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For the last time, TOC is not a political party!

This article was first published at this blog.

by Siew Kum Hong

I was a little bemused (and later amused) to see a letter in ST Forum on 29 Jan, that basically insinuated that I had become a Nominated Member of Parliament as an "attention-gathering exercise" and a stepping stone to entering partisan politics.

I finally found the time to draft and send a reply to ST Forum on CNY Eve, and ST published an edited version of my letter yesterday (5 Feb). The original letter, my unedited reply, and the published version are all reproduced below. I must say that I felt that while I have no issue with the brevity of the published version, ST's edits quite substantially the key points in my letter, including the significant point about mistaking "political association" for "political party".

LETTER FROM CHEONG TUCK KUAN, JAN 29

Mr Cheong Tuck Kuan: "I was surprised to read that one of the four volunteers at The Online Citizen ('Online Citizen submits names of 4 volunteers'; Tuesday) is former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong. We must guard the systemic integrity of the NMP scheme and its appointees must remain non-partisan leaders of opinion. NMPs intent on entering mainstream politics should be barred from joining political parties for five years after their terms end. Otherwise, the scheme may be wrongly perceived as an attention-gathering exercise.

MY UNEDITED REPLY, SENT TO ST ON FEB 2

I refer to the letter from Mr Cheong Tuck Kuan ("Protecting a scheme"; Jan 29), where he appeared to suggest that I was "intent on entering mainstream politics", had joined a political party in being a volunteer with The Online Citizen, and had become a Nominated Member of Parliament as "an attention-gathering exercise".

I do not agree with Mr Cheong that my constitutional right to free assembly should be restricted simply because I had been a NMP. But in any case the question raised by him is a theoretical one, because I have not entered politics and have not joined any political party.

TOC is not a political party, and the Prime Minister's Office intention to gazette it as a political association does not make it one. Instead, TOC is a website that provides regular Singaporeans with a platform to share their opinions about all aspects of life in Singapore, a place where Singaporeans can come and talk about what is foremost on their minds. It does not engage in partisan politics, and has no interest in doing so.

Indeed, Mr Cheong's error demonstrates how the PMO's decision to designate a civil society group as "political" will retard the development of an active citizenry. Given Singaporeans' general reluctance to be associated with partisan politics, the conflation of activism with "politics" will deter Singaporeans from being active in the first place. This does civil society, and indeed all of society, a disservice.

EDITED VERSION PUBLISHED ON FEB 5

MR SIEW KUM HONG, former Nominated MP: 'I refer to the letter by Mr Cheong Tuck Kuan ('Protecting a scheme: NMPs should be barred from joining political parties for five years after their terms end'; Jan 29), in which he appeared to suggest that I was 'intent on entering mainstream politics'. The question raised by him is a theoretical one, because I have not entered politics and have not joined any political party. The Online Citizen (TOC) is not a political party, and the intention to gazette it as a political association does not make it one. TOC is a website that provides regular Singaporeans with a platform to share their opinions about all aspects of life in Singapore, a place where Singaporeans can come and talk about what is foremost on their minds. It does not engage in partisan politics, and has no interest in doing so.'