My exclusive interview Part II with Mr Patrick Lee Song Juan (Singapore Democratic Alliance contestant for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, 2011 GE)
“If YSL case had happened five or ten years ago it would have weakened the opposition very much. Now the online community is charged and people want change” – Patrick Lee Song Juan
“You can say PAP is associated with the elite and the upper echelon but SDP is with the poor and the marginalized. But for any government in power for 50 years there will still be some funny business. I don’t think SDP would have done as well over 50 years as PAP if they had been the government” – Patrick Lee Song Juan
“I love Desmond Lim’s kind heart and his charity for the old people” – Patrick Lee Song Juan
By Dr Kieran James (University of Southern Queensland),
Part II Interview at: Tiong Bahru Plaza, Singapore, 1pm to 3.30pm, 28 March 2012
Kieran James(KJ): Hi Patrick, I guess this will be Part II of our interview following on from Part I of the interview which was held right here in Tiong Bahru Plaza in October 2011. First can you give me your comments on the upcoming Hougang SMC by-election?
Patrick Lee Song Juan (PLSJ): “Speak only if you can perfect on your silence”. That is a most well known quotation from Buddha.......
My opinion is Hougang will still be retained by WP [Workers’ Party of Singapore]. If two-party contest WP will get 60%, if three-party fight, WP will get 40-50% and still beat them [PAP] hands down. A third party candidate may lose his deposit.
KJ: Perhaps our mutual friend Goh Meng Seng will re-enter politics to contest it?
PLSJ: GMS said he will not participate even as independent two days ago. We were having a conversation then.
KJ: How about Desmond Lim? Will he possibly contest it?
PLSJ: From the one source, DL may harbour the idea to contest Hougang. People may not like it because the fracas with CST [Chiam See Tong]. He thought people will have emotional attachment to him, he was there [SPP] fourteen years but the election [May 2011] showed no way. I don’t think he will want to contest now.
KJ: I like to ask this question because in Australia I’m very far from being able to assess the ground sentiment here. Do you think the WP brand has suffered due to recent events involving the former MP for Hougang?
PLSJ: No. In certain ways it will be a blessing in disguise because LTK [Low Thia Khiang] acted fast on rumours to expel YSL [Yaw Shin Leong]. Before he put YSL into Hougang he knew of his failings already, he did advise him. The whole thing leaked out. He did not make himself a nice guy to repent. All the damage is on YSL himself and not WP. WP is so steadfast now through winning a GRC [Aljunied GRC. won by WP at May 2011 General Election]. The way LTK acted means the brand name will not be damaged. PAP will definitely not lose their deposit. PAP will get at least 35%. A third party will lose their deposit. I doubt NSP [National Solidarity Party] will contest. It is all political propaganda..
KJ: So you don’t think PAP has any chance at all of winning the seat?
PLSJ: I would not even give PAP any chance of winning. WP has already given itself a strong position because of winning the GRC, the GRC brand. People really admire what LTK did by moving to Aljunied. There is a momentum that will carry them through.
KJ: Do you think it is embarrassing for WP that the designated successor YSL has suffered such a fall?
PLSJ: He was only the successor in Hougang, not in the party.
KJ: Is there a possibility that SDP [Singapore Democratic Party] will contest in Hougang?
PLSJ: I don’t think that SDP will contest in Hougang. When Don Lim talked about Tan Jee Say contesting, it’s farfetched.
KJ: Before we move on, have you got any other comments on the Hougang contest?
PLSJ: It will be a typical electric campaign. WP will possibly bring it up as to why they expelled YSL, “we are very accountable and transparent”. PAP is never accountable. In WKS case [Wong Kan Seng “escaped terrorist” case] they never asked him to step down. If WP bring it up it is to their advantage not to PAP’s advantage. LTK said: “I’m a politician, not a private investigator”. Hougang is now under the WP-GRC umbrella. It is all under LTK, he acts as a bridge to Hougang. He is really respected by the people; it is the brand name of LTK that will win Hougang. I can tell you that.
Most likely Png will contest for WP. I would like Lilian Lee to be there, she is very young, articulate, and friendly, she worked the ground very well, and she is early-30s. I met her at Pritam Singh’s Meet the People session. Pritam is looking after ward of Bedok Reservoir. Lilian was helping out working the ground in Hougang even before YSL was expelled. I did suggest Lilian Lee contest the by-election. It may not be Png Eng Huat. LTK will keep it very quiet until the last minute. The problem may be Png may not stand out that much compared to Lilian Lee. She had experience in standing in Punggol [three-corner fight with Desmond Lim and PAP in Punggol East SMC at May 2011 GE]. I only heard his name surface recently. He may not be a good orator. For politics you must speak well and command the crowd. There will be a few political rallies. LTK will decide who the candidate is; I really doubt it will be him [Mr Png]. If the papers say it will be him it may be a diversion. My personal opinion.
GMS suggested Nicole [Seah]. I said: “She is not cut out yet for politicking”. After MP [Marine Parade contest] she was elevated toohigh too fast. You must be down to earth and learn the trade first. You must learn the trade first before you are high and mighty; I said it in a polite way. I think she is learning fast. She will go far at her age. I hope that she will become down to earth. She may get carried away by the younger guys encouraging her. I told GMS he should advise Nicole. She said she apologized to Singapore on behalf of LKY [Lee Kuan Yew]. LKY said certain wrong tings. The people said: “How can such a young girl place so much responsibility on herself?”
KJ: Do you think NSP and SDP have benefitted because of the problems experienced recently by the WP in Hougang?
PLSJ: There are no connections between the YSL case and the reputations of SDP and NSP. The fiasco only dented 10% of WP’s credibility because LTK acted fast enough to expel him. He gave YSL a chance. He asked him to attend CEC meeting to explain but he did not attend. If not expelled, PAP will attack WP for harboring him and for not being transparent. PAP tries to think before they talk, but sometimes the more PAP uttered, the they looked more ridiculously silly. On front page today TCH [Teo Chee Hean] blasts out that they will not be afraid to take hard decisions – high and mighty people, talk BIG, I can’t take it after reading the front page. If YSL case had happened five or ten years ago it would have weakened the opposition very much. Now the online community is more emotionally charged and people want change. The ground has changed very much in the past five years since before the GRC [win].
KJ: What are your comments on the recently released SDP health policy?
PLSJ: Generally it is a good policy as it’s more attuned towards the poor and the penniless. It’s a compassionate thing to do. People will complain but in every country the able must support the disabled. You must ask: “Why is the person not working? Is he lazy or disabled?” I said on my link it’s a good health plan by SDP. I told Ang Yong Guan in a private message on Facebook, CSJ [Dr Chee Soon Juan] is more focused now. ... I don’t think TJS (Tan Jee Say) will jeopardize his presence as nominated president candidate by getting involved in the by-election. He already got 25%. Don Lim was saying TSJ will come into the Hougang by-election. I told him: “Don’t talk nonsense; your perspective is all wrong already. TSJ is headed for higher things”.
KJ: Have you got any other comments on the health policy?
PLSJ: Honestly I did not go through the details of the policy yet. I read the first few points. I’m a voice for the poor. I always support good policies which help the poor. PAP may disagree with it. In earlier years CSJ started on the wrong footing. Now his direction is cleverer. I told him he must not be confrontational but must be consultative. I say the main thing of the plan is that SDP is helping the poor so it’s a good plan. The rich can afford their own health care. If CSJ did not start on the wrong footing SDP would be strong today. CSJ is defiantly intelligent. SDP is good in certain ways but not in others. It’s like a double-edged sword. CSJ may be authoritarian in his own way. In one of his early rallies,d CSJ should not let Kenneth Lin speak at a rally. I said the young boy should not speak in public. Does his parents know he goes to SDP? He told me two years ago in SDP office his parents didn’t know. Then he was 14-years-old. Now he has gone to JC [Junior College] already. ...He was too young to be in politics then.
You can say PAP is associated with the elite and the upper echelon but SDP is with the poor and the marginalized. But for any government [in power] for 50 years there will still be some funny business. The old guard of PAP were very intelligent like Goh Keng Swee. SDP only had CSJ and everyone had to listen to him. PAP was not LKY himself only as GKS and the other old guards were assisting him. I don’t think SDP would have done as well over 50 years as PAP. Old-guards [PAP] became disillusioned with policies. GKS and TCC [Toh Chin Chye] retired and LKY became egoistic. He only woke up at the loss of Aljunied. The son played a major role at home – give him some face! The son could only call him to step down as a cabinet minister. [This is referring to LKY resigning from the Cabinet shortly before our interview.] You never know. Maybe the son was forced to remove him. The son holds the power, not the father. There could have been a discussion between father and son. LKY could have said: “I will go down but you must bring down GCT [Goh Chok Tong] as well”. This was a face saving requirement.
KJ: So, in more general terms and moving on from the health policy, what are your comments on SDP’s strategy and approach?
PLSJ: It takes many years to build a strong political command in a place. I told CSJ: “Singapore is not about human rights anymore, you are not in America. Here it’s all about parliamentary representation. If you [SDP] are in command [in government] you will do the same things”. I said to CSJ: “Why do you want to go to Changi Palace and be a Changi bird and not be a parliamentary bird? As a Changi bird you cannot spread your wings and fly”. I said: “Many of your members have the culture of going into Changi Prison? It’s like their second home. What cause are you trying to project to people?” In our local context our grandmother used to say, only the bad people will end up in prison. You must weigh up the pluses and minuses before you act. Politics is not that you think you are right but that others think you are right. If you do it because you think you are right, it is not politics anymore, it is self-centredness.
KJ: But SDP has surely changed in its style and how it presents itself in the last year or two?
PLSJ: Yes, in certain ways they have changed and they are more subtle now and not over vociferous. It’s a good sign and they are becoming more participative in the culture of Singapore. You are not in America, you know, where you can confront. But it’s a long way for Chee to come back. He is barred from politicizing along with sister Siok Chin. You are in a system where there is full control. How can you go against a system where there is full control? If you are a political man you should know that. LTK and CST [Chiam See Tong] knows and play safe politics. How can you attack and not withdraw? It’s like giving and not receiving. It’s like GCT said – common sense cannot be taught – either you have it or you don’t.
KJ: Have AYG (Dr Ang Yong Guan) and Tan Jee Say (TJS) played major roles in changing the culture of the SDP?
PLSJ: I think AYG and TJS have had an influence on the culture of SDP. AYG was under George Yeo in the grassroots organizations. People think GY is mighty and indispensable. He is indispensable only for his cronies who he treats well. He does not treat people on the ground well, only those he knows.
KJ: To get back to one of your earlier comments, you don’t think any opposition party could have governed Singapore as well as PAP for these last 50 years? I’m a little surprised to hear you say this...
PLSJ: I don’t think any opposition could have governed as well as PAP for 50 years. Well, it is very hypothetical....In early years of nation building, PAP did a good job for sure. It was not easy to build Singapore up from a swamp. It required long-term planning and strength. They brought in the expert from Netherlands. GKS did a blueprint for Jurong Swamp. As Defence Minister later the army was built up by them. SDP does not really think the army is important. “Faith and honesty” is a principle [Patrick shows me the tattoo on his left hand]. The principle of integrity in life is very important; you must follow what you say.
KJ: Can you tell me more about your Buddhist philosophy and how you apply it to politics and public life?
PLSJ: In my early years I wrote on my blog all about wellness. Only in recent years did I write political things because I was angry with PAP policies. I only started with political posts 1 to 2 years ago [i.e. around March to September 2010]. This is when DL spotted my blog and I became his, “la dau” in Mandarin. I said: “Call me that in private and not in public”. I’m more in tune with DL’s good heart but not his political side. He should not have been with SPP [Singapore People’s Party] so long if he had political understanding. He had hope for so many years he would take the succession from Chiam.
I stood up for him because of his nice nature. If you are weak in politics people climb over your head and strike you down. Desmond never strikes back when people criticize him. If he had gone into our Pasir Ris Pungol GRC as our leader we could have scored 40%. Five of them scored 31% in 2006. Why didn’t he understand this picture? He thinks it’s so easy to win a single seat. He could have been a big person by now. He came to the wake with Sidney Soon during my mother's demise. It’s too bad he’s in politics for so many years but he can’t see the picture so clearly. I love his kind heart and charity for the old people.
KJ: So how has Buddhist philosophy and meditation helped you?
PLSJ: My meditation helps me so much. I’ve been doing this for about twenty years. Only in earnest, last 6 years and I gained a perspective or life awakening. It gives me certain wisdom of the mind. Every time I want to speak on politics I pause and can get the right perspective. Meditation helps a person in the long term to become more humble. Every morning I wake up at 5am and meditate one hour without fail. I’m 80% vegetarian. I don’t take beef at all; I take fish and chicken sporadically. As a personality I am what I am.
KJ: Returning to our earlier topic, you know I have interviewed YSL in person for this blog prior to the crisis he became involved in. As someone with a strong understanding of Singaporean society and culture, do you think YSL can one day return to politics in Singapore?
PLSJ: I don’t think YSL can ever come back to politics in Singapore. He’s expelled, he can never recover, he’s a very weak person, and he cannot accept his wrongdoing. Certain people say he went to Taiwan because it is very open in the political front. He may try to etch a way into politics there using his experience. People in Taiwan are very lusty [laughs]. Taiwan ladies are very fair and pretty. In that place he can put his face forward possibly. This is hearsay; officially I cannot confirm anything with you.
KJ: So even twenty years from now you don’t think YSL could return to the political scene here?
PLSJ: In twenty years it will be too late for YSL to come back. In twenty years I will be in heaven [laughs]. God will forgive my four letter words...[laughs]
KJ: What are your comments on the “Bukit Brown” case presently in the newspapers here?
PLSJ: The plan is already there, the road will cut through [the cemetery]. I have been there personally and taken pictures. I wrote an article: “A Visit to Bukit Brown”. Tony Tan [PAP]’s grandfather was buried there but he didn’t even know his ancestors were buried there. It’s a very nice place; it’s a nature enclave with magnificent trees. It’s hard to find this in another place. You [KJ] should go and walk there sometimes. Singapore Polo Club brings their horses in there to walk. BB has been there for donkey years but no-one said anything about it until the Government wanted to use it as a road. Strong sentiments arose; seven organizations were formed to apply to the Government but it did not work. The Government did not listen. See how high and mighty the PAP Government is? I don’t see why they have to do it. It all boils down to dollars and cents, you know what I mean? They could build the road somewhere else.
KJ: What are your comments on the recent announcement of Primary 1 admission priority being given to citizens?
PLSJ: I think it’s all about political wayang [KJ note: wayang = traditional Indonesian puppet show]. It’s just a show, it’s not fantastic, it’s nothing new, and it tries to pacify the citizens. Tan Kin Lian on TOC said it’s a priority from the viewpoint of some and discrimination from the viewpoint of others. This is quite true. You are discriminated against as PR? Why do you [PAP] go to such extremes? The Government are deaf. Why do they want to stir up s*** for no reason?
KJ: Is Desmond Lim correct to stay focusing on Pasir Ris-Puggol area?
PLSJ: If DL wants to contest in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC it’s OK but not in the single seat because he cannot speak very well. He needs a team effort to bring him up. It will be a gigantic task for him to come up again, he scored only 1,386 votes. He is a veteran. He harboured the thought to contest the by-election but it is already too late. There was very little spill-over [in support for DL] from Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC to Punggol East. His good days are already over; he lost so much credibility in the Pasir Ris-Punggol area. Even now if he tries to build SJP [Singapore Justice Party] up.
KJ: Will you contest again in the same GRC?
PLSJ: Enough’s enough. I’m not young, you know, James. I always believe the young have something to contribute. Some oldies are so high and mighty that they want to hog the limelight. I wrote about the old birds of NSP. I’m happy to be behind the scenes to offer support. NSP will never move up because of these people. It’s sad you know. They should not have let GMS resign. They should have kept him in the party. He did make some tactical mistakes in the election. He is no more associated with the party. He made one good decision – to put NS (Nicole Seah) in Marine Parade – that was a real blow to Goh Chok tong (GCT). That was the best thing he ever did. The showing was quite bad for GCT.
KJ: Wasn’t there a swing away from PAP in Marine Parade as compared to the 2006 General Election?
PLSJ: The percentage [for opposition] went up but at the end of the day we want opposition people in parliament. The percentage went up because of the emotional sentiment of the people not because the party is good, you understand? If the percentage for WP goes up it is because the party is good.
Politics is all about manipulation and how well you can manifest your ideas.
[KJ note: The interview ended here at 3.30pm]
Photos can be viewed at www.singaporecivilsociety.blogspot.com