Seelan Palay

The following is a letter from Mr Seelan Palay in response to TOC’s report, “Milder but more credible“.

A lead article on The Online Citizen portal a couple of days ago described the Youth Wing of the Workers’ Party as “milder but more credible”. But what this headline means has become a subject of controversy, going by the comments that the article has attracted.

However, my focus is on something else.

The first two paragraphs of the write-up are an unbridled attack on WP’s former secretary-general, the late Mr J B Jeyaretnam who had led the party for three decades until 2001.

The late JBJ, as he was popularly known, was accused of “unrestrained election rally speeches and rambunctious attacks on the PAP government“.

This is exactly the same allegation that the ruling PAP, through its controlled media, was accusing JBJ of doing during his political life. What is most disturbing is the fact that such an allegation has found resonance, of all places in the new leadership of WP.

It was through his resolve and determination that JBJ was able to break 15 years of PAP’s total domination of Parliament by winning the Anson seat in a by-election in 1981. Again, he was elected with an increased majority in the same constituency in 1984 when all electoral wards in Singapore remained Single Member Constituencies.

Soon after, the MP for Anson was found guilty by a high court judge for “having falsified” the party accounts, together with its chairman. Both were fined and jailed, depriving JBJ of his Anson seat and thus frustrating the constituents of their elected MP. But in 1991, when he remained disqualified from contesting, JBJ worked relentlessly to make sure Mr Low Thia Khiang, an unknown WP candidate then, got elected in Hougang. If not for JBJ’s leadership of WP and his election rally speeches, the Hougang single seat would not have been won.

Despite the constant attacks from the PAP, including name calling such as “mangy dog” by Lee Kuan Yew, JBJ’s tenacity paid off in the form of a Privy Council judgment in the late 1980s when the Law Lords ruled that the MP for Anson and his co-defendant (WP chairman) were subjected to “a series of mistrials for offences which they did not commit”. The Privy Council in London was then the highest court of law of the county due to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s insistence that an outside body provided the “litmus test” of Singapore’s judicial independence.

This damning indictment by the Privy Council sealed the fate of the so-called litmus test Lee Kuan Yew often boasted about. Soon after, appeals to Privy Council were scrapped.

And yet the WP and its Youth Wing now seem “adamant about avoiding the bevy of defamation suits suffered by its former Secretary-General“.

What an irony. Instead of blaming the perpetrators of the crime, the victim remains condemned.

I suppose that is the price one has to pay to earn the accolade “milder and more credible” from an authoritarian regime intolerant of dissent.

With this kind of opposition or alternative party, Singapore will continue to be under the PAP for another half-a-century, giving firm assurance to the obvious desire of Law Minister K Shanmugam for the ruling party to continue with the status quo.

Seelan Palay is an artist and activist. He blogs at

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