Report from Tomorrow - Vol 30

1USD = S$1.60 (S$1 = 0.60USD)

Anwar and Asian Politics

A few months ago, Anwar, the second highest office holder in nearby Malaysia was sacked. The night it happened, the TV interrupted several times each hour with a special news bulletin. Whatever was going on, certainly was a big deal. The newspaper headlines were dominated with the unfolding story. The headlines started with "Anwar Sacked!" in 12 inch letters and within a few days there were charges of sodomy, prostitution and various other improprieties (especially serious stuff in a Muslim country).

You may have read about it, but probably not. Who wants to read about yet another scandal and in a foreign country at that? The Clinton mess surely consumes far more media time that anyone wants.

Well, I'm hardly going to try to explain all about Anwar. Frankly, I've not read enough to pretend to understand it all, but what has amazed me has been the viciousness of it all. There is serious politics going on here!

It appears to me the Anwar story is just one more chapter in typical Asian politics. To give you some insight into what might be happening in Malaysia and to shed some insight on S'pore, I thought I'd tell you a little about Tang Liang Hong. It seems to me there are parallels to what is happening today with Anwar.

What follows is my attempt to summarize what I understand happened here. If you want to read more, you can get lots of details from Tang Liang Hong's home page at http://www.ozemail.com.au/~tangtalk/. (Man, the web must be the pits if you really want to keep a lid on things these days!)

At the start of 1997, the ruling party here, led by Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and his People's Action Party (PAP) won 81 of 83 seats in the national Parliament and captured 63.5 percent of the vote - it's best result in 20 years. This was the election that brought the current Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, to office.

Tang Liang Hong was a candidate for a parliamentary seat for the opposition. PAP accused him of being an "anti-Christian and anti-English-educated Chinese chauvinist." Tang retorted they were lies and made a cardinal error in announcing that, if elected, he would raise the matter in parliament. Lee and his colleagues responded by filing 12 defamation writs against Tang for calling them liars. Only Tang, but none of the mass media, which reported the alleged libel, was sued.

One day after the elections (January 3), Tang who lost by a slim margin, fled Singapore alleging he had received death threats. Within a month Tang's wife had her passport seized and she was served with an injunction freezing their combined assets and adding her in the defamation suits. Tax agents arrived to seize their papers.

Justice is swift here in Singapore. In the US the lawyers would still be adding staff two years later to gear up for something like this. Not so in S'pore. On March 10, about 70 days later, Lee and his colleagues obtained judgments against the Tang's in the 12 suits estimated at S$12 million in damages, excluding costs.

Two high court judges sat in succession to determine the matter -- Justice Lai from 2.30 pm until 8 pm on Tang's application to recuse himself, immediately after which the case was assigned to Justice Goh Joon Seng, who sat till well past 9 pm, struck out all Tang's defenses, and awarded judgments to Lee and his colleagues.

The Tang's property was sold immediately, apparently at bargain basement prices. Among the buyers of Tang's Hotel Properties Ltd's (HPL) luxury properties included one of the judges involved and family members of Lee Kuan Yew. In May 1997, warrants were issued for Tang’s arrest on 33 counts of tax evasion.

This is very serious politics! Makes you take a different view of the bickering Newt and the boys have with the Democrats. As I said before, I am amazed at the level of reaction here. PAP doesn't need to do this. They'd win the elections hands down anyway. S'pore generally has superb government here, so I find myself bewildered by this sort of behavior.