08 December 2005

Ex-President Devan Nair

So ex-President Devan Nair has passed away. Customarily we say only nice things about dead people. And in Singapore, nice things generally mean things that are nice according to the establishment, the ruling party, the Powers That Be. This confuses Mr Wang somewhat because ex-President Devan Nair, in more recent years, has himself said many things which the establishment wouldn't think of as very nice. For example, Devan Nair spoke loudly in support of certain well-known opposition figures. Even bumbling idiots like Chee Soon Juan, whom Mr Wang detests.

Well, Mr Wang doesn't really know what else to say. So perhaps I'll just show you a couple of things that Devan Nair himself wrote. And after reading what Devan has to say, you might want to guess why ex-President Devan Nair and his wife left Singapore and went far, far away, to live out their twilight years and die in another country. Click here, or see below:

--Devan Nair speaks out
March 26, 1999

A serious threat of closure faces the Worker's Party led by Mr. J. B. Jeyaretnam because of failure to pay the forbidding damages awarded against the Party by a court in Singapore. One hopes against hope that this might be avoided at the last minute. It is a slim hope. The world has come to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the political tactics used by the PAP against opposition politicians have for some time come to include suing their pants off, forcing them into bankruptcy and losing their seats in parliament as a result. Now the same device is resorted to against opposition political parties themselves, as registered institutions. The onus of proof is on the government of Singapore, not on global public opinion.

Nothing that smacks of opposition seems safe in Singapore any longer. Singaporeans must sooner or later come to realise the harsh truth that nobody in Singapore is truly saved unless all are seen to be saved. The post of no return has long passed for Singaporeans, and one fears they will perforce learn this lesson the hard way. In the ultimate analysis, this is probably best. The more painful the price paid to learn basic human lessons, the more firmly might they become embedded in the national fibre. A free Singapore will arise and justify the sacrifices and efforts of undaunted Singaporeans, now including the courageous Chee Soon Juan, who had immolated themselves on the altar of freedom. Phoenix-like, their dreams will rise once again from their ashes. Were this process not true, the world would have come to an end long ago.

It is just as well that I release this Requiem now. If not timely yet, it will be soon enough. Here goes, for good or ill to myself.

Some months after I was kicked upstairs to the presidency of the republic of Singapore in October 1981, there was a by-election in the parliamentary constituency of Anson, which I had held prior to my ill-fated elevation. I had won that seat with a comfortable majority of some 80 percent of the votes cast. My opponent was the Worker's Party leader J.B. Jeyaretnam.

Today, looking back, I realise that it was not the PAP that had won that seat with such a thumping majority, but I myself who had won it almost entirely in my personal capacity as the unchallenged leader of the free trade union movement in Singapore (no longer free). True, I had persuaded the trade unions to cooperate with the government in its attempts to ensure that the economy of Singapore was kept on an even keel. They overwhelmingly voted their approval, because I had successfully convinced them that the organised greed and reckless disregard for the social good represented by British style trade unionism of the day would clearly not do for a small island state like Singapore with absolutely no natural resources of any kind to boast of apart from God's own fresh air. In doing so, my members knew that I had not surrendered an iota of the institutional independence of the NTUC (National Trade Union Congress). Indeed they knew that at every Delegates Conference of the NTUC they had unanimously endorsed a firmly worded resolution I had introduced from the platform reiterating what they most highly valued - the institutional independence of the labour movement.

These days, you won't find a single reference in any of the resolutions passed by the NTUC to the priceless oath of institutional independence a few colleagues and I had entrenched in our founding constitution. Let me make it clear. The PAP had no hand in the founding of the NTUC.

Be that as it may, a by-election had to be called in Anson. The PAP's candidate was a faceless civil service appointee of Lee Kuan Yew who had been seconded for service to the NTUC, while the Workers Party put up J.B Jeyaretnam. To the consternation of the PAP, Jeyaretnam won.

The day after the by-election verdict was declared, I had lunch with the Prime Minister (Lee Kuan Yew). I was amazed at how he fretted and fumed like a caged fury. As I saw it, Jeyaretnam constituted no threat at all to the PAP whether in parliament or outside it. For one thing, despite Jeya's courage, he displayed a woeful lack of economics. He clearly never knew at any point of time how Singapore clicked economically. And it was as plain as a pikestaff to me that in five years of free performance in parliament against the likes of Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Lim Kim San et al, he would stand exposed in public for his abysmal ignorance of economics.

In truth, if I had to cope with J.B Jeyaretnam as a hostile delegate at regular NTUC Delegates Conferences, I would have given him all the rope and more he wanted to hang himself with. And after free and open arguments over three days of conferencing, I would have beaten him hands down at the ballot box. I knew this, as did the workers. For they knew that in the colonial days, Jeyaretnam had never stood on a picket line. I had, not once but several times, not only stood on picket lines, but also bedded down for the night on the gravel with the workers whom I led.

I told all this to Kuan Yew. Nothing I said sank in. He fretted about a potential critical percentage drop in PAP votes across all the constituencies that could eventually bring the PAP government down, and he wouldn't stand for it. Only later did I realise that this was the moment that started his formidable brain box ticking away furiously at the fecund gerrymandering schemes he was to introduce later to ensure that all opposition parties would be put in a Gordion bind that would make it impossible for them to ever achieve control of parliament, unless an Alexander came along. Such a possibility appears impossible now, unless it takes the awesome shape of shattering geo-political circumstances already building up around Singapore.

Immediately, however, Kuan Yew's attention was concentrated on how he would deal with J.B Jeyaretnam in parliament. I was quite alarmed at some of the things he told me at that lunch. "Look," he said, "Jeyaretnam can't win the infighting. I'll tell you why. We are in charge. Every government Ministry and department is under our control. And in the infighting, he will go down for the count every time." And I will never forget his last words. "I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy."

Jeyaretnam was made of sterner stuff. To his eternal credit he never did crawl on bended knees, or ever begged for mercy. And it is to Lee Kuan Yew's eternal shame that Jeyaretnam will leave the political scene with his head held high, enjoying a martyrdom conferred on him by Lee. Lest I be misunderstood, let me state that Jeya more than deserves the crown of the martyr for his indomitable courage and dignity in the face of the vilest persecution.

Even greater human spirits than Jeyaretnam had refused to bend their knees to Lee Kuan Yew. It is my considered view that the greatest human being living in Singapore today is one who declined to surrender to the intimidation of prolonged incarceration and restrictions imposed on him without trial for a total period which exceeds that suffered by Nelson Mandela. And here was the mark of true greatness. He emerged from the experience like a god unembittered. His name is Chia Thye Poh. And it is Lee Kuan Yew who emerged from the episode as the knave and fool of his own mindless vindictiveness, while the real conqueror smiles benignly - unnoted, of course, by the local media. For only sound waves from the Istana Annexe are picked up and regurgitated by His Master's Voice.

There is no political justification for obliging the Workers Party to close down. And not a shred of moral justification. What lies behind the move is among the most brazen vindictiveness ever shown in the political life of Singapore. It merely adds one more nail in the coffin of the PAP's reputation when the true history of the party will be exposed to the world, as it surely will be one day in the coming decades of the third millennium. As mankind accelerates to the abyss, the shining memories of the past will certainly not include Lee Kuan Yew and the department store dummies he boasts today as his acolytes. He clearly does not possess the foresight to avoid such a fate.

I gladly salute J.B. Jeyaretnam and the Worker's Party at this highly deserved requiem, even if I never once had shared their platform.

Please note that the above views are Devan Nair's, not mine. I don't necessarily agree with all or any of his points. I even disagree with some of his points. So please do not sue me for citing his views. After all, Devan Nair is a national hero, a founding father of Singapore. That's my general impression anyway, based on what our dear leader PM Lee Hsien Loong wrote about Devan Nair in the Straits Times today:
Mr Nair made substantial contributions to Singapore. During the formative years of our nation, he served with courage and commitment, and played a significant part in building modern Singapore ... Singaporeans will remember Mr Nair for his many years of service to our nation. He belongs to the generation of founding fathers who made Singapore what it is today. His passing is a loss to us all.'
And what could be so wrong about quoting a national hero? A founding father of our dear nation? His passing is a loss to us all.

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Molly Meek said...

*claps* Molly doesn't dare to quote Mr. Nair cos he had been sued for defamation before and quoting potentially defamatory remarks could get Molly into trouble.

Maybe Molly will just dig out old news articles about how Canadian courts dealt with the suits instead.

Han said...

stirring stuff! Mr Nair must have been an excellent essayist and public speaker. I wish I could have been there listening when he was still around as a politician.

singaporean said...

I didnt know Janadas Devan is the son of the late president. Together with Philip Jeyaretnam, son of JBJ, I find it fascinating how sons of the "enemies of the state" can still find themselves in high places within government controlled entities.

On a irreverent note, I also learnt last night that the late president was a popular union leader and was instrumental in building up NTUC and it's coop businesses. But why the choice of names like Income, Comfort and Welcome (now Fairprice)? I guess his popularity had something to do with him making NTUC "come" three times... :P

Admin said...

Dear Mr. Wang,

It would be very disrespectful of me to criticise a dead man who can't rebute but I think I need to put it straight:

Devan Nair was there, at the helm of the most powerful union in Singapore when Chia TP was being jailed without trial. I have not recalled any dissent or any hint of disagreement from Devan Nair about Chia's jailing throughout the two decades.

There is no point crying over spoilt milk. If Devan Nair was truly courageous and with any sense of social justice and moral courage, he would have publicly denounce such inhumane acts. This is especially so when he has been a victim himself of unjust jailing by the British Colonists. He should have the empathy, moral courage and sense of social justice to fight against such injustice.

In his foreword written for Francis Seow's book, To Catch a Tartar, he wrote about the comparison of the British treatment to political detainees as to the methods used by ISD. He said he was ashamed of the barbaric acts of the ISD as compared to the more humane treatment he received from his colonist captors. But the question is, he has allowed such happenings to pass in silence when he could have the influence to correct it immediately.

Nobody, it seems to me, has the moral courage to voice out against the inappropriate actions of the PAP govt which defied humanity back then. Not Devan Nair back then, nor anybody else save and except of some oppposition dissidents like JBJ.

To cry out loud against such injustice when damage has already been done is like cyring over a dead body.

Goh Meng Seng

Agagooga said...

Better late than never.

SJ Nair said...

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and can post some comments there.
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S J Nair

Anonymous said...

Colin Vivian White says :

The fact that the former president of Singapore can actually say that the PAP is wicked, or imply so, says a lot about Harry Lee Kuan Yew's dirty tactics at repression. "Repression is like making love. The first time, you have pangs of conscience, a bit of guilt. You get more brazen the second time ..." said Harry Lee in the Legislative Assembly when he was in the opposition. Harry Lee cannot give any leeway to the opposition. Unfortunately his behaviour during the late James Gomez saga in May 2006 revealed two things : his disgust and racist attitude towards the Indians[he never said anything abt Sylvia Lim]; he once called JB Jeyaretnam "a lowly black skunk scowling in the dark" - implying Indians give off noxious vapours and are black and ugly. You dont get George Bush saying Colin Powell is a nigger, do you now? So who's displaying the signs of a mad megalomaniac out of tune withe reality? Harry lost abt $177 million in investments to the communists in Suchow back in the 1990s. Still he sucks up to them. During the Tiananmen riots, he told western journalists if Singapore students held demonstrations, he wd roll in the tanks and crush dissent in a similar way. All this from a Democrat? Now Singaporeans are clamouring that he returns them their CPF at age 55 to prove the money is not squandered. Everybody in Singapore is hoping Sylvia Lim and her brave new team kick out George Yeo in Aljunied GRC and also the Clown Prince, Lee Hsien Loong in Ang Mo Kio GRC in 2011. And at the rate they're bungling and insulting Singaporeans, if they're not careful, it might just happen.

The forces of liberty, like the forces of thunder and lightning, and the waves of the ocean, cannot be stilled or cajoled into absolute silence, Lee Kuan Yew, you silly despot!

Anonymous said...

I am ashamed that the English gave Singapore to be run by a fascist dictator like Lee Kuan Yew.

The right of dissent is the right to disagree with the wicked.

The right of dissent is the right to exercise one's conscience when there is absolute rot in parliament.

The right of dissent is the right of every Singaporean to defy the illogic and stupidity and hypocrisy of a madman dictator like Harry Lee Kuan Yew.

The right of dissent if not exercised by the opposition, wd give way to the Nazism of Adolf Hitler or the fascism of a Mussolini.

The right of dissent is the right of revolt against a tyranny that has repressed its people for over 47 yrs.

The right of dissent is the right of all free men to express their dissatisfaction - and is no more perverse than the Bill of Rights or the First Amendment of the USA or the Magna Carta.

The right of dissent is not the right to mock the constitution of the state of Singapore - but to clarify doubts, and insist on changes where unfairness and oppression and corruption in a single family persists.

OK, Harry? Read your goddam speech in the Legislative Assembly when you equated repression with love making. If repression is like making love, then oppression must be like masturbation, you old evil pervert!

Thank you for this wonderful site. It seems in sex starved singapore, there are no desperate housewives, only desperate men who have no voice !!

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