Dr Chee: Was Elgin Toh, Straits Times right?

I DID A double take when I read Mr Elgin Toh’s column The significance of SDP’s attempt at remaking its image in which he wrote that the SDP had stopped its acts of civil disobedience, or more popularly and correctly called non-violent action or NVA, because the “approach simply did not work”.

I’d like to think that Mr Toh has not kept up with history rather than being frugal with the truth.

But before I explain why, let me run this preface. The NVA which we conducted occurred in the earlier half of the last decade, a time when civil society was almost non-existent and social media had not been born. (Heck, the fax machine was still in use.) It was a time when SPH was king and the opposition was at the mercy of the bureaucrats at Caldecott Hill.

In addition, with the PAP employing tactics like suing the opposition, amending the constitution, and threatening voters contesting for votes was a little like spitting in the wind, only more hazardous. We must have provided the ruling clique endless amusement once every four or five years.

The unpalatable truth is that without freedom of speech and assembly, elections are hollow. Just ask Mr Kim Jong-un. The Supreme Leader held one in 2014 and romped home with all of the votes.

But desperate as the situation was back then, we were not helpless. We had a potent weapon – our spirit.

And so on 29 December 1998, I picked up a portable speaker and made my way to Raffles Place where I spoke to a lunchtime crowd. I talked about HDB prices, the cost of living, CPF savings, COEs – amazing how little things have changed.

Before I ended my speech, I made an appointment with the audience to do the same the following week. A couple of days later, I read on the teletext (millenials may want to Google what this is) that the police would take “firm action” if I reappeared at the square.

On 5 January 1999, I showed up again with a bigger speaker and spoke to an even bigger crowd. (Aside: I learnt later that before I arrived, someone was singing “All we saying, is give Chee a chance” to John Lennon’s All We Are Saying Is Give Peace A Chance. Also, a group of workers told me they had come all the way from Tampines to attend the speech.)

I was, of course, charged and convicted for speaking without a permit for both occasions.

This started a little flurry of discussion in the press; of course, with the mandatory condemnation of my act. But a couple of comments asked why, indeed, could Singapore not countenance greater freedom of speech.

A few weeks later, I read in the New York Times a piece written by Mr William Safire. Mr Safire had interviewed Mr Lee Kuan Yew when the two met in Davos, Switzerland during the World Economic Forum. The Times’ columnist wrote:

“[Lee Kuan Yew] brought up the example of Chee Soon Juan, 36, a neuropsychologist who dared to run for Parliament. After being fired from his job and losing his home, Dr. Chee was arrested for breaching the Public Entertainment Act by trying to make a speech.”

Mr Safire related in the piece how Mr Lee had, as the fallout from the police action continued, promised to set up a venue where Singaporeans could gather and speak:

“Joseph Nye, head of Harvard’s Kennedy School, suggested that Singapore set aside a place like London’s old Hyde Park Corner, where people gathered to hear speakers sound off freely. Lee promises: ‘We’ll probably do it.’ ”

A year later, the Speakers’ Corner was established at Hong Lim Park.

It’s hard to conclude from the above episode, as Mr Elgin Toh does, that the action that I undertook “did not work”.

Unlike Hyde Park, however, the Hong Lim version came with so many restrictions that rendered the free speech venue quite devoid of meaning or purpose.

When Mr J B Jeyaretnam and a handful of activists held a protest there calling for the abolition of the Internal Security Act, the police called the organisers up after the gathering and warned them for chanting slogans and raising their fists.

​Not only were slogans and gesticulation banned, music and the use of voice-enhancement gadgets were also forbidden. In addition, speakers had to register themselves at the adjacent police post.

As far as we were concerned, the place was a human rights joke. Observers quipped that the place would be more aptly called Speakers’ Cornered.

We, thus, determined that we would continue our protests to force further concessions from the government regarding the right of Singaporeans to speak.

The NVA campaign, therefore, continued for several more years. In 2008, the government surprised many, agreeably so, when it relaxed the rules to allow demonstrations at the park. Asked if it did this out of necessity, Mr Goh Chok Tong, then Senior Minister, conceded:

“Necessity, in a way. Because to be relevant as a government, you must know the aspirations of a people. We can control you, oppress you. But we’d lose you, you’ll move elsewhere. So we have to move with the times.”*

With the development, we re-assessed the situation and agreed that we had achieved what we set to do. To be sure, Singaporeans’ rights to peaceful assembly is still a long way off – our right to free speech should not, and may not, be restricted to a tiny patch of grass in the middle of the island. But like Rome, freedom of speech is not built in a day. It would take civil society, whose number then was beginning to grow, to continue the struggle for our fundamental freedoms.

We decided that it was time for the SDP to revert to the more conventional role of Parliamentary elections.

Again, back to Mr Toh’s conclusion. Given what happened, is it fair and reasonable to say that our non-violent initiatives were futile? To paraphrase George Orwell, sometimes it is better to create history than learn from it.

I’ve provided this narrative repeatedly in my books as well as spoken about it in this interview (watch video at about the 31:00 mark) during the last general election. Yet, the establishment continues the zombie-esque rendition that nothing good ever came out of our action.

Social media also started to come alive at around that time. This made communicating with our the electorate radically more effective. It is no coincidence that the rise in the SDP’s popularity took place alongside the explosion of Internet platforms like Facebook and Youtube.

What is unfortunate, perhaps not surprisingly, is that the media continues to disparage activism and, more specifically, NVA. It refuses to educate Singaporeans of the progress humankind has made through the use of civil disobedience – most notably a la Mohandas Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King, Jr in the US, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Kim Dae Jung in Korea and Pramodya Ananta Toer in Indonesia.

It should be painfully clear by now, as I have written before, that what is legal is not always right, what is illegal is not always wrong.

I have often made – and will continue to make – the link between our political rights and economic interests. Without the former, we cannot protect the latter. The dismal situation of the retention of our CPF savings, the high HDB prices, income inequality, the influx of foreigners, etc, are a direct result of our inability to check the PAP.

Political rights must never be traded for wealth. We sup with the devil when we do so. The shiny facade of materialism unencumbered by freedom will be torn off when tempestuous times visit as it will, and our society will be severely found wanting.

*Good govt needn’t fear demos: SM, Straits Times, 28 August 2008.

Chee Soon Juan



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22 Responses to “Dr Chee: Was Elgin Toh, Straits Times right?”

  • pap selected INDIAN president:

    Dr Chee Sir, we are die hard OPPOSITION supporters. we support anything and everything as long as not pap.

    we say to you forget about winning arguments, especially in pap controlled Singapore. rather, do the necessary that gets the votes.

    and we think in Singapore, esoteric arguments won’t work. only those bread and butter issues, especially those that impact the young, are worth the time.

    also, we are glad to see new faces in SDP. one thing we want to say. take anuar in malay land as THE example. he harbours ambition to be the pm. well and good. but after enough tries. he should realize he ain’t going to be pm. if so, he should focus, instead, in being pm maker.

    so the same with SDP. after many tries, why continue the same path? we suggest putting in the effort instead in ensuring the new ones make it into parliament. after all, a GE missed is a GE wasted.

    best wishes to you and all your loved ones. best wishes to SDP. we know in our heart pap is on a downhill. sooner or later pap shall kaput. while waiting for it to happen, we suggest sincerely if cannot be mp then be mp maker. nothing wrong with it, as long as SDP young ones get into parleement to change its spelling back to parliament.

    a pig is a goat says pap. so an INDIAN is a malay says the same pap. WTF.

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  • oxygen:

    ELGIN TOH IS OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY. His mindset and observations belongs to the era of TERN SUA outdated dogma.

    PAST TENSE has gone to TERN SUA and won’t be coming back. Neither does or will his political dogma or legacy so detached and disconnected with TODAY’S discontinuities.

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  • Amos exposed PAP hypocrisy:

    Bottom line is that Singapore is NOT a REAL democracy with civil liberties, a free press and an independent judiciary. It is a POLICE STATE run by the arrogant, greedy, self-serving, incompetent and pro-alien PAP. Amos certainly proved this when he won in US Court (twice). He exposed PAP’s hypocrisy.

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  • oxygen:

    WITHOUT THE SDP5 CHALLENGE AND CONVICTION, the peasants would NOT have woken up the the lunacy of PAPpys’s illegal assembly law fiction of ALL LAWS AND NO ORDER.

    It is CHAOS of rule by law, not rule of law.


    The ratio decidendi (legal principle derived) from the SDP5 conviction is a mockery of all law logic and a subjucation of all natural justice.

    If two or more person walks in the same direction with the same motive ever offends the illegal assembly law as ruled by the learned High Court judge, then everyone – be that couples, family or friends – who walks from MRT station to their place of worship and returns have offended the law. Everyone who attended the PAPpy’s carnival-like meeting all offended the law because none of the attending participants (other than the organizers) ever applied for permit to assemble or walk in the same direction. All those wh*re mongers who assembles in Paya Lebar MRT station and then marched together to Geylang to bonk foreign chickens also offended the illegal assembly law. Likewise, those foreign chickens that gathers on the street of Geylang already offended the illegal assembly law – never mind the soliciting bit of law offence already happening.

    SO THE PUBLIC MIND WILL ASK THIS – how come the police don’t arrest all these offenders of “illegal assembly” law EXCEPT THE SDP 5?

    Is Elgin Toh illiterate of law applications in denouncing the SDP’s NVA protests?

    Or was he hypocritical of law comprehension and preferring to be disingenuous?

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  • Dr Tan Tai Wei:

    One thing about opposition aspirants, prominently Dr Chee, that hasn’t been acknowledged is that in them we see at least one important character trait LKY lamented that his PAP successors would not have, ie. the commitment and sacrificial spirit to serve for less than the huge pay they now receive (or else they wouldn’t be persuaded to serve, or would become corrupt, etc.) Dr Chee and others are proof, aren’t they, that there are those in the generation succeeding LKY’s who would even risk losing jobs and promotions, etc., in offering their services to voters. That which LKY and the PAP hadn’t found in those they had and have chosen to presently lead are present in the likes of Chee Soon Juan?

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  • oxygen:

    PAPpy’s ILLEGAL ASSEMBLY LAW turned LEE-jiapore into a circus show of “PYONGYANG WITH BROADBAND” as derogatorily mocked at by the Economist.

    It is the legacy of PAST TENSE shame of caught loitering INSIDE a polling station forbidden by law is ruled as NOT WITHIN the 200 metres of polling station impermissible of statutory law.

    The offenders (of seemingly pretentious spooky ghostly presence) helicoptered in? Or did they crawled in like earth worms or white ants not noticed by law enforcement at the time of infringing entry unnoticed?

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  • 包Lim Tean:

    A reminder to all alternative parties, contest the GE to take over the government, change the constitution and policies to what he people want. Don’t waste time by just wanting to get voted in and make noise in Pariahment. It will not change a damn thing.

    I will remind and remind all alternative parties that election is
    about winning and taking over the incumbent.

    Goh Meng Seng, “No Choy” Lim and the likes – please close shop.

    And don’t call yourself an opposition party – Just SDP / WP / or whatever “Pee”. We don’t need an opposition party when things cannot be change.

    Its time for a radical change!!!
    包Lim Tean

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  • Rule of Lor:

    Dr Chee, its easier to engage Amos to voice up whatever you want to say than you saying it in sg.

    Amos can speakup like a normal healthy free man.

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  • Bystander:

    Whatever, it’s time to make leadership changes and direction of SDP to be relevant. Make for a breathe of fresh air, like what WP is doing, dun get stuck in a time warp, now ONLY PAP is not changing with the times, this Party has become antiquated, like an aging, matronly woman.
    The rushed “appointment” of Halimah as President is a typical example,
    we are getting tired of being forced fed, like in LKY’s era.
    People may vote PAP, but we know this Party is getting more and more irrelevant, losing the LKY’s shine.
    A typical example is SMRT’s MRT woes, getting ex Generals to front commercial entities, and after 5 years still can’t make it, you could see the rot of PAP clearly with our eyes.
    If LKY is in control, Desmond Quek’s head would have rolled long ago for his 5 year long poor management. Bet Quek still use SAF style of yes sir
    in his work, dissatisfied staff would tell him to fly kite behind his back, leading to the Bishan flooding?

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  • I'm Halimah Indian becom malay:

    Elgin Toh is just another lap dog and writing for his PAPIGS .political master.
    With all these retrenchments going on in SPH, he is just trying to kiss his boss’s ass to protect his job.
    Will be seeing more of these retards voicing out for their bosses, their ass is on the line for the next chop.

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  • Harder Truths:

    Dr Chee

    I have the deepest respect for you.
    You do everyday what I dare not do. But for a very good reason.

    I used to attend political rallies and support the opposition in elections. I stopped after 2011 because there was no point to it/

    There is no point trying to drink soup with a fork or in a similar way convince 70% of $G locals that democracy is needed. They do not want it.

    Or rather they want others to do it for them and ride the wave. $G mentality is to take the easiest way out and get someone else to do the work for you and also take the fall if things go bad.

    Respected Sir, this is the Truth. You can shout all day long from Speakers corner. The much respected JBJ was selling books in City Hall station. The $G majority do not give a shit. Period.

    I see a financial and social collapse coming. The FT will survive of course. I do not know what will happen to $G but that really does not concern me anymore. People who vote for their own destruction will have to take what comes.

    I hope you have the opportunity to live out your life in good circumstances. You have more than earned it. God Bless You.

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  • nathan:

    ‘what is legal is not always right, what is illegal is not always wrong’

    Do you you have an absolute duty to obey the law of the land?

    Is our Parliament truly democratic?

    Laws enacted in Parliament with the majority support does not mean that they are absolute if they are not created by logical necessity. The lack of democratic controls on law imposed on the people that benefited a small elite rather than the people as a whole should be repulsed by the people. The recent Reserved PE is a prime example.

    Is there a sense of moral obligation that is absolute and opposes the law in question? For example the human rights activists rally against the mandatory death sentence for drugs traffickers. Human rights groups should not be harassed or hindered openly or otherwise.

    Many locals activists have in one time or another felt justified in challenging or breaking unjust law. Of course they need to prepared to take the consequences in terms of punishments that this G may impose on them.

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  • Patriot of Temesak:

    The EVIL SOB is DEAD along with his toolbox and all the EVIL he can CONJURE in his EVIL mind…thank God and The OWL for that…God for relieving us from this EVIL and the OWL for taking him back to his master Satan

    We may still have to LIVE with a lesser EVIL but nonetheless, it is still EVIL begat from EVIL…God may give him a CHOICE of REPENTING & REPAY for all the EVIL of the DYNASTY…but the OWL may have 1stHold on the evil soul through Karma & Retribution

    The CHOICE is for the lesser EVIL to pick… if NOT Live with the Evil he inherited

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  • LIONS:


    THE PAPigs are a disgrace to LAWFULNESS itself,they act like hooligans n brigands.


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  • Maxchewy:

    Can anyone tell me whether the SPH papers had ever since time immemorial said anything good about the SDP and in particular Dr Chee Soon Juan? Not once! Plainly then the 154th internationally ranked least free newspaper is controlled wholly by the PAP Govt. Yes indeed, it has become the PAPs main propaganda medium just like Pravda of USSR. PAP has always been proactively aggressive towards the Opp parties esp SDP. Reason is simple….they are paranoic about losing their status quo and losing out to another party. They have to keep their dark financial secrets permanently. Esp abt the CPF and our Reserves. It’s all about money!

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  • Albert Einstein of Red Dot:

    Dr Chee,

    Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result is not only insane but also self-destructive and curiously laughable.

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  • Oxley gate:

    Down with MSN, the worshippers, the carriers and the everwilling lowdown of the human race! Just for a two-pence these journalists or reporters apple polish their bosses all the way to the oxley temple!

    They have sold their souls to the devil who is waiting for them at the leegate!
    To unite their souls to the devil?

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  • Uncle Lim:

    I'm Halimah Indian becom malay:
    Elgin Toh is just another lap dog and writing for his PAPIGS .political master.
    With all these retrenchments going on in SPH, he is just trying to kiss his boss’s ass to protect his job.
    Will be seeing more of these retards voicing out for their bosses, their ass is on the line for the next chop.

    Haha. Spot on.

    More lap dogs including the CEO will emerge to praise familee and their tyranny to curry favour.

    The Pledge is a big farce and should be scrapped. Familee is not interested in building a democratic society but a dictatorship and dynasty.

    SG is a dictatorship ALL BUT IN NAME. They even employ foreigners in law enforcement to enforce their unjust laws.


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  • opposition dude:

    Dr Chee, worry not. For because once you gave PAP reason to write all sorts of nasty things about you, now you have shown quite a few times just how much better you are compared to those monkeys.

    I remember reading in the last few years alone how PAP adopted or partially adopted SDP’s polices on healthcare and the rest. I remember it was you who wrote all that.

    PAP has NEVER once rebutted Dr Chee on taking his policy ideas and making them their own. This goes to show that overpaid donkeys aren’t exactly the smartest the nation can produce.

    They can fine you or arrest you if you protest outside he Istana or in public, they are very good at that sort of nonsense. So Dr Chee does the simple thing of not doing anymore of these things but taking to social media when he wants to speak about something and why not, we know this reaches out to more people.

    These days PAP is more interested in trying to repair its tattered image brought on by SMRT’s far too frequent disruptions. For one, the damn worse than useless transport minister is from PAP.

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  • oxygen:

    @ Albert Einstein of Red Dot

    SDP AND DR. CHEE MADE A LOT OF SELF-SACRIFICE for national interests – knowing too well that PAPpys will always put their party interest above nation. Only the blind cannot see that. You need to appreciate that fact of reality.

    It is gullible to the extreme to believe PAPpys fake news that it and it alone is capable of fabricating political and economic stability in LEE-jiapore. Any intelligent mind must come to this simple correct conclusion that geopolitical events overrides all political stability even in big political blocks like US, EU or even China. And not even individual central banks alone to hold a stable fort ON THE ECONOMIC FRONT very time financial turmoil erupt in one major financial market – the last GFC is case in point.

    SDP – to their credit – woke up a lot of peasants. The recent nation-wide uproar (including PAPpys hardcore supporters) against Indian suddenly transmogrify into Malay UN-elected President by all foul means spoke volume of a new political awareness – no matter how much and how loud the CORE QUEER PAPpys screams to the pretension of the opposite.

    Peasants now learnt that a monkey dressed up in a tuxedo on stage is STILL A MONKEY.

    Albert Einstein of Red Dot: Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result is not only insane but also self-destructive and curiously laughable.

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  • will kan**roos lose ricebowl?:

    When the piece is written by someone who works for the Shit Times and published in the Shit Times, its opinion has to be skewed (painting PAP in good light) or he will lose his job. Worse, even targeted for harassment.

    Nothing published in the PAP Times can be considered to be worthy of any intellectual evaluation.

    Similarly, will the kan**roos lose their ricebowl if they ruled in favor of the Oppositions and against the PAP?

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  • No freedom with PAP:

    LKY has drown Singapore with his relentless inhuman persecution of anyone with adversed criticism of his nepotic policy and his polanpa culture. The latter not only demeaninf human value but also subjugate Singaporeans to forgo their basic human pride to be willing to brownose or polanpa for monetary rewards thru position of opportunity without real terms work mentality. Within less than r decade, the degeneration process rate accelerated. Khaw failed in every ministry he was transferred to and the failure becoming more serious as he moved from one ministry to another. Even the worse imcompetent govt and the nfi leadership, the necessity to put Khaw to rest would have decided after his first failure. There can be no reason to retain a zero FI under any human condition except for nepotic polanpaism. The very fact that LKY can publicly derogated Singaporeans daft and needed him to import foreign scums to kick their butts and not only got away with it but a tearful sendoff is indicative the human decadent state of the citizenry. This is further confirmed by the PM advising thru NTUC basically a PAP control station of the Labour that they should be hungrier, greddier and more aggressive in order to rob off the jobs taken by the foreigners his govt has relentlessly and lunatically imported. Such a speech of inciting violence would have been condemned by the media if they have not been staffed with Papplps and the highly ricebowl threatening environment arising from the natural development from a polanpa culture to the Nasi control tactics.

    The only way to save Singapore is the professionals are educated and trained with high sence of integrity and a respect of human vales and prides within themselves. The papplpism reliance of rewards has its own limitation and the strive to the rewards is losing its “faitr deal” level. As plps get greedier, hungrier they become more aggressive either towards their lanpas or towards the citizens or clients. Breaking point has to be reached esp as the basic intelligent has long been eroded by greed within the rank.

    When this happens, we may have the chance of a revival, SPH recent development of retrenching old sinkies and recruiting new foreigners will serve as an eye opener to Sinkies. Polanpa culture under nepotically modified democracy can only lead to decline. Only a thinking, open criticism and respect of human value and pride citizenry can sustain and advance the nation. Foreigners who came for monetary reason have no quiant as they move as thongs go wrong. Those who came to stay because of past credentials have to realize that they are allowed to be here because of the decay and to realise their hopes they have to help the old Singaporeans to eradicate nepotism and its nazi polanpa gang.

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