Last week, Vivian Balakrishnan sounded like a sphinx speaking in riddles and conundrums. Singaporeans are used to the fury of People Action Party attacks on opposition candidates during elections but this time round, the attacks have started even before Nomination Day. Adding to the unseasonal and surreal atmosphere this year is Vivian's mysteriously-worded attacks and half insinuations on Vincent Wijeysingha, a likely candidate for the Singapore Democratic Party.
As previous targets Francis Seow, Tang Liang Hong, Steve Chia, and James Gomez will know, the attacks and scandals begin and suddenly the entire news - and the entire elections - for the next few weeks will seem to revolve around their alleged shortcomings, the attacks from the PAP rising to a crescendo, "Please lah, withdraw!"
Dr Vivian's attacks on Wijeysingha, courtesy of Alex Au:
I am not sure what [the SDP] strategy is. I would like to know whether they have confirmed that they are contesting, I would like to know their line-up. I can’t help feeling that part of the reason for their reticence is they have elements of their agenda they are not prepared to disclose and subject to scrutiny. Eventually, they will have to come out of the closet. (The Straits Times, 20 April 2011)
Dr Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday described the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) team running against him as ‘strange bedfellows’ who do not have a shared vision or ideology...In an interview with The Sunday Times, he said: ‘It has been brought to my attention – in fact it is the SDP which is suppressing a certain YouTube video, which raises some very awkward questions about the agenda and motivations of the SDP and its candidates.’ (The Sunday Times, 24 April 2011)Why would an attack by a sitting minister on a very naughty opposition candidate be this cryptic? The PAP has never been shy from calling a spade a spade witness its blunt denunciation of Steve Chia in 2003.
Vivian Balakrishnan, the dog whistler
It's taken the blogosphere half a week to figure out the game. Vivian Balakrishnan alludes to the open secret of Dr Vincent Wijeysingha's homosexuality. He alludes to a video taken at a public forum where Dr Wijeysingha discussed issues which were then popularly discussed like the age of consent and the decriminalisation of gay sex in Singapore.
Why would this discussion - in the video, Dr Wijeysingha clearly does not take a stand on either these two issues! - be so horrendously evil? And why would it then warrant such a roundabout, mincing reference?
Vivian Balakrishnan is not a sage, nor a sphinx, nor a fool. He is putting into practice dog whistle politics - carefully parsing his words to target a key demographic. Balakrishnan is not speaking to the press or to the general public that reads The Straits Times.
He is speaking to a key demographic who is not in on the secret but can decipher it with clues like - an agenda, strange bedfellows, closets. He speaks to a demographic that will be spring into action because there is an insinuation of a gay agenda secretly planned by a gay politician who Vivian Balakrishnan simultaneously accuses of fooling his party on his motivations and is also in cahoots with his party to suppress this video.
Consciously or otherwise, Vivian Balakrishnan furiously dog-whistles the demographic consisting of Thio Su Mien, her co-coup leaders at AWARE, Derek Hong, and other concerned conservative Christians. The "Gay agenda", the spectre of homosexual politicians pushing to overturn legislation - an obvious wedge issue for an obvious demographic, dog whistled expertly by a coy minister of very few direct words.
Vivan Balakrishnan, the enabler of religious identity politics
Consciously or otherwise, Vivian Balakrishnan invites Feminist Mentor and conservative Christians to wage another round of their cultural war in Singapore's general election this year. Consciously or otherwise, Balakrishnan will make 2011 the first time in Singapore's history where the conservative Christian vote has wedge issues in the elections brought to their attention.
Vivian Balakrishnan can right now say he meant nothing, that he meant something else which he will not follow up at the present moment but will reveal when the time is ripe, etc. The fact is the wheels have been set into motion and no one can close this Pandora's box.
If a gay man like Alex Au can hear the dog whistle (even though he misconstrues it to be an ad hominem attack), Conservative Christians can likewise hear Balakrishnan's dog whistle shrilly calling. At best, this will be the year in Singapore's history that conservative Christians gel as a voting bloc. At worst - if the PAP allows Balakrishnan to make Wijeysingha this election's key target - this will be the year where a conservative Christian wedge issue becomes the key issue of a general election.
Vivian Balakrishnan - now, thou art Death, the Destroyer of Worlds
I was here when Thio Su Mien and her co-conspirators took over AWARE. I was here when Thio Su Mien and her co-conspirators had Singapore civil society under strain with their religious intolerance for secularism. I was here when it seemed we would no longer be at peace between peoples of different faiths, between believers and secularists.
I for one do not wish there to be a new cultural war between conservative Christians and everyone else. And yet if Vivian Balakrishnan continues his attacks, this will surely be an issue for conservative Christians. After all, who else would Balakrishnan count on to attack Dr Wijeysingha? His fellow cabinet colleagues, who tilted against the conservative Christian coup of a feminist organisation? Papalee, who thinks being gay is in the genes and can't be helped - and welcomes gay MPs? Goh Chok Tong, who went on record to say that gay civil servants are perfectly okay?
And should Balakrishnan succeed in making the sexual orientation of Dr Wijeysingha THE issue of this election, it is clear conservative Christians will rise up to the occasion - together with their leaders, who may feel obliged to weigh in especially when it comes to chusing politicians who may change the legislation. And should the conservative Christians rise up, will not their old foes in the AWARE saga - feminists, members of other religions, secular and agnostic Singaporeans rise up to counteract the perceived rise of religious politics in Singapore?
Perhaps Vivian Balakrishnan is pleased at the new cleavages he has wrought on Singapore society? Perhaps he is satisfied at the introduction of dog whistling to religious groups on wedge issues? Maybe he fancies himself a trailblazer but I see him as a sower of potential destruction in Singapore.
Will there be religious riots or even religious-secular riots in the future because of Vivian Balakrishnan's dog whistling? I'll make no bones about it - Vivian Balakrishnan's comments on Dr Wijeysingha constitute a threat to Singapore's long term stability as a secular, multireligious society.
I call on Vivian Balakrishnan to step down as a candidate in this election. You sir are not fit to be an elected representative of the people. Please lah, withdraw!