PAP incapable of reinventing itself: Catherine Lim

One of Singapore's best-known authors Catherine Lim said on Friday that the People's Action Party (PAP) is incapable of reinventing itself.

Her view was in response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech at a PAP convention last November where he said that the party has to reinvent itself to "build a new PAP for a new era".

The 70-year-old was speaking at socio-political blog The Online Citizen's (TOC) Awards Night where she was conferred the Lifetime Achievement Award by Singapore People's Party secretary-general Chiam See Tong.

Lim, who is a frequent critic of the government, is best known for her social commentary story in 1994, titled The PAP and the People - A Great Affective Divide, which sparked controversy with the ruling party. Since then, she has published numerous novels and political commentaries.

In her acceptance speech, Lim said that even if the party can achieve reinvention, what “watershed action of reinvention” is the party prepared to undertake.

"Reinvention would require the opening up of one crucial area that the government is determined to have tight control over. This is the area of political liberties -- open debate, criticism, independence of the media, public assembly, street demonstrations for the cause, all of which are taken for granted in practising democracies.

"Over the years, the government had rather reluctantly made some concessions --  allowing the speaker's corner, relaxing some censorship laws, tweaking a rule here, tinkling with another law there, but never going beyond these small legal offerings. Singaporeans have no choice but to accept because there was nothing better," she added.

Pointing out the case of the 16 political detainees who called upon the government in September last year to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the allegations said against them, Lim noted that the petition was promptly dismissed and no further action was taken.

Lim was referring to the allegations made against the 16 Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees who were detained for their involvement in "subversive activities which posed a threat to national security".

Among the detainees were Barisan MP Chia Thye Poh who spent 26 years in detention and was one of the world's longest-held political prisoners. Chia was a 1960s socialist intellectual and opposition MP who was accused of being a communist subversive, a charge he firmly denied.

"I thought that the government had missed a fantastic opportunity to show Singaporeans that it had the honesty and courage to face up its past excesses or to take responsibility for them. Or as the case might be, ... stand by the principles on which it had acted," said Lim.

"They've missed the opportunity to show Singaporeans what to me is the noblest quality that can come out of a conflict and that is the grace and the magnanimity to reach out to former folks in a spirit of reconciliation and amity," she added.

Lim also added that there is a “PAP fatigue” among Singaporeans that is a result of PAP's lack of nurturing Singaporeans politically, and failing to provide the proper environment for political education and growth.

"Ideally, as long as they don't open up, and as long as political dissidents feel like they can be punished some other way. ... then the so called transformation from the GE will be at best a partial one," said Lim.

TOC also presented awards to:

- TOC Article of the Year - "The GRC system - I don't know what to say" by Elliot Aruldoss

- Contributors of the Year - Howard Lee, Leong Sze Hian, Terry Xu, Grace Hui

- Friends of TOC - Viswa Sadasivan, Shelley Thio, Post Museum

- Cyber-campaign of the Year - "Save the World's Saddest Dolphins" by ACRES

- Social Worker of the Year - Jolovan Wham from HOME

- Blogger of the Year - Ng E-Jay

- Activist of the Year - Rachel Zeng

- Lifetime Achievement Award - Catherine Lim