Gaying It Up For GE 2011, Part Wijeysingha
SDP’s Vincent Wijeysingha, man of the hour. Image from The Temasek Review.
Boy, the upcoming general elections are really turning out to be a milestone in more ways than one.
As a direct consequence of a reenergized opposition, which arose largely in response to widespread grassroots dissatisfaction with the ruling party, now the formerly unimaginable has happened: the gay issue has been pushed to the forefront.
Apparently Vincent Wijeysingha, high-profile Singapore Democratic Party candidate, is gay. And there’s a Youtube clip to prove it.
That was the gist of a statement issued by PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan and his teammates yesterday. Balakrishnan and co. are in a contest for the Holland-Bukit Timah ward with Wijeysingha and his SDP colleagues, and after a couple of cryptic remarks to the press in which he alluded to the existence of a particularly damning video, he finally revealed his smoking gun.
My opponent’s gay.
Or at least, attended a gay rights forum where he was heard to declare that “I think the gay community has to rally ourselves.” (Italics mine; inclusive first person plural pronoun, Wijeysingha’s own.)
Is this the first time in Singapore’s history that the gay question has been in the spotlight – as opposed to being a footnote to ‘larger’ matters ?
Last year, local activist Alex Au and a number of other individuals sent out a questionnaire to the major political contenders regarding their respective positions on homosexuality, including the ruling PAP and the SDP. When I blogged about it, I said that “the entire exercise strikes me as being an important footnote to what will most likely turn out to be an affair dominated by other, more opportune issues …”
Well, I now stand VERY happily corrected.
The Straits Times ran an article on it today (26 April). Other pertinent links – vids, responses to Balakrishnan’s ridiculous fearmongering – beneath that.
ADDENDUM: I’ve realized that we have yet to hear from the man himself. Perhaps my excitement at the presence of a gay politician has obscured my better judgment; Wijeysingha, in fact – as Chee Soon Juan points out below – may not have any intention to address gay-related issues as a potential MP. (Though his attendance at a gay rights forum seems to suggest otherwise.) What I would LIKE to see him do is stand up and acknowledge his status as a member of the gay community, thus asserting public ownership of his identity. The SMART thing to do, however, would be to lie low and see how Balakrishnan’s attempt at political one-upmanship plays out.
I’m hoping for a quick career demise come polling day. For Balakrishnan, that is. This article at The Online Citizen sums it up.
PAP AND SDP SQUARE OFF OVER ‘SMEAR TACTICS’
PAP team asks if SDP intends to pursue gay cause, and Chee says no. By Tessa Wong and Aaron Low.
The opposing teams at Holland-Bukit Timah GRC squared off publicly yesterday over an online video which the People’s Action Party (PAP) said raised questions whether the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) had a secret gay agenda.
First, the PAP team led by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan asked in a statement whether SDP candidate Vincent Wijeysingha, who was filmed participating in a gay rights forum, intends to pursue the cause in Parliament.
This was countered in the evening by SDP chief Chee Soon Juan who in an online video said neither the party nor any of its candidates is pursuing such an agenda.
In a statement entitled “What is his agenda?” released yesterday, the PAP team said that a video has been posted on the internet showing Dr Wijeysingha participating in what it called “a forum which discussed the promotion of the gay cause in Singapore”.
The team added that the sexual orientation of Dr Wijeysingha is not the issue.
But it noted: “The video raises the question on whether Wijeysingha will now pursue this cause in the political arena and what is the SDP’s position on the matter.”
In his denial, Dr Chee said: “Let me state categorically we are not pursuing the gay agenda and none of our MPs will.
“our candidates have been selected because of their ability to serve you, the people of Singapore, as your representatives in Parliament,” he added.
“they have stepped forward because they love this country and they know that Singaporeans yearn for an alternative voice in Parliament. That is their only agenda.”
Dr Chee also called on Dr Balakrishnan, who is Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, to stop engaging in what he called ‘smear tactics”.
“We are better than that,” said Dr Chee. “We can disagree on policies without having to resort to personal attacks. Let us lead Singapore to a higher level of politics.”
The exchange comes two days after Dr Balakrishnan first mentioned the video in an interview with The Straits Times.
He said: “It has been brought to my attention – in fact it is the SDP which is suppressing a certain Youtube video, which raises some very awkward questions about the agenda and motivations of the SDP and its candidates.”
When asked to elaborate the next day, he would only say: “I would like the issue to play out first. I am also waiting for (SDP’s) manifesto to be revealed and then let things emerge.”
But yesterday, the Today newspaper went ahead to speculate that the video in question was a six-minute clip featuring lawyer M. Ravi.
It was taken during a public forum held last November by Mr Ravi on his constitutional challenge to the S377A clause of Singapore’s Penal Code, which criminalizes sex between men.
Mr Ravi is seen addressing a small room of participants, calling Dr Wijeysingha “Singapore’s first gay MP.”
The PAP team alleged yesterday that the forum “also touched on sex with boys and whether the age of consent for boys should be 14 years of age”.
It added that Dr Wijeysingha had said in the video that “I think the gay community has to rally ourselves”, and that people interested in gay issues could come together to “further rights issues in relation to gays and lesbians”.
It continued: “We believe that candidates should be upfront about their political agenda and motives, so that voters are able to make an informed choice.”
The statement was signed off by Dr Balakrishnan and his teammates, Mr Christopher De Souza, Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Ms Sim Ann.
Dr Wijeysingha, a 41-year-old civil society activist, is contesting Holland-Bukit Timah GRC along with Mr Tan Jee Say, Dr Ang Yong Guan and Ms Michelle Lee.
All four were called to the SDP’s headquarters last night for an emergency meeting following the release of the PAP’s statement.
At 11 pm, the party posted the video response by Dr Chee on its website.
In the clip, Dr Chee said he was proud of his candidates, whom he called “people of integrity and capability”.
He added: “When we speak up we do so for all Singaporeans, not just a segment of Singaporeans.
“At the very core of our country’s pledge is that we do not discriminate against anyone, be it on the basis of the colour of their skin, the faiths in the hearts, whether they are young or old or what their sexual orientation is.”
Accusing Dr Balakrishnan of not having “the courage to say what he really wanted to say at first”, and of “beating around the bush”, he said the party is disappointed at how the issue was raised.
He ended the video with a request to Dr Balakrishnan to “reciprocate” by making public the accounts of the Youth Olympic Games.
He also reiterated the party’s invitation to a public debate.
Both Dr Wijeysingha and Ms Lee declined to comment last night.
Dr Ang told The Sraits Times that he had come to know about the video “one to two days ago”, after he was introduced as an [sic] SDP candidate last Friday.
He said a friend had sent him alink to the video.
Dr Ang, who is a Christian, said he would be “comfortable” standing on the same ticket as a gay person.
“To me, very frankly, a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter. What’s important is his vision, his ability, his personality. So what if Vincent may be gay? Its immaterial to me.”
he added: “I’m a Chrisian, but my personal view is that I will respect a person’s sexual orientation. It’s not for me to impose my values on them.”
Mr Tan echoed Dr Ang’s comments, saying Dr Wijeysingha’s sexual orientation is “immaterial”.
He said: “It’s not an issue. Even Lee Kuan Yew says it’s not an issue.”
The aforementioned videos:
The incriminating evidence. (Be prepared for an anti-climax though.)
Chee Soon Juan’s response to Balakrishnan. (He’s the big kahuna over at the SDP.)
Alex Au, the gay activist who was one of the people responsible for the questionnaires, takes an informative look at the episode on his always enlightening Yawning Bread site – in a piece aptly dubbed “Vivian’s bomb goes boo boo.”
An individual named Lisa Li also wrote a scathing letter in to the online edition of Today, reproduced in full below. You can read it on their site here.
PAP’s statement on Wijeysingha disappointing
Letter from Li Shi-En, Lisa
02:55 AM Apr 26, 2011
I refer to the TODAYonline article “PAP on Wijeysingha video: Candidates should be upfront about motives” (April 25). The PAP team, led by Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, said in a statement on April 25 that a YouTube video shows SDP candidate Dr Vincent Wijeysingha at a forum discussing gay issues. Dr Balakrishnan added that the video “promotes gay causes” and that this “raises the question on whether Dr Wijeysingha will now pursue this cause in the political arena and what is the SDP’s position on the matter”.
Firstly, I am surprised that Dr Balakrishnan does not know SDP’s position on the matter because the party has always been upfront about its stand. Its vision is that “as a nation, we must not only show tolerance but also acceptance of our fellow citizens regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion”. In October 2007, the SDP also publicly supported the call to repeal 377A in accordance with its party principles. All this information is on their website, and Singaporeans who take their voting seriously already know this.
Secondly, I am not sure what Dr Balakrishnan means by “pursuing this cause in the political arena”. If he is referring to the possibility of Dr Wijeysingha (or any other politician) raising the issue of 377A in Parliament, that is only to be expected at some point in the future, not because of Dr Wijeysingha’s personal sexual orientation or alleged personal cause, but because of SDP’s clearly-stated vision for an inclusive Singapore.
I am keen to elect politicians who are able to articulate sound, thoughtful and diverse views for discussion on any number of issues in Parliament, regardless of whether I agree with them or not. As such, I am disappointed that Dr Balakrishnan paints such a negative picture of MPs “pursuing causes in the political arena”. Isn’t that what we are voting them in for? In any case, one Dr Wijeysingha in Parliament will hardly swing the votes and abolish 377A, if the majority of politicians and Singaporeans are against this move.
Thirdly, Dr Balakrishnan describes the video’s forum discussion as having touched on topics like “sex with boys and whether the age of consent for boys should be 14 years of age”. This is a very misleading description. Viewers of the video will know that the forum speaker mentions the different age of consent for different countries, for example Sweden, where the age of consent for sex is 15 years (the speaker mistakenly says 14 years). However, not a single one of the forum participants proceed to discuss whether Singapore’s age of consent should be lowered or not, which suggests that this was never their aim.
Finally, Dr Balakrishnan says that the video “promotes gay causes”. What exactly is the “gay cause”? If gay men wanting to remove the clause that criminalises their private behaviour is the “gay cause” that Dr Balakrishnan refers to, this video could equally be described as one that supports basic human rights – the right for gay men not to be classified as criminals in Singapore. In the days of apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was jailed for fighting for the “black cause”; nowadays, we refer to this as equality.
During the April live political debate on Channel NewsAsia, Dr Wijeysingha showed Singaporeans that he is an articulate, capable speaker who is passionate for social justice. My opinion of him has not changed.
However, I am saddened by the appearance of such gutter politics from one of our Ministers and his PAP teammates, Mr Christopher De Souza, Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Ms Sim Ann, who signed off on this misleading statement. Instead of showing us why they are better leaders for Singapore or engaging the Opposition on policy differences, they have resorted to a smear campaign based on a Youtube video posted by an anonymous netizen.