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The PAP flyer and freedom of speech

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By Masked Crusader

The PAP has consistently refused to participate in public debates against opposition politicians, preferring instead to take up the cudgel—and use knuckledusters—within the safe confines of Parliament, where it is able to gang up on vastly outnumbered opponents, and through the mainstream media which it controls.

The PAP flyer distributed recently within the Aljunied GRC is, therefore, an interesting departure. It must feel that its ambush against the Workers’ Party in Parliament as well as the accompanying media blitz in the past month has not achieved its intended result. Perhaps it is even concerned that its previous efforts have backfired, hence its direct appeal to Aljunied constituents to hold the WP to account for the alleged mismanagement of its Town Council.

Although the PAP flyer has caused a stir among some, I am all for accountability and consider it fair game that the PAP should engage residents and get them to ask hard questions to their elected representatives. The Workers’ Party surely would welcome opportunities to clarify the matter to its constituents despite already having done so in the cauldron of Parliament.

More significantly for the Workers’ Party, and other opposition parties in Singapore, the methods of Victor Lye and the other branch chairpersons of Aljunied GRC, have brought a certain legitimacy to the use of flyers to reach out directly to the electorate.

This is a positive development in an otherwise unlevel political environment in which the use of such a technique had been murky from a legal stand point. It now costs relatively little for the other political parties to invite voters to ask hard questions of the PAP through the use of flyers. As many have suggested, a one-page flyer will not be enough to contain the issues the opposition parties will want the electorate to confront PAP MPs with.

Netizens have brought up instances where the distribution of flyers with a political slant have resulted in police investigations and even prosecutions. I am not sure how relevant these comparisons are to the current situation. What is important, however, is the clarity that has been provided by Victor Lye’s latest stunt and the inaction of the Police.

Oddly, I find myself agreeing somewhat with PAP apologist, Calvin Cheng, who in his familiar strident style chastises those who question the legality of Victor Lye’s actions.

In 2010, the Police, perhaps overzealous, initiated investigations regarding a “poison pen letter” stuffed in letter boxes in Sengkang asking residents to take PAP politicians to task on policy failures. Charges of sedition were bandied about. But, even PAP MPs, well aware that the letter was hardly different to the anonymous missives seen daily on the internet, shrugged off the significance of the letter. The then MP of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Charles Chong, stated, “residents can read it and decide for themselves if the comments are credible.” MP Teo Ser Luck and PAP HQ Executive Director, Lau Ping Sum, also made statements to the press dismissing the “poison letter” as not worthy of further attention.

Freedom of speech, as the enlightened Charles Chong points out, allows readers to decide for themselves if statements are credible. Knowing the author or the source, though useful, sometimes taints the reader’s view of what she reads. Many Singaporeans, for example, are suspicious of the reportage of The Straits Times. Perhaps this is why Victor Lye and company decided to use a medium other than The Straits Times and also left out the PAP logo in its flyer—so that the PAP-haters in Aljunied GRC would read till the end.

It is presumably for the above reason that the Police have been inert about the PAP flyer. The Police, after all, knows that a good tip is a good tip whether it comes from a known or anonymous source. Investigators also know that, in today’s world, one man’s poison pen letter is another man’s whistle-blowing letter.

At times, it is appropriate to focus on what is being said rather than who is saying it. That, it seems, is what the PAP is counting on with its “anonymous” flyer.

This article was first published at maskedcrusader.blogspot.sg