Caught in the Crossfire


My views were caught in the crossfire between what could be the SDP and the MIW camps. The TOC letter summed it up that there is no basis that Chee Soo Juan’s use of the Burmese embassy protest for SDP’s benefit is immoral, or something like that.

Call me a realist, but I see politics firstly as about power, not about morality. The PAP plays its own dirty games, and the SDP has learnt to play along to increase its power and reach. It is obvious that SDP seized the chance to protest at the embassy to establish its presence. Unlike the MIW or the WP, I don’t think it has any regular meet the people sessions or walk abouts. Hence, it has to come up with some other marketing plan otherwise Singaporeans cannot remember the SDP.

Burma is among SDP’s pet causes given that SDP is a member of a few international democrat conglomerates, or cabals, depending on where you stand. SDP is a party that, in MFAspeak, wants to punch beyond its weight. SDP advocates for “democracy” not only in Singapore but also elsewhere. Maybe elsewhere more than Singapore as its tactics have steadfastly not adopted to the people’s tastes much despite defeats at the polls time after time.

I think we should see SDP’s stance at St Martin’s Drive for what it is. A chance to advertise its brand to an international audience more than a local one, as the international media is captivated by what SDP does to irk the MIW in Singapore. The week-long protest at the embassy is more to sustain the idea of civil disobedience, a philosophy SDP adheres to, and pressure the authorities to eventually cave in on that indefensible zero-tolerance towards protests. That was why Chee Soon Juan urged people to stare down the intimidation and harassment by the police at the embassy and sign the petitions. The Burmese petitions, together with the 24-hour protest outside the Istana scheduled today, and SDP’s other ad hoc protests and marches, are all part of satyagraha.

For SDP, the recent events in Burma with the whole world watching were mainly a window for another attempt at civil disobedience in Singapore. If SDP was that religious about Burma all the time as I think its supporters claims it is, then did SDP organise petitions outside St Martin’s Drive when Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest was extended in November 2004 and May 2007, also significant although less dramatic moments in Burma politics?

Chee Soon Juan’s ‘exploitation’ of the Burma situation?
Posted by theonlinecitizen on October 6th, 2007

This is a letter sent to TOC. The writer wishes to remain anonymous.

Recently, a few people have complained that Chee Soon Juan was exploiting the Burmese situation to make a political point. Here’s one typical interpretation of the petition he held recently outside the Burmese embassy. Here’s another, a letter from a Burmese national to the ST.

The first thing to note is that the accusers have absolutely zero evidence that Chee has no genuine concern for the Burmese people. That he is doing this for the sole purpose of bringing attention to his party and his cause. So this cannot be a valid criticism of Chee’s actions.

Let us then consider a slightly more substantive criticism, that articulated by M. M. Aung in his letter to the ST. He writes:

“I am upset that Dr Chee Soon Juan, an opposition politician of the Singapore Democratic Party, exploited the situation in Myanmar by collecting signatures for a petition from innocent people who did not know that the petition was also directed at the Singapore Government.”

It seems to me that if people signed the petition without asking to whom it was directed, that they have only themselves to blame and not Chee. If you buy a product from me without asking what it is, am I to blame? I might, if I had attempted to deceive you into thinking it was something that it was not. But Chee did not. There were no explicit notices or announcements that this was a petition against the Burmese government and nothing else. Anyone could have asked Chee about the targets of the petition, and there is no evidence that he gave anyone a deceptive answer if they asked.

So what other objections do these critics have to Chee’s actions?

They always mention that the SDP makes political gains from organising such events. But clearly, making political gains in itself cannot immoral, otherwise all politics would be immoral. So there must be some other reason for their thinking that Chee is doing something immoral.

Is it because he is making political gains through showing his support for a foreign cause? That can only be so if you also think that all politicians should not take public stances on foreign causes. Only isolationists would make that extreme assertion, and I doubt that all of Chee’s critics are such hard-core isolationists.

It’s also often been mentioned that it’s ’sickening’ that Chee is using the fact that the Burmese are ’suffering’ to make a political point. But making a political point based on other people’s suffering can’t be intrinsically immoral either, unless you believe politicians should be oblivious to other people’s suffering. Since much of politics legitimately concerns reducing human suffering, I think we can safely say that that would also be a rather far-fetched assertion.

We can only conclude that it is still unclear what basis we have to condemn Chee’s actions as immoral.

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4 responses

  1. ted

    I would rather think that protests/petition signing for extension of house arrests is on a different level compared to the crackdown of non-armed Monks marching.

    October 8, 2007 at 9:34 pm

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 9 Oct 2007 « The Singapore Daily

  3. chemgen

    Hi Ted

    I agree with you that the crackdown on the monks is at a different level in terms of news-worthiness, drama and the firing of the imagination and ire of the world. Which is more sexy and more likely to get ordinary Joe on board the anti-junta bandwagon? The crackdown.

    But in principle, it is clinically just another symptom of the junta’s resolve not to budge, just like the house arrest and its extensions. The refusal to release Aung San Suu Kyi were important signs of hardliners holding court in SPDC, especially after the significant 2003 ambush of an NLD convoy by “bandits”.

    October 10, 2007 at 11:39 am

  4. Pingback: Burma Protests/13th ASEAN Summit, Singapore « San Oo Aung’s Weblog

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