Thursday, November 3, 2011

Teo Soh Lung: For Minister Teo Chee Hean (3)

by Teo Soh Lung on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 at 21:30
T.J.S. George in his book Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore[1] wrote :

“Almost any speech he (Lee Kuan Yew) made in the Assembly between 1955 and 1959 could go straight into the liberal democrat’s bedside bookshelf. The most celebrated of these – celebrated partly for the parliamentary thrust he displayed but mainly for the irony it was to provide in the years to come – was the repression-is-like-making-love speech of October 1956.. in which he deplored the arbitrary arrests of trade union and civil leaders. It was an outstanding example of the popular pose he struck in the years before power, and of the distance he was to travel in the years after. In other ways, too, it was an important landmark in Lee’s political career.

Examining how governments could fall all too easily into the habit of suppressing the liberty of the individual, Lee said:

`First the conscience is attacked by a sense of guilt. You attack only those whom your Special Branch can definitely say are communists. They have no proof except that X told Z who told Alpha who told Beta who told the Special Branch. Then you attack those whom your Special Branch say are actively sympathising with and helping the communists, although they are not communists themselves. Then you attack those whom your Special Branch say, although they are not communists or fellow travellers, yet, by their intransigent opposition to any collaboration with colonialism, they encourage the spirit of revolt and weaken constituted authority and thereby, according to the Special Branch, they are aiding the communists. Then finally, since you have gone that far, you attack all those who oppose you.

`… All you have to do is to dissolve organisations and societies and banish or detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil and quiet on the surface. Then an intimidated press – and some sections of the press here do not need intimidation because they have friendly owners – the press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done. Or if these things are referred to again, they are conveniently distorted, and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict.

`… But if we say we believe in democracy, if we say that the fabric of a democratic society is one which allows the free play of ideas, which avoids revolution by violence because revolution by peaceful methods of persuasion is allowed, then in the name of all the gods we have in this country, give that free play a chance to work within the constitutional framework.’”

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had got it all worked out. He knew the path he was going to take when he assumed power in 1959. He was not going to give free play of ideas “a chance to work within the constitutional framework” that he articulated when he was in opposition. He had seen how the British used the Emergency Regulations and the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance. He knew the usefulness of indefinite detention without trial.

Conspiring with the Tunku and the British, Operation Cold Store was launched that dawn of 2 February 1963. Following that, waves of arrests continued throughout the 60s and the 70s. In the 80s, there was hardly anyone left to challenge his government. Yet he deemed it necessary to pass on his expertise to his successors, Mr Goh Chok Tong and his colleagues. How he explained the arrests of the alleged Marxists or “do-gooders” was interesting. He was perhaps not as agile as in the 60s but those arrested in the 80s and the Catholic Church needed no knuckleduster treatment to be driven to silence.

Minister Teo Chee Hean entered politics in December 1992. By then, all the alleged Marxists had been released, albeit subject to restrictions. Teo became a full fledged minister in 1995. After 9/11, he was involved in the decision to arrest alleged Muslim terrorists, some 80 of them. As Minister for Home Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister I do not know if he and his colleagues have chosen or will choose the path taken by Lee.

[1] T.J.S George, Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, Andre Deutsch Limited, 1975, pp 111-112

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