Countless Rape & Death Threats

Her World
Nicole Seah: ‘I got countless rape and death threats’
9 June 2014

In Her World’s May issue opposition party member Nicole Seah spoke to writer Ankita Varma about her year of self-doubt, physical exhaustion and death threats.

Nicole Seah story from her world magazine may 2014

“A friend once told me that your 20s are like walking in the wilderness. You have enough idealism for ambition but not enough experience to know right from wrong. That statement couldn’t be more true of the last four years of my life. My walk in the wilderness is more poignant only because, for years, everyone around me assumed I had my life all figured out.

Perhaps it’s because I got into politics at 24. You would assume I have stellar academic records and a successful career, right? In fact, I have none of these things. I was a mediocre B-average student throughout my school years. When I graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS), I got a job at a public relations consultancy only after a six-month internship, during which I bought office supplies and made coffee runs.

Most surprisingly, I was apathetic about local politics until I enrolled at NUS. Politics wasn’t actively discussed in my household. I only knew that my parents had always supported the opposition. My mother had been against the government’s Graduate Mother Scheme in the 1980s, having raised three well-educated children despite being a non-graduate herself. (Editor’s note: This scheme provided financial benefits for mothers who were university graduates and school enrolment privileges for their children.)

The seeds of my political awakening were planted when I edited an independent online newspaper in NUS called The Campus Observer. I wrote about controversial topics like student complaints about private dormitory housing and the xenophobia foreign students faced. I was struck by how students remained apathetic to such issues and did not rally for change. It sparked a new consciousness in me. Shortly after graduating, I joined the Reform Party, where I stayed for two years before leaving to join the National Solidarity Party (NSP).

“You look like a mei-mei”

I worked largely behind the scenes at the NSP. Having studied communications at NUS, I advised the party on how to deal with the media. But when the party heads offered me the opportunity to run in the 2011 general elections, I gave it serious thought. My family was concerned about how it would impact my life and career. Still, I decided to go for it.

Somehow, the idea of campaigning in Marine Parade – a constituency that hadn’t been contested since 1992 – appealed to me. The nine days of campaigning were a firestorm. We didn’t have the time or resources to prep or train. The days before the election were a mad dash to raise money, print flyers and get campaign materials ready.

I was forced to go from a wallflower to addressing hundreds of thousands at political rallies. I remember rewriting the speech of my inaugural address over and over again, and practising to make sure it was clear and impactful. I felt intense pressure to keep my guard up. One slip could cost me my reputation or lead others to brush me off as naive and inexperienced. I didn’t want my youth to be thought of as a handicap.

But I was affected when people left nasty comments on my Facebook page attacking my age (“She looks like a mei-mei!”), appearance (“Her forehead looks like a horse’s!”) and intellect (“She’s probably a bimbo”). Having strangers bash you is something you never get used to. Friends and family encouraged me, but I became a harsher critic of myself in a bid to prove the naysayers wrong.

“I saw my future in five-year blocks”

2011 was a watershed year for Singapore politics. Many Gen-Yers were voting for the first time and there was a presidential election the same year. I was fired up to see people interested in politics. But I also knew how much more had to be done. Campaigning had exposed me to those who were falling through the cracks in society and this made me determined to run again for the 2016 elections.

Politics is all about staying relevant, so I jumped at every opportunity given to me post-election. I spoke at events, sat on panels, went on walkabouts and discussed policy at the grassroots level. I clocked 16-hour days on average. Days were spent at my advertising job. Evenings I filled with talks, forums or walkabouts. Afterwards, I’d head back to the office to finish up work.

By 2012, I was pulling all-nighters, sometimes working until 6am. I had a never-ending to-do list. Even cab rides were spent furiously thinking up talking points or planning speeches. If I had time for lunch, it would be a 10-minute affair at my desk.

Harder still was the emotional toll. I had relatively no policymaking experience and felt out of my depth. I remember being invited to a panel session where I spoke alongside another opposition party member, a minister and an academic – all much older than I was, and more experienced. I forced myself to appear confident, but I thought I sounded superficial compared to the other panelists. I felt like a fraud.

I was so bent on proving myself that I allowed no room for mistakes. I guilt-tripped myself into working all the time. More than anything, I felt so alone. I found out that people whom I had thought were friends were gossiping about me. I didn’t know who to talk to. It came to a point when I could only see my future in five-year blocks. My only thought was: Am I doing enough to stay relevant for the next election?

“I was stalked”

And then there were the death and rape threats. They started right after the elections – every Facebook post I made was followed by vicious emails, with comments ranging from the mean (“Were you drunk when you wrote that?! You’ve just lost my vote”) to the frightening (“Are you still alive?”).

Even my personal Twitter account wasn’t spared. I lost track of the number of threats I received daily. Netizens posted my office address and contact details, along with the time I usually got off work. I was paranoid when I left the office, knowing that someone could be watching me.

The worst incident was a call the office receptionist unknowingly put through to me. I picked it up and heard breathing followed by two minutes of maniacal laughter. I should’ve hung up but I was so shocked; my arms were covered in goosebumps.

Early last year, I began noticing that a piece of pink tinsel would be tied to my gate every day. I also received illegible notes, left at my door. When I left my house in the mornings, I would see a woman in her early 30s lurking around my estate, often staring at me from behind a pillar. But I couldn’t confront her without evidence. The “gifts” at my door continued for weeks until she finally wrote her name and address in one of her notes. I went straight to the police. I still periodically receive tinsel now, but much less frequently than before.

I didn’t share all this with my family as I didn’t want them to panic. I bottled it up and maintained a brave front. But soon, it would blow up.

“My body shut down”

The day I got my first anxiety attack started innocently enough. I was at work when my family SMS-ed to say my grandmother had been diagnosed with third stage stomach cancer. Something inside me snapped – my hands shook and I had trouble breathing. I got up to walk out for fresh air but ended up blacking out for a few minutes in the hallway. When I came to, I shrugged it off as a one-off thing.

A few weeks later, I contracted dengue. I spent nearly a month in and out of the hospital for IV drips and blood tests. Even after I recovered, I felt sickly and fatigued. After a month and a half of deteriorating health, I had to quit my job.

Two months later, in April last year, a friend introduced me to an entrepreneur who worked with technology companies in India. He offered me a position where I’d help acquire business for the company. I accepted his offer as it came at a time I was desperate for a clean slate.

But I would soon realise that the job wasn’t for me. There was a cultural mismatch with the way companies over there do business. My forward personality was not taken too well either, in fact male clients often ignored me when I was speaking. In September – four months into the job – I was asked to leave.

By this time, my health and emotions had taken a real beating. Friends and family began commenting worriedly about my appearance, which had been whittled to skin and bones. On Oct 1, a family friend checked me into a hospital, where I stayed for 18 days, cut off from the world. I turned off my phone. I spent my time sleeping and reading, and saw only close friends and family.

After I was discharged, I kept my phone off for three weeks and stayed off social media. I never sought professional help, relying on my family and friends for encouragement. Only their opinions mattered – everything else was just noise. Perhaps the meltdown was for the best – for the first time in two years, I was forced to take a break.

“Starting from ground zero”

I know now that much of the pressure that resulted in my breakdown was self-imposed. I didn’t let myself enjoy the opportunities I was given, choosing instead to doubt myself. The drive to prove myself was the most destructive. I’ve realised that the public scrutiny will never go away. After I shared my story on Facebook, a picture I uploaded of my then-partner sparked speculation that I was dating a married man.

Instead of supporting me through the ordeal, he left me to deal with the aftermath alone. Concerned about his reputation, he distanced himself from me. Though I would have struggled silently in the past, this time I refused. I ended the eight-month relationship, and I’m now single and happier than before.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from 2013 is to be kinder to myself. I spent two years telling myself I wasn’t good enough. Now, I know it’s okay to fail. You know what’s great about starting from ground zero? There’s nowhere to go but up. I’m excited about 2014, including my move to Thailand for my new job at an advertising agency.

Will I stand for election in 2016?

Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll still be very involved in the NSP during the elections and my goal will always be to serve Singapore – but whether I do that as a politician remains to be seen.”

Taken from‘i-got-countless-rape-and-death-threats’

#Sg #Singapore #GE2011 #NicoleSeah

Countless Rape & Death Threats

Catherine Lim’s Open Letter to PM

The following is an open letter written by Singapore’s popular writer Catherine Lim to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. It was published on her blog

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mr Prime Minister

We are in the midst of a crisis where the people no longer trust their government, and the government no longer cares about regaining their trust.

There are two clear signs that the present situation has reached crisis proportions, that it is not just an affective divide, not just an emotional estrangement between your PAP leadership and the people.

Firstly, the people are resorting to forms of high-visibility, high-risk protest never seen before, such as graffiti writ large on public buildings, persistent, strident online criticism despite stern government warnings and threats, an increased frequency of mass gatherings held at the Speakers’ Corner, as well as increased hostility shown at these gatherings.

Secondly, the protest is not confined to a small group of young dissidents emboldened by Internet power, but is spreading to involve large segments of the population, as seen in a senior citizen’s active contribution to the angry graffiti, and in a public outpouring of sympathy, in the form of financial help, for the blogger Roy Ngerng who is being sued by you for defamation.

How did this crisis arise in the first place?

With utmost respect, Sir, I must point out that it is ultimately your inability or unwillingness to listen to the people. After your initial show of contrition and your ardent promises of change, following the shock of the General Election of 2011 (a change of heart which must have astonished as well as heartened a lot of Singaporeans like myself), your government now seems to be hardening its position and going back to the old PAP reliance on a climate of fear maintained by the deployment of the famous PAP instruments of control, notably the defamation suit.

Hence while you see yourself as simply going by the rules, Singaporeans see you as the PAP juggernaut ready to mow down the little people in its path.In all fairness to you, Sir, the defamation suit, per se, is a legitimate instrument in any law-governed society, allowing anyone to seek redress and justice. Hence, making use of this means to defend your reputation is entirely within your rights, as indeed, you would be the first to affirm that it is the right of any blogger to sue the government if he or she thinks fit. But in Singapore, alas, it is by no means such a simple, straightforward matter. For Singaporeans have long got used to a certain belief that colours all their perceptions, namely, that here, there is no level playing field but one massively tilted in favour of an all-powerful, vindictive government that will have no qualms about reducing its opponents to bankruptcy. Hence while you see yourself as simply going by the rules, Singaporeans see you as the PAP juggernaut ready to mow down the little people in its path.

Again in fairness to you, Sir, it can clearly be seen that you and your colleagues have, since the debacle of 2011, made great efforts to improve the lot of the people. Indeed, anyone can see the improvements, continuously planned or implemented, in the many areas of jobs, transport, housing, education, recreation. But the hard truth is that the expectations of the people, especially the young, go well beyond material needs, to encompass the long denied need for freedom of expression, open debate and public assembly. Unlike the older generation who were grateful for simple amenities such as modern sanitation and clean streets, the new, better educated, globally-exposed, Internet population demand much more.

The truth, Sir, is more sobering: they are seeing these so-called achievements as no more than what is owing to them from leaders who have chosen to pay themselves handsomely to do their job.Indeed, you probably are tempted to call them the spoilt, blasé, so-what generation that is taking for granted these material achievements which would have been appreciated anywhere else in the world. The truth, Sir, is more sobering: they are seeing these so-called achievements as no more than what is owing to them from leaders who have chosen to pay themselves handsomely to do their job. Moreover, the skepticism bred by distrust has cast all these laudable efforts of your government as just self-serving strategies to advance party interests and stay in power. I have to say that I am somewhat dismayed by the pure vitriol of your more extreme online critics who gleefully twist everything that you say and do to serve their cynicism. It is a sad measure of what can happen when trust is gone.

In short, distrust is something so emotionally charged that it is guided by its own perilous logic and propelled by its own alarming momentum. It has already widened the original disconnect between the PAP and the people into an almost unbridgeable chasm.

What can be done to deal with this unprecedented crisis of trust before it escalates further and reaches a point of no return, something which obviously neither side wants?

For a start, there are some hard truths that have to be faced by the PAP, no matter how unpalatable:

1) For the change to be truly beneficial to the people, it cannot be something merely concessionary, much less cosmetic or superficial, such as the leaders giving up the traditional austere all-white uniform for something a little more colourful, so as to blend in with the crowd; abandoning their usual stern, distant style for greater friendliness and smiling approachability; purging their image of all signs of elitism through a more visible presence at hawker centres or the MRT; peppering their speeches with humorous personal anecdotes and admiring observations about ordinary Singaporeans, such as this young person with little education who made good or that hardworking teacher who went out of her way to help her students, etc.

True change goes well beyond all these surface overtures. It has to be no less than paradigmatic, enacted at a much higher level of sincere purpose backed up by sincere action, no matter how difficult.True change goes well beyond all these surface overtures. It has to be no less than paradigmatic, enacted at a much higher level of sincere purpose backed up by sincere action, no matter how difficult. Only then can there be an overhaul of old mindsets and habits of governance, no matter how valued.

Now I will have the temerity to suggest, Sir, that the PAP leadership had, not too long ago, missed a certain rare and valuable opportunity to show the people its sincerity for this kind of change. Shortly after the watershed 2011 General Election, some ex-political detainees made a request for a commission of inquiry to look into the allegations that the government had made against them, a request which was brusquely dismissed. To accede to the request would of course have shocked PAP diehards and the majority of Singaporeans, simply because it would have been so uncharacteristic of the PAP style.

But if it is true that extraordinary problems call for extraordinary solutions, it would have been precisely this act of unaccustomed humility, courage and sensitivity to the people’s feelings, that would have conveyed unquestioned sincerity and honesty, and provoked positive reaction from the people. And if, additionally, there were gracious acceptance of the verdict of the inquiry, even if it meant an apology and the need to make amends, that would have been a gesture large and empathetic enough, to win over even the most vocal critics. It would certainly have begun the process of creating, for the first time in the history of the PAP government-people relationship, a nexus of understanding and reciprocity. (I have dealt rather lengthily on this example simply because to this day, I fervently wish that it had happened)

2) As long as the crisis of trust persists, Sir, all your words of advice, caution and encouragement to the people, all the statements you are making about the need for good politics and good policies, for constructive debate, for all Singaporeans to work together in harmony and goodwill to build a strong, prosperous, stable society where everyone will be cared for, which everyone can call home, etc, etc, will only fall on deaf ears, or worse, be construed as no more than PR pronouncements of much pretension and little worth.

3) The old era that may be aptly called The Lee Kuan Yew Era, is now over, and for the succeeding PAP leaders to be seen as clinging to it despite their obviously good intentions and efforts to respond to the unstoppable forces of change in the new era, is to be caught in a neither-here-nor-there, politically ill-defined domain that gets pushed and pulled both ways. It gives the unfortunate impression of lack of leadership direction, which is invariably and unfavourably contrasted with the strength, conviction and vision of the first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Hence, while Singaporeans attribute Singapore’s amazing success in the world to Mr Lee’s purposeful style, they are less ready to do the same for the two succeeding Prime Ministers whose achievements are by no means inconsiderable. While Singaporeans were ready to accord Mr Lee much respect and trust (though with scant affection), they perceive the younger leaders after him as less deserving of these, and therefore not entitled to lecture and scold them as Mr Lee used to do with impunity. If Lee Kuan Yew alone received the famously humongous ministerial salary increase, the people would not have minded, but when the rest also did, they were outraged.

Today, in a twist of supreme irony that would have incensed Mr Lee, Singaporeans see the defamation suit itself, and not the act that has entailed it, as the very cause of the erosion of trust.4) What had worked well in the old era may no longer be relevant today, or worse, may even be damaging. When Mr Lee Kuan Yew liberally used the defamation suit against his critics, one of the reasons he gave (if I remember correctly) was that he wanted to punish them for implying government corruption, and thus eroding the trust of the people, which he said was necessary for the government to do its work. Today, in a twist of supreme irony that would have incensed Mr Lee, Singaporeans see the defamation suit itself, and not the act that has entailed it, as the very cause of the erosion of trust. A few more applications of this once effective instrument of control, even if legally justifiable, would surely damage the PAP cause further, in the highly charged atmosphere of the new Singapore.

5) While Singaporeans appreciate the original PAP principles of hard work, self discipline, responsibility and incorruptibility, they can see that the inflexibility of style based on rationality, reason, head-over-heart logic and letter-of-the-law adherence may be woefully inadequate to deal with a new era where politics is necessarily complex, messy and noisy. This is because human nature, ultimately, cannot be ignored, and has to be factored into any political equation.

So, in terms of practical action, what can be done about the present growing crisis of trust in our midst?

Again, Sir, I will beg to be presumptuous, and make the following suggestions:

1) You, and only you, Sir, can initiate the process leading to the solution of the problem. In theory and ideally, the three forces for major change in any society, namely, the government, the institutions and the people, work together. But in Singapore, unfortunately, the last two are helpless. Only the dominant PAP can initiate change and sustain it. Hence, whether you like it or not, Sir, if you genuinely seek a restoration of trust, you have first to go it alone, signal your new attitude to the institutions and the people, and patiently encourage them to take the cue and play their part. It will be a long, strenuous process.

A less-than-genuine effort would be something like launching a high-profile project such as the great Singapore Conversation, watch it go through the motions and various stages of a set timetable, and then shrug off the indifferent results.

There must be many in your camp who feel the same way but are reluctant to speak up. It may be a good thing to start listening to them in order to start listening to the people.2) There are some voices in your government, Sir, and some staunch PAP loyalists who have bravely, albeit gently, tried to draw your attention to the growing divide between you and the people. Professor Tommy Koh some time back actually commented that the use of the defamation suit was not exactly commendable or useful in the long run, and recently Dr Lily Neo calmly and tactfully suggested during a parliamentary sitting that you ought to be listening more to the people and communicating better with them. There must be many in your camp who feel the same way but are reluctant to speak up. It may be a good thing to start listening to them in order to start listening to the people.

3) In the end, you and your colleagues who have for decades been skilfully solving tough, bread-and-butter problems faced by the nation, will be in the best position to deal with this equally serious problem of trust. It is of course a completely different problem, but with the same application of efficiency, determination and dedication, it will no doubt be one more crisis solved, or at least defused, for the nation to move on.

This is an epochal time in Singapore’s history, when one era is fading into the past, and a new one is being transitioned into. If the present crisis of trust is not resolved, it will become even more intractable for the next Prime Minister and the new generation of leaders, for by then the crisis would have deteriorated into meltdown. In the absence of the people’s trust, effective government is virtually impossible, as every leader knows. To prevent this from happening, only you, Sir, can pave the way for a new understanding and reconciliation. It is a huge, onerous, daunting and certainly unenviable task of damage control, repair and restoration. But it is surely top priority, if only because the alternative would be just too scary.

Yours sincerely
Catherine Lim

Taken from

#Sg #Singapore

Catherine Lim’s Open Letter to PM