singaporeans standing with them. They were full of stories of supposed electoral fraud when they went up North to vote, with one declaring that his family had stopped subscription to the Malaysian Chinese Association-owned Sin Chew Jit Poh. Clearly, they were not fans of the Malaysian ruling coalition.

The crowd numbered in the few hundreds including hordes of media people. There was a picnic-like atmosphere with canvasses laid out and families with little ones enjoying the cool evening air. One of the Malaysians pointed out that in her country, rallies were attended only by adults, the educated from urban areas. This was nice, she said.

Yes, they knew of the arrests of their fellow citizens for the Merlion Park rally but that was “illegal’’, said one young man. He didn’t think that Malaysians should be doing anything that might cause the host country any harm, he said. “We have to follow the law.’’

Others, including Singaporeans, probably didn’t feel the same way about the arrests. Civil society activist and organiser Jolovan Wham reiterated the rules against non-Singaporeans taking part even quipping that the plainclothes policemen among the people should show themselves. (They didn’t, but one of them was conspicuous enough to find himself the target of some photo-taking…)

Mr Wham was the first speaker and was organising the gathering, he said, because he believed migrant workers deserved the same right to freedom of speech and assembly like anybody else.

But even if the Malaysians were barred from speaking, a group of 260 Malaysian social workers and counsellors based here made themselves heard when Mr Wham read out a statement on their behalf.

The 1st speaker up is Mr Wham as he reads a message from 260 Malaysian social workers and counsellors who spoke on behalf of their countrymen (Photo by Shawn Danker)
The 1st speaker up is Mr Wham as he reads a message from 260 Malaysian social workers and counsellors who spoke on behalf of their countrymen (Photo by Shawn Danker)

They called on the Malaysian political parties to push for, among other things, a comprehensive and accessible judicial system, independent police complaints commission and an inclusive society which cares for people at the margins.

Second speaker Alfian Saat, a poet, started by apologising on behalf of the Singapore government for arresting the Malaysians, an act which , he said, was not in line with “norms’’.

He was uncomfortable, he said, with recent statements which racialised the election results as a Chinese “tsunami’’ or swing to the opposition . And just when it seemed he would go into no-go territory on race and religion, he was interrupted by a heckler who kept questioning his nationality (he’s Singaporean).

But the sometimes controversial poet did not launch into tirade on race. Instead he recited a monologue in both Malay and English from a play due to open in Kuala Lumpur on May 16. It told of a 17 year old Chinese Malaysian who went with his family to visit relatives in Guangdong. The teenager found himself mute as he could not speak Mandarin and his Cantonese was sparse. He couldn’t wait to go back to Malaysia. When he did, that was when he found his voice again when he had to buy tickets to get home.

Mr Alfian did not say so but the message was clear: that nationality, not ethnicity, was what rooted Malaysians. It was cleverly done.

Then candles were lit. People sang “We shall overcome”. And someone suggested the Singapore National Anthem be sung to be followed by the Malaysian anthem.

It was over. Just an hour or so. The crowd dispersed. And the six Malaysians walked out of the park and into the bowels of the Clarke Quay MRT station bound for somewhere, in Singapore.

 

Visit our Slice for more pictures of the event here.

by Bertha Henson

Sunday May 12 is Mother’s Day but some people want to turn it into a Singaporeans for Malaysians day as well. A group wants a gathering at Hong Lim Park to show solidarity with Malaysians who are aggrieved at the results of the recent election.

Now, this is interesting.

So Singaporeans, apparently led by civil society activist Jolovan Wham, are going to organise this rally in the cause of “free and fair elections”. There is also a call for speakers, placards and art etc. as an expression of “solidarity”. Malaysians are welcomed but only as observers.

Already comments are popping up on the legality of doing something like this and what sort of official attention – both within and outside Singapore – it will attract.

The organisers seem to think that all is above board going by the rules that surround activities at the Speakers’ Corner. They are mainly concerned with the nationality of the organiser – must be Singaporean. As for topics, it does look like everything is within bounds so long as the speeches do not incite ill feelings, enmity and hostility between different racial and religious groups in Singapore. Oh, and the placards can’t be lewd.

As for a police permit, that’s needed only if a foreign or permanent is speaking, organising or taking part in the activities.

So it does seem that the organisers would be in the clear so long as the foreigners themselves refrain from making their presence felt lest it be construed as “taking part”.

Already the police are investigating activities of Malaysians who organised the Merlion Park party, warning people against importing their politics here. Visas and work permits could be terminated.

Looks like this upcoming rally will set a precedent of sort. It’s probably fair to think that when the G allowed Hong Lim Park as a free speech place, it didn’t factor in that it might be used for other activities on behalf of other nationalities.

So is this good or bad? Well, the Malaysian G might well accuse foreigners of interfering in its domestic politics. Then again, there have been probably been countless of times when the Malaysians themselves take to rubbishing Singapore on public platforms. Fair game eh?

Yet, there is also that sense that Singaporeans should keep to their own affairs in their own backyard. The event has already drawn the ire of the online group called Say no to an overpopulated Singapore who had this to say: “We would like to STRONGLY CONDEMN and discourage any Singaporeans from participating in that event.

“We should focus our actions on our own national and domestic issues, and NOT meddle or interfere with foreign politics. Do not be hijacked by foreign politicians/activists’ influences to advance their own agendas.”

“As much as we respect the values of democracy and fair elections, we do not believe in participating in foreign political events, same as we do not wish foreign powers to meddle or interfere with our own national issues.”

That’s a strong position and might well be a sensible one. Let’s not forget that this is a small country. We don’t need to throw stones at outsiders and more importantly, don’t need others to throw stones at us.