Foreign Interest and Foreign Interference in Singapore Politics
When does foreign interest in Singapore politics become foreign interference in Singapore politics?
I am not a big fan of the SDP under Chee Soon Juan’s leadership, ranging from his political style and to his handling of issues. The MIW always focus on SDP’s foreign backing and about foreign interference in Singapore politics because of SDP. I think as discerning citizens we have to critically take this argument apart.
There will always be foreign groups, individuals, governments, media etc which would have a political interest in Singapore. They would reach out and contact Singaporeans as part of their interest. But interest per se does not mean interference, and we shouldn’t be paranoid. Take the examples cited in the New Paper report.
Some rush thoughts. Timothy Cooper was probably here to document the SDP march on Sunday and use it for SDP, World Rights or other activist publicity purposes. I take it as foreign interest in Singapore politics, just like Reuters, The Economist etc follow Singapore politics occasionally, and there is nothing dodgy about this. The Bo Tedards example is slightly different and higher up on the dodgy scale, if New Paper reported it accurately. Bo appeared that he wanted to be discreet about his whole involvement with SDP and private discussions with them on political lobbying in Singapore. The infamous foreign interference argument applies here? Perhaps.
The Electric New Paper
SDP CHIEF RELEASED FROM JAIL
IF he had been hoping for a crowd outside Queenstown Remand Prison yesterday, Dr Chee Soon Juan would have been disappointed.
Apart from his wife, three children and his sister, Ms Chee Siok Chin, there were only four supporters waiting for the Singapore Democratic Party chief.
Dr Chee went to jail on 4 Sep after failing to pay a $4,000 fine for leaving the country last year without permission while a bankrupt.
He was sentenced to three weeks’ jail after an eight-day trial.
In the general elections last year, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) polled just 23.3 and 22.8 per cent in Sembawang GRC and single-member constituency Bukit Panjang respectively.
But Dr Chee, its secretary-general, appears to have a following with some foreigners.
Though the rules are clear on foreigners getting involved in local politics, this doesn’t seem to sit well with the SDP.
In the past, the party has tried to involve foreigners in its events here.
In mid-April, it invited foreign speakers to take part in a public forum on the ministerial pay hike, The Straits Times reported.
The police rejected SDP’s application to hold the forum while the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority denied professional visit passes to the foreign speakers.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it did so on grounds of public interest.
It said in a statement: ‘Singapore’s politics are reserved for Singaporeans. As visitors to our country, foreigners should not abuse their privilege by interfering in our domestic politics.’
On Monday, The New Paper reported that an American – Mr Timothy Cooper of Worldrights, a non-profit human rights group – was seen filming an SDP gathering outside the Istana.
When approached, Mr Cooper told us he just happened to be there when the SDP group turned up.
Now, users on an online forum are talking about a Taiwan-based political commentator who has close links with Dr Chee.
This commentator, Mr Bo Tedards, has visited Singapore several times, the last time in May, when he was photographed at SDP’s May Day Walk on Labour Day.
An Internet search showed that he is the co-ordinator of the World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA), which was co-founded by Dr Chee in2005.
The Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia (Arda), which has Dr Chee as chairman, is also a member of WFDA.
Mr Tedards, an American who has lived in Taiwan for more than 10 years, was photographed next to Dr Chee at an Arda forum in Kuala Lumpur in2005.
Mr Tedards is also the director for international cooperation in Taiwan Foundation forDemocracy.
When contacted, Mr Tedards said he was at the SDP walk in May, but didn’t take part in the event.
He claimed that he and his wife visited Dr Chee, his sister and two other ‘walkers’ only during a 10-minute restbreak.
Mr Tedards said over the phone from Taiwan: ‘I didn’t take part in the walk because the number of people taking part would have exceeded four if I did.’
It is illegal to organise an assembly of five or more people to support or protest something without a permit.
During his May visit, Mr Tedards said he also held a closed-door discussion with SDP members and supporters on human rights and democracy.
Does he know that organising an indoor public forum with foreign speakers requires a permit?
Mr Tedards, who is in his late 30s, said: ‘My understanding is that these are required only for public events.
‘For private events, you don’t need a permit. I didn’t have to apply for a permit for the closed-door event.’
He said he had visited Singapore several times before, but claimed the May visit was the first time he had gone to an SDP event.
Asked why he held a discussion with SDP members despite knowing the Singapore Government’s stand on foreigners getting involved in Singapore politics, Mr Tedards said: ‘I come here for the good of the people and people of the world.
‘All people deserve their universal human rights, such as the right to speak.’
Is he saying that Singaporeans are ignorant of their human rights that they need foreigners like him to teach them?
‘No, I don’t know if they’re ignorant,’ he said. ‘Maybe not, because the Singapore people are well-educated. But somehow, they find it difficult to realise it. I don’t know why.’