Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

John Kampfner’s Freedoms

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th November, 2012

Perhaps it was being born and growing up in Singapore that gave John Kampfner insight into the dangers inherent in a social compact that gives citizens economic prosperity (and cleanliness!) at the sacrifice of some significant civil liberties. But certainly concerns about the nature and protection of freedom have been at the heart of much of his subsequent activity as a journalist, editor and former head of Index on Censorship. This evening, at a Pizza and Politics held immediately after the AGM of Holborn & St Pancras Liberal Democrats, he highlighted some of his concerns about some of the measures being considered by the Coalition government — not just the so-called Secret Courts but also proposals for greater surveillance of our emails and other communication traffic. As a convert from Labour to the Liberal Democrats (for which he has received much stick from earstwhile colleagues) John stressed how important it is for the Party to stick to its civil liberties beliefs. The records of both Conservative and Labour governments have been pretty dire in this regard, so the implication is that if LibDems don’t make a stand on freedoms then we risk losing our political soul. Nonetheless, we should take the findings of Lord Leveson seriously when they are published on Thursday. A totally unfettered Press can wreak havoc, as I would argue Fox News in the United States is doing. As always it is a matter of balancing freedom with responsibility, but for me that is very much what Liberalism is all about.



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Singapore 2009

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2009

jf-with-merlene-emersonMerlene Toh Emerson, LibDem PPC for Hammersmith, and I joined in the festivities with about 15,000 Singaporeans and friends in the park at Hampton Court this afternoon, at a Singapore 2009 event — one of several taking place around the world. The mood was good, not least because the weather was better than forecast and all of the delicious varieties of food were free! The Singapore government, which doesn’t like to lose track of its citizens when they move abroad, certainly put out the red carpet for everyone, with singing and comedy acts and even a Deputy Prime Minister flown to London for the occasion, plus a goodie bag which included a handy mat for sitting on the grass.

We were there to point out to Singaporean, Malaysian and other Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK that they have the right to vote n the European elections here on 4 June, as long as they are registered (closing date for registration 19 May).


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Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Woes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th April, 2009

Protesting outside summits is the flavour of the month. Barely have the G20 demonstrators been pushed out of the City of London than police in the Thai resort of Pattaya are trying to keep red-shirted supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra away from the hotel where leaders from the 10 South East Asian countries are due to gather for an ASEAN summit. In this case, though, the protest and associated anger are essentially domestic, as the demonstrators are calling for the current PM, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to resign. The protest leader, Arismun Pongreungrong, said the Redshirts do not intend to damage anything, but ‘we have to show the world that this government is not democratic.’

It would be a shame if the protests did disrupt the summit, as ASEAN needs a meeting to discuss the region’s approach to the current global economic and financial crisis. Mr Abhisit and the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, were both at the G20 summit in London, but the Pattaya meeting should be more than a report-back from that. As I wrote in an article for the next issue of Diplomat magazine, the situation of the different ASEAN member states varies enomously. Indonesia, for example, still expects to enjoy around four per cent growth this year, whereas Singapore — which is heavily dependent on trade — has seen a sharp contraction. It will be interesting to see if ASEAN can come up with a more united front than the EU has managed to do.

In the meantime, Abhisit has to figure out how to deal with the wave of pro-Thaksin protests that has been sweeping the country for months, as well as the polarisation in Thailand between the Redshirts and the yellow-shirted campaigners of the conservative People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is close to some members of Abhisit’s government yet also keeping a close eye on the Prime Minister’s performance.

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Singapore’s Anti-Democracy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 8th May, 2008

Singapore has many things going for it. It is prosperous, authentically multi-cultural (despite the large Chinese majority) and squeaky clean — in fact, they even banned chewing gum for many years, so as not to mess up the streets and the transport system. Singapore has an airport that regularly tops the ‘favourite airport in the world’ list (eat your heart out, Heathrow). And despite the high population density on the island, it is green and in large parts a model of urban planning.

However, Singapore has a dark secret. It is a democracy that isn’t. Firmly seen as ‘one of us’ by the West (including Washington and London), it is actually a one-party state. Any attempt to create a viable opposition, and for that to function properly, is thwarted at every turn. Take the latest developments. The Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Dr Chee Soon Juan, and a senior fellow party member, Mrs Chee Siok Chin, will be in court on Monday to hear what damages may be awarded against them for ‘libeling’ former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew (still the power behind the throne), and the current Prime Minister, Lee Hsen Loong (his son, surprise surprise). If past experience is anything to go by, the damages will be so high that the defendants will face bankruptcy. At other times, people who have dared to disagree have ended up in prison. That’s how Singapore deals with its opposition.

It’s all so sad. What ought to be a beacon of modernity and openness in South East Asia is actually a blot on the landscape, because of its systematic suppression of free democratic activity. Liberal International has appealed for urgent action by parliamentarians, the media and ordinary concerned citizens around the world. We are always keen to stand up against nasty dictatorships. Let us be true to our principles and stand up to the superficially charming anti-democracies as well.


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