Recently, while I discussed the coming elections with a senior citizen, I told him about how the TOC organised the Face-to-Face, an event where people met, openly criticized various govt policies and broadcast it on the Internet. His response was "They won't allow this for long. They will 'go after' the people behind it". I thought the old man was wrong and we have made a bit of progress from the 80s. It turned out what the old man said was prophetic. I believe the turning point for TOC was the Face-to-Face townhall type meeting it organised. The authorities' light touch probably ended with that event. I think the govt probably figured out that a series of Face-to-Face type meetings leading up to the coming elections will not help the PAP.
What are the implications of being gazetted as a political association? It means that TOC cannot receive funding or have foreign involvement in its activities. TOC cannot be affiliated with political parties. It means TOC cannot invite foreigners to give talks at its events and all donors of to TOC have to be reported to the authorities under the act:
Annual donation report12. —(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, the responsible officers of every political association shall, within 31 days after the close of each financial year of the association, prepare and send to the Registrar a donation report under this section in respect of every recordable donation referred to in subsections (2) and (3), giving all such details in respect of each donor thereof as are required by the Schedule to be given in respect of a donor of a recordable donation.
Many organisations after being gazetted face funding challenges not because they depend on foreign sources of funding but locals become fearful of donating because donors have to be reported to the authorities. In Singapore, people are still fearful of being known to the authorities for supporting a political association financially through donations.
The gazetting of TOC is just a reminder of the type of system we have in Singapore. TOC did everything responsibly (as far as I can tell) all it did was to gather and promote alternative views and ideas. But once the PAP feel that their propaganda is undermined, they will proceed to shackle the organisation. Gazetting is just one tool from its arsenal. You recall the recent ugly episode involving the people behind Temasek Review - they tried to shine the spotlight on it and attempted to humiliate the people behind the site. It takes real courage for Temasek Review to continue after that. There is a saying in football : "Go after the players not the ball" to describe dirty tactics. From the time people were labelled commuists and detained without trial to the time Dr. Chee was sacked from NUS to the time JBJ was bankrupted to the time Temasek Review was put on the spotlight....the whole idea has always been to go after the people not debate ideas. After TOC is gazetted, its editors and donors are exposed, what happens to the people the next time TOC reveals the flaws in one of PAP's policy causing support for it to be undermined...it is not so clear...and hence there is always fear.....