Singapore can learn from Myanmar’s opposition

From the Straits Times, 14 Oct:

On Saturday, three prominent activists in the student-led uprising the army put down with an estimated loss of 3,000 lives in 1988 were detained in one of the many raids still being conducted by police. They face long jail terms.

Htay Kywe has already spent 15 years in jail, Mie Mie, a woman activist, seven years and Aung Thu, the third arrested, five years. Aung Gyi, another activist, was arrested separately.

Ko Min Aung, a member of detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, was arrested in Taunggok when he got home from an NLD meeting on Saturday.

‘The police took him, grabbing his arms as soon as he got home. They did not even allow him to take a change of clothes,’ his wife told Reuters on Sunday.

I am simply amazed at the grit and determination of the Myanmar opposition activists. After spending 15 years in a Myanmar jail (I’m sure conditions in the jail there must be horrendous), they are still willing to continue their quest to achieve democracy for their fellow countrymen.

Often, when Singaporeans are asked why so few people want to join the Opposition or civil society, the common refrain is that the government has created a “climate of fear” and that people are afraid of the consequences. Look at these Myanmarese. Despite the real climate of fear there, the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) is still alive and active, and not lacking heroes who are willing to step forward to make a difference. Singaporeans have no excuse, really.


Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

11 thoughts on “Singapore can learn from Myanmar’s opposition”

  1. I don’t think a ‘climate of fear’ is what driving talents away from politics. It has more to do with political apathy, or the sense that there is no need to disrupt the system in Singapore.

    A climate of fear exists because certain Opposition politicians in Singapore get into trouble for crossing the limits set forth by the government. Yes, one may argue that this creates ‘a climate of fear’ and it is not fair play, but how else would one expect the ruling party to act?

    The opposition party needs to be adriot enough to work in spite of these limitations. While it is important that they lobby for fair political play in Singapore, quality should be the their main focus.

    A ‘climate of fear’ is merely a product of our perception.

  2. Hi Gerald,
    I cannot agree with you more.
    The difference is that in Burma, there is a unifying figure of opposition in Aung San Suu Kyi who is undisputed leader and she can walk into the Prime Ministership at the snap of the fingers ( if there was political freedom).

    Not so in Sg. For a myriad of reasons, the most visible opposition figure (CSJ) is not supported by a majority of Sgporeans. The other figures : JBJ, LTK,CST, Sylvia Lim are not out there providing an alternative opposition.

    I know talk is cheap and they are zillion times better than me here typing this opinion piece.

    Until we can convince the PAP to scale back their control or until the opposition can find a unifying figure that commands authority to break “unjust” laws and force open the doors of PAP’s citadels ( civil service/uniformed forces/ grass root activism), there is no hope of meaningful alternative politics ( in the sense of Team A/Team B- Tories/Labour type).

    Sorry for just providing “cheap” talk.


  3. terence – well said. I agree quality should be the main focus of the Opposition.

    Dr Huang – You said LTK and Sylvia Lim are not providing an alternative opposition. Can you explain why? What could they do to be a better alternative oppo?

  4. Hi Gerald,
    For the records: LTK & SL are sincere, upright and pro-Sg politicians. They are not there for the money or fame.

    But, the way things are going, there will not be any alternative as the PAP has so astutely allowed WP to function only so long as their dominance is not threatened. They are tolerated as a modern nation needs to be seen to be having non-ruling politicians, hence they are good PR material for the rest of the skeptical world.

    What else can WP do, ( which they are not already doing) in such a suffocating climate? Not much. They can i. boycott ( but then we know how the PAP used Barisan Socialis boycott to their own advantage) ii. either get the GRC rescinded ( by constitutional court challenge) or go for broke by winning one ( cos no one will believe WP is serious about ruling till it is able to break the GRC duck) iii. Increase grass root activities all over the island.

    Only strong grassroot work will be rewarded with electoral results. Winning by personality will at most be temporary eg (Bt Gombak/ Nee Soon Central).

    Is there any possibility of change if WP and PAP continues functioning the way it does? Not likely. Hence I say that as of now – notwithstanding the wonderful people, that LTK and SL are, there are no alternatives ( and this suits the PAP just fine)


  5. I notice among your recommendations to WP, you didn’t include (i) recruiting more quality candidates and (ii) coming up with better alternative policies.

    Aren’t those the two most important criteria for educated and rational voters?

  6. Hi guys,

    I do agree somewhat with Dr Huang that the opposition in singapore is offering no alternatives. At least at the moment.

    Besides the SDP, which is frowned upon by most singaporeans (rightly or wrongly), the other opposition parties seem to be indistinguishable. They all look the same, if we see them at all, that is.

    Couple this with an apathetic and fearful people, it will take eons before singapore sees any changes in the political sphere.

    The euphoria is just once-every-5-years, when the elections come. The danger here is that people will grow accustomed to attending opposition rallies in their thousands but will not vote for them when it matters most.

    The opposition will then be seen as “entertainers” which comes out to entertain once every 5 years.

    What is needed is quite simple actually:

    One, for parties like the WP to be more assertive and distinguish itself from other parties.

    Two, for the SDP to tone down its strident actions.

    Three, for singaporeans themselves to get off their asses and help out opposition parties.

    If we continue to hide behind this lame excuse of “there is a climate of fear”, then who is to blame for things not changing?

    Geral, you are right. Credible candidates and alternative policies will help. But the thing is, you need a mass media which will at least give you that space to publicise these policies.

    The WP had the best manifesto in the last elections but how many actually know what was in it, the alternative policies?

    End of the day, I feel that since political parties and politicians are there because they want to be there, the onus is on them to do more and be more assertive – but not go to extremes.

    Just me two cents.

  7. I don’t think it is so easy for Singaporeans to change their mindset. Chiam and Low won by sheer bad luck of PAP and they did the rest. Ling and Cheo did not make use of the opportunity. PAP has not got that same bad luck since. That’s why Steve Chia and Sylvia Lim ended up only NCMPs.

    There is no such thing as “assertive” without being “extreme”. It’s either you break the law or you don’t. WP make all the noise in the world also no use as long as it does not behave like SDP. Once SDP stop breaking the laws, it will look like WP. Is there such a thing as breaking half the law?

  8. Funny post here.

    Let’s see the logic.

    P: Singapore has a climate of fear, so citizens are unwilling to step into politics.
    P: Myanmar has a climate of fear, but citizens are willing to step into politics.
    C: Hence, Singaporeans have no excuse for not stepping into politics.

    P: Many people on this thread are Singaporeans.
    C: Therefore, many people on this thread have no excuse for not stepping into politics.

    I don’t have any excuses if such an argument is followed. But I wonder why Singaporeans discussing about local politics end up referring to opposition and joining opposition parties as a third party/I’m not involved manner.

    Similar to Dr. Huang, I apologize for providing cheap talk as well, since I have no interest in dipping my toes into that level of politics (namely, that of joining an opposition party).

  9. The reason that the most visible opposition figure (CSJ) is not supported by a majority of Singaporeans is mainly due to our govt-controlled media, because that’s what the PAP would like Singaporeans to believe: he is BAD (not credible), what he did/does is BAD (not credible)…even his photos used on our newspapers or TV are really BAD!

    The other reason I can think of would be: most Singaporeans think of ourselves as very smart people ;-)

  10. The election results are determined by the heartlanders mot of whom do not read international English media nor surf the net.

    In the names of “big picture” and “national interest”,the PAP controls the media very tightly,econd probably to the New Light of Myanmar which has an obligation to publish 20 pictures of some murderous Generals,I suspect.

    Take away the tight control of the domestic media accessible to our voters, just ask them to practise freedom of speech,keep their pro-PAP editorials but report the actual situation factually,you see what would happen.

    I suspect that this is probably the biggest nightmare of MM Lee,not any opposition politician nor political party!

  11. I’m always supportive of having a capable opposition since young, cos no govt is perfect. At the moment, WP is the most credible.

    I agree with many things that PAP has done to make this nation prosperous, but there are things like their unjustifiable million dollar salaries that are overboard to me.

    SgPpl shud be more politically astute and realise no govt is perfect and support a capable opposition. However, the climate of fear exists in ppl to cut that vote and the ignorance untruth tat voting for Opp cannot be better than voting for PAP to serve them… the truth is voting for Opp will still mean PAP has power in parliament to hold court anyway.


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