Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Volte Face in Singapore Politics? Nay Nay

I am XenoBoy. I am the Political Savant.

I have deliberately refrained from commenting on the death penalty for Nguyen until today. Holding out some misplaced hope that this entry will be unnecessary. But it’s a couple of hours before Nguyen hangs. And it is necessary now to speak. What I say will be brutally realistic. Mistakes were made. No blame is meant. This is an analysis on taking on the Singapore political legal system. And it all boils down to Face.

It was all about Face. Whatever fancy terms political scientists or politicians can coin, Game Theory, Great Man theories, brinksmanship politics, realism, post structuralism, Asian values, sovereignty, National Interest, international law etc, when we analyse this Nguyen affair, it was all about Face. No disrespect to Rodan, political activists, lawyers, journalists and the politicians both Singaporean and Aussie, who have all come out with the same tropes to appeal and defend their respective positions in this affair. It was all about Face. Face is not a topic covered in textbooks. Face underlies a lot of political decisions West or East. But it is perhaps only in the latter where Face is an art form. Coded by Confucius.

First, Nguyen has a pretty face. He is caught with heroin while in transit in Singapore. This happened a fairly long time ago. He goes through the entire legal process. This is the first mis-step for the Australian Government scrambling so desperately now. In Singapore law, the death penalty is mandatory for such a drug offence. The judge has no choice and sentences based on the mandatory requirement. Why is this a mis-step? If the Government of Australia had known and had acted during the pre-trial process, for it should have since death is mandatory, the Hope lies here. Political realism some will say, but Face underpins this necessity. To work behind the scenes as forcefully as it is doing now. Affect the process through quiet diplomacy. Give the Singapore Government Face, settle this behind the public eyes. Owe the Singapore Government a big favor for helping you out. Let the Singapore Government settle it for you. Give them Face. This was the best chance. The white elephant grassroots leader was not even charged, the young blogger was given a reprieve, a NS defaulting pianist is given a light sentence; instances where given leeway, the Courts can act generously. Were there negotiations behind? I do not know, but the point is this : at this pre-sentencing stage, it is so much easier to effect something; since every political scientist now has come up with the defining model of Singapore's "demo-cracy", it is deeply ironic that Aussie politicians do not know that to negotiate with such a "demo-cracy", you have to go behind, go behind the rhetorical program; not challenge the program head-on and publicly contradict the Sg Government's rhetorical program. Once the sentence was uttered. Public in a courtroom. The dice is thrown.
Am I condoning such a political process? No. But the realities in Singapore politics are such.
Face, face, face.

The second and most fatal mis-step occurs when the family of Nguyen decides to publicise this beyond the Aussie Government; further make it public, more public : challenge the Face of the Sg Government. To bring in popular pressure, to bring in the press, bring in the civil activists. This can work in a Grisham novel. This can work in a Western democracy. This can work in a society with a powerful CRM. In Singapore, the people advocating for Nguyen are seen as political enemies of the State. The Opposition. The civil society. To capitulate to these forces, will be an immense loss of Face to the Government. To capitulate to the foreign press is a similarly immense loss of Face. Loss of face = loss of political capital. This loss will be translated to a gain to the Opposition, to civil society activists, to the foreign press. Remember this is a regime in power for almost 50 years. And it is a regime steeped in a model of politics that blends the mercantilism/capitalism of Western economic idelologies with the control ideologies of Eastern feudal models. To expect it to lose Face willingly, when it knows it has done nothing wrong legally, in a public arena is impossible.

Loss of Face. When PM Lee apologised to PM Howard, it reflects how much currency the incumbent regime places on Face. The Sg Government recognized immediately that what had happened had constituted a loss of face first to the Sg politician as his system had made a huge mistake and further, it was an even bigger loss of face to the Australian PM. Hence, the apology issued quickly and with such contrition. The Sg Government immediately sees Face as the determining factor.

Loss of Face. When the hangman went public with his stories. It was another loss of Face to the Sg Government. When its own citizens can only know of the hangman through a foreign newspaper and not via its vaunted Straits Times. It was a huge loss of Face to the efficient and anonymous Sg politico-bureaucratic machinery. We are not supposed to know about these Agents of the State. These who do the dirty work. The life scientist, the economist yes. The hatchet men, the hangmen, a big emphatic No. Yes, it was a huge scoop for the Aussie press but it was a huge loss of Face to the Sg Government. Hence, the hangman is not hanging Nguyen. He is not sacked. But he will hang no more until his contract runs out. This way of handling the hangman’s fate similarly boils down to Face. To sack him outright means loss of Face to the Government, gain for the foreign press, gain for the hangman, seen as a victim of the State and hence, a hero. To freeze him out slowly is political grace while retaining Face.

In this entire Nguyen affair, there has been so much loss of Face already for the Singapore Government with regard the two incidents, will it want to lose more?

Sadly, the answer is No. Not only for drugs, but for Face too, Nguyen will hang.

I am Xenoboy. I am the Political Savant.
Postcript : after my third bottle of wine, I come back and apologise to Nguyen as a Singaporean. And to the political/media/activist circus watching this sordid affair, including myself : f u c k y o u a l l

Quote of the Day,

“So the sum total is 80 beheaded, 69 of whom had their eyes put out and their fingers cut off, which comes to 114 florins and two cents. From this should be deducted: 10 florins, received from the citizens of Rothenburg; 2 florins received by Ludwig von Hutten; leaving: 102 florins. To this should be added 2 months' pay; for each month 8 florins = 16 florins, which makes: 118 florins and two cents” -- Receipt of Augustin, known as Awe, the Executioner of the rebel peasants of Frankenhausen


Anonymous Parkaboy said...

Yes, I've thought this for a while. They might have had some chance of saving him if it hadn't become an issue in the media. Now that it has, they've not a snowflake's chance in hell.

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with parkaboy. This is a brilliant analysis, probably will not see the light of day whether in sg or au media.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Molly Meek said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Molly Meek said...

As Molly might have said before, the more they (Aussies or anti-death penalty Singaporeans) do, the more unlikely clemency becomes.

Just that, for Molly, the point of no return was much earlier. When the ST had to publish pro-death penalty views, you know it was a gone case. In fact, even before that. The first whimper activists/pseudo-activists represented the point of no return. But well...

As a footnote, allow Molly to shamelessly (what's the big deal about face for a faceless blogger?) cite herself:

"Well, let Molly tell you! You are dealing with an efficient government that protects its people and protects the sovereignty of the country. We will not bow down just because you are a foreign power. The more it seems as though we could lose face if we let your fellow countryman go, the more we cannot let him go."

Face is yet another important fiction/

9:06 PM  
Blogger Beach-yi said...

aye aye, the problem of going behind the scenes probably would not have struck anyone on his defence team and would probably have not gotten much attention with the politicians in AUst before the mandatory death sentence is passed. So it's a connundrum, damn if you do, damn if you don't.

But yeah...wondering why can't I sleep, for a stranger? Or for the thought that I am a subset of a pragmatic country?

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so so true ... take it easy xeno.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous patriot said...

That and stubborn pride. This is a trait mark of all dictatorships. Remember Comical Ali?

6:38 AM  
Blogger Yoyo said...

Xenoboy got it absolutely wrong here.

For three years, Nguyen's case was deliberately kept low-key at the insistence of his lawyer. It was only after the the rejection of the clemency appeal that it made headlines.

Nguyen never stood a chance from the get-go.

He would have been hung with or without the Singapore Govt losing its face.

More than 850 prisoners before him have died without a squeak of protest from anyone.

At least Nguyen (and Shanmugam) went out igniting a trail of debate about the death penalty in Singapore.

They stirred our consciences - a precious gift for S'poreans.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous dj pbk said...


so for 3 years what did howard do? juz curious

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Xenoboy got it absolutely wrong here ... Nguyen never stood a chance from the get-go. "

The diff. between xeno and you is dat xeno is trying to save the kid's life while u are trying to make him a martyr.

10:44 AM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

Parkaboy -- snowflake in hell *smiles*

Beach-yi -- Smoke that last marlboro until the filter crackles, finish the wine, switch off the damn machine and sleep. *smiles*

Thank you YoYo. I want to be absolutely wrong too. Do not forget to remember.

anonymouses -- tx

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

spot-on with the face issue!

1:14 PM  
Blogger Yoyo said...

Mr Anonymous like to think that Xenoboy was trying to save Nguyen's life.

How so? By posting a message on this blog two hours before the trapdoor opens? Spare us the heroics, please.

A bully may retaliate to save face but when given face, he will take his cake and eat it too.

Only the loony would think that quiet and polite requests for clemency would moved the Singapore Govt.

Despite provate and public pleas for clemency, more than 850 prisoners have been executed in Singapore. With nearly 400 grams of heroin, Nguyen never stood a chance.

Nguyen is not a martyr. He never asked to be one. But his death has provoked people to rally against mandatory death penalty. There is good coming out of this.

Finally, it is not about FACE, it is about TRADE.

John Howard had refused to play the trade card and so the poor boy is dead.
From the day of his arrest, Nguyen's fate was all but sealed. By a law that accused him of trafficking into Singapore when he had not entered the country, had no intention of entering the country and was plucked from an airport transit lounge on his way to Australia. By courts not interested in contradictory evidence and procedural abuses by police. By a government that mandates death for anyone caught with more than a relatively trivial 15 grams of heroin and refuses to let judges consider mitigating evidence. And by a phoney clemency process bereft of compassion.

From the moment he first publicly declared - as he did weeks ago - that there was little more that the Government could do, while in the same breath saying that the case should not disrupt the important bilateral relationship with Singapore, John Howard may as well have been counter-signing the death warrant.

The message to the Singapore cabinet room - the real headquarters of Singapore Airlines, Optus and the rest of the big brands of Singapore Inc - was clear: the execution can proceed without any official fallout for our trade, investment and military ties.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yoyo, and your point being???

12:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Below are Nguyen's words he wrote two hours before his execution, at once chilling and tender, expressing his love and gratitude to all that knew him.

Another note from Nguyen, this one handwritten and reproduced in the book, also gives his family instructions on how he wanted a part of the service conducted.

The note was signed Caleb Van. Caleb is Nguyen's baptismal name.

The text from the reproduced handwritten note:

Also, could you please ask everyone (at one stage) to put their hands on their hearts to feel my love, appreciation and God's awesome love.

And instead of turning to one's left and right to shake hands, please ask each one to hug instead and introduce themselves so that they shall no longer be strangers.

This is all I ask Father. God bless you.

And I shall see you soon and welcome you with our Lord, Jesus Christ.


Caleb Van.

The last page of the prison diary of Caleb Nguyen Tuong Van, written two hours prior to his death:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, to one and all whom have fought so hard for my life, to all who have prayed and those I have hurt, please forgive me for my sins and accept my sincere apologies.

It is now the eleventh hour. My work here is done now. Pray, may I not have failed you completely and by the Grace of God may you find strength and comfort in these words my heart now speaks to you my brothers and sisters.

As I lay here listening to the prayers being said for me I take measure of all that has taken place and what is about to be.

I am returning to the Lord now. He loves us all so much. He is in all of us. He's always been there. It is we who need to love Him.

I shall be looking down on you and shall be in all your hearts. I shall never cease to love you and can only promise I will never leave your side.

To know that I am there you need only place your hands (on) your heart and I'll be there.

I now thank each and everyone for all that has been achieved by the love you all possess. Amazing Grace because that is what you are.

I smile now as I prepare myself to return to the Lord. You all are now in my prayers. Please don't be sorry but instead celebrate the life God has made possible through his love.

These shall be my last words now. But I will see you again. Be of great faith; of greater courage and firm heart.

It is now my time. May God continue to bless you. May His light shine upon you. May He grant you Peace and bring you everlasting ife. Amen.

See you my brothers and sisters.

I love you ... and forever will.

Fear not my brothers and sisters. Fear not.

(My words to S'pore government and all who support death penalty -

"[One] can move from a life that does harm to one that does good," he said.

"I say to these people if you build the world upon the so-called values of retribution of vengeance then you will build the world in which some people will always seek to take drugs, because you will build a world of such unbearable harshness that people will do anything to escape it.

-It is written in bible:

'I care very little if I am judged by you or by any
human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My
conscience is clear, but that does not make me
innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore
judge nothing before this appointed time; wait till
the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden
in darkness and will expose the motives of men's
hearts. At that time, each will receive his praise
from God.'

6:46 AM  
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12:32 AM  

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