Exposing the Singaporean alt-right

Notorious pro-People's Action Party troll Jason Chua Chin Seng claiming to be a victim of online harassment. (Facebook screengrab).

With rumours of a possible general election due by the end of the year or latest by next Easter, there has been an increase in online activity by various groups aligned with Singapore’s ruling party.

In Singapore, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has enjoyed an uninterrupted spell in power since 1959, which many critics attribute to party founder Lee Kuan Yew‘s astuteness as well as his ruthless nature. Prior to that, the PAP — founded in 1954 — had been in opposition while the Labour Front led by David Marshall (the future Workers’ Party (WP) founder) held power.

Through systematically eliminating all those he considered a threat to his authority, Lee was able to pave the way for his eldest son, Hsien Loong, to eventually succeed him as Prime Minister in 2004. The elder Lee had handed over the reigns of governance to Goh Chok Tong in 1990, during the twenty-fifth anniversary of Singapore’s independence. Goh then had the job for the next fourteen years. For many observers, such transfers of power could not get any smoother.

For the younger Lee, his time on the job has proven to be torrid. The early part of his premiership corresponded with the early development of social media. This meant information was able to travel at a faster speed, as well as reach more people at multiple locations simultaneously. Compared to the previous two generations of leaders, he was sure to have a harder time controlling the spread of information originating from the mouths of his opponents. This may have been a key factor in the loss of Foreign Minister George Yeo and four other PAP MPs in the 2011 election that some opposition supporters called a watershed. That year, WP chief Low Thia Khiang took up a challenge laid down by Lee Kuan Yew to leave his safe seat of Hougang and lead a team in the five-member Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) against Yeo’s team. He was successful and that victory was a historic moment for Singapore.

Notorious pro-People’s Action Party troll Jason Chua Chin Seng claiming to be a victim of online harassment. (Facebook screengrab).

The PAP was quite taken aback by the loss of Aljunied GRC. Since its inception in 1988, the GRC system had helped entrench the PAP in position by making it difficult for opposition parties to field groups of candidates in multi-seat wards. Ostensibly, this was meant to serve as a form of affirmative action by guaranteeing places for candidates of ethnic minorities in Parliament. For years, the opposition had tried to make headway in a GRC but failed, despite coming close in 1988, 1997 and 2006. Hence, Low’s team broke the record with their victory in Aljunied GRC, which increased the number of opposition members of parliament by five. This meant that as of 2011, Singapore would have six elected opposition MPs, two more than in 1991. Many observers thought that the WP’s overall strong showing, as well as other opposition parties increased vote share, was due to the impact of social media in the campaigning process. Many younger voters were users of social media platforms and had come across the messages that various opposition parties were trying to get across. Practically all of them were on the same page with regards to immigration and job security, both thorny issues that struck a chord with low-income voters.

In order for the PAP to regain the upper hand at subsequent elections, they decided that an internet brigade (IB) was necessary. Although the modus operandi of this new group has been kept under wraps, it is widely believed to be modelled after the Chinese Communist Party’s “Fifty Cent Brigade (Wumao Jun)”. In short, it was an attempt to launch an astroturfing operation. Commenters would infiltrate various websites and post comments that ridiculed opposition parties while praising everything the PAP did, rightly or wrongly. A Facebook page was also set up for similar purposes. It was called Fabrications About the PAP and the administrator was a certain Jason Chua Chin Seng. There are many rumours as to his nationality as well as his real profession. Some say he is a Malaysian-born new citizen living in the western side of Singapore, where many people from that part of the world reside. It is also well-known that the safest seats for the PAP are mostly located in that region. As for his job, it has been widely speculated that he gets paid directly from the pockets of the PAP leaders. Given the way the party has run Singapore, it pretty much means he gets paid from the public purse. Fabrications About the PAP claims its mission is “To Re-Present the Misrepresentation of information in the Real Light with Facts”. However, its posts are anything but. It has openly defamed opposition MPs like Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh, whose town council has been the centre of a probe into financial irregularities for the last eight years. Occasionally, it also takes cheap shots at Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader Chee Soon Juan. Dr Chee cops a lot of flak for his liberal worldview. In fact, he has been subjected to character assassination for the last two decades but he has taken it in his stride like a gentleman. Other prominent opposition figures like Lim Tean and more recently Tan Cheng Bock are not spared either. For Dr Tan, the vitriol is especially harsh due to the fact that he was a PAP MP for 26 years and was loved by his constituents. He may thus pose a threat to the PAP if he decides to contest in his old seat under the banner of the party he founded.

Another thing Fabrications About the PAP has done is to label those who do not support the PAP as traitors to the land. It is safe to say that most Singaporeans are proud of their country. However, they take issue with the shabby manner in which the government treated those who made the country great. Throwing money at them during election time is, to say the least, a cheap stunt. It is the sign of a regime bereft of ideas desperately clinging on to power for eternity. It is OK to be proud of your country but ashamed of your government at the same time. After all, the real strength of a country lies in the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately, the lines between party, government and nation in Singapore are impossible to discern. Worse, the distinction between the Prime Minister’s family and the ruling party is virtually non-existent. If anyone dares to disagree with Prime Minister Lee or the PAP on social media, he is certain to be labelled a traitor to the Republic and trolled 24/7 by those suspected of receiving 50c for every pro-PAP comment made. Even if the person has valid concerns, they do not matter at all. Sadly, many others who generally have a neutral view of politics also get swayed and turn against them. History professor Pingtjin Thum, freelance journalist Kirsten Han and writer Alfian Sa’at are some of the best-known victims. They have all been subjected to lynchings on most social media platforms by pro-PAP users.

Denouncing the likes of Thum, Han and Alfian for treason is highly ironic in a way. On top of that, a pro-PAP person doing it could open themselves to claims of tu quoque. The policies of the PAP have in recent years been heavily skewed towards foreigners rather than local-born citizens. One example is the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) that allowed the influx of immigrants like Ramesh Erramali into Singapore. That itself is worse than plain incompetent leadership. It is treason at the highest level. The responsibility of a government is to put the citizens’ interests first. Those accusing dissidents of disloyalty to the land of their birth should really look closely in the mirror. Their masters are actively betraying them and their fellow citizens and all they can do is lampoon others with a different political opinion, especially one that is more in tune with nationalism.

In a way, the behaviour of pro-PAP trolls is highly similar to the American alt-right in that both sides use highly similar tactics to bully those with different opinions. The attacks made on Kirsten Han are downright disgusting and reek of sexism and body shaming. Some of the words are like those used against Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young by right wingers. Another thing they have done is doxxing. SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh is infamous for doing this, despite doxxing recently being outlawed. Recently, they dug up the personal details of a Malaysian journalist employed by well-known alt-media news site The Online Citizen (TOC). While TOC had been a strong proponent of a workplaces adopting a Singaporeans first policy, it must have been difficult for them to find a Singaporean with the nerves of steel to take up the job of writing for them. So it is best to give them the benefit of the doubt. Kiara Xavier (also known as Rubaashini Shunmuganathan) is a resident of Shah Alam in Selangor. This makes it harder for her to face prosecution for fabricated charges related to free speech. As long as she does not step into Singapore’s territory, she is safe. SMRT Feedback’s digging up of Xavier’s private information on Facebook can thus be seen as a form of doxxing and harassment. A journalist deserves a safe environment to do their job, and SMRT Feedback certainly are not helping at all. SMRT Feedback ought to be prosecuted under the Protection from Harassment Act.

Despite a surge in the unpopularity of PM Lee in recent months, there have been several pages set up just for singing praises of everything he does. Fabrications about the PAP have also seen their fanbase grow to 300,000 followers and 200,000 fans after eight years in existence. Jason Chua has named Singapore Matters, Shutdown TRS, Factually (sic), Gong Jiaowei and The Reservist among others. He has all praise for them, saying that the silent majority has now found their voice and blames their existence on TOC and similar sites. It is reminiscent of US President Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign portraying himself as a victim of slander perpetrated by the left-leaning mainstream media. The only difference is that these sites are not nationalist no matter how they portray themselves. Their alignment with the PAP means they are globalists like their masters. If the Western world has 4chan and China has the Fifty Cent Party, Singapore has Fabrications About the PAP and similar sites. Most of them claim to be independent and honest media outlets but their posts are anything but. Even after the passing of legislation to combat fake news, these sites are still doing it with impunity. TOC, on the other hand, has come under increasing scrutiny by the authorities.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to the possibility that the PAP may not survive as a governing party after the upcoming election. It therefore needs to resort to astroturfing to boost its slim chances of winning. Given all the shenanigans that have dogged the party and the Lee family in the last three years, this round of elections should be considered unwinnable. All the voters need to do is to smarten up and not fall for any nonsense they see posted on Fabrications About the PAP and similar social media pages. It is time to put their faith in the divine Creator of the universe and cast our votes for the opposition. Having a hung parliament would be a bonus as nobody deserves majority under any circumstances. Even better if only four opposition parties, namely the WP, SDP, People’s Voice (PV) and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) are contesting as most of the others lack street cred. We should stand up to the PAP and vote them out fearlessly to send them a message that the manner in which they betrayed the citizens is wrong on all levels. Never mind what the trolls say. Their posting style simply shows them to be sore losers by birth and nothing more.