"Give the vote to those who wish to be an agent of change for the Lord."
April 28, 2009 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Some weeks back, the venerable Singaporean women's organization AWARE got caught with their bloomers down - over a hundred new members signed up just weeks prior to the 2009 officer's elections, and these new members promptly voted themselves into office. The whole thing was apparently orchestrated by members of Church of Our Savior, which is home to Singapore's largest ex-gay ministry, and whose members have been particularly outspoken against gay issues in the past. The leader of the insurgents, now president, Thio Su Mien, had complained in the past that AWARE was "promoting a homosexual agenda" in schools, which the Singaporean Ministry of Education denies. Thio's emails orchestrating the takeover have recently come to light.
posted by micketymoc (22 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've identified the problem:

Choices is a ministry established in 1991 to help people who struggle with homosexuality recover their God-intended sexual identity. In overcoming same-sex attractions, clients are empowered to take responsibility in maintaining moral and relational wholeness.
posted by jimmythefish at 5:37 AM on April 28, 2009

I tried to organize exactly this back a few years ago on my undergraduate college's College Republicans, but couldn't get enough people together to make it worthwhile.

The biggest issue was that nobody could agree whether, once in power, we'd use CR funds for lefty causes, or go the other way and start issuing psychotically right-wing statements, sponsoring unforgivably offensive events, and inviting Prussian Blue to play at campus.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:02 AM on April 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Entryism is a bit of a low tactic, whatever side it comes from.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:12 AM on April 28, 2009

A very similar thing to Pope Guilty's plan happened to my college, and the vote was to disband the organization and donate all the operating fund money to the campus socialist organization.
posted by Jon_Evil at 6:13 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Isn't this the (quite successful) strategy behind the Log Cabin Republicans?

I agree that this is about as old as politics itself, though arguably the fear of infiltration it breeds is highly destructive to the process of identity- and issue-formation.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:19 AM on April 28, 2009

Entryism is the result of poor protocol design.
posted by DU at 6:20 AM on April 28, 2009

And then Jesus said unto his clients....

Hmmm, seems wrong somehow.

Unless you're church has organized a lot of zombie pub crawls or the like, I'm kind of thinking that using flash mobbing as the new tool of the culture war is a really bad idea. Unless, of course, you're really into having your home page blocked by two of Google's three safe search settings.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:24 AM on April 28, 2009

This part is weird, from the 'hundred new members' link:

One older member who won without a contest was Mrs Claire Nazar, a former corporate counsel nominated to be president by outgoing Aware chief Constance Singam. But barely a week into her new term, and before making her first statement as president, Mrs Nazar quit suddenly this week. She confirmed that she had resigned, but declined to say any more when reached by The Straits Times.

Thanks, micketymoc, interesting news post.
posted by mediareport at 6:51 AM on April 28, 2009

This is a tactic straight out of L. Ron Hubbard's counter-intel organization. They got busted by the FBI for this.
posted by spicynuts at 7:00 AM on April 28, 2009

Pope Guilty, that's fucking awesome.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:20 AM on April 28, 2009

or go the other way and start issuing psychotically right-wing statements, sponsoring unforgivably offensive events, and inviting Prussian Blue to play at campus.

Well, that'd explain Sarah Palin or maybe even the whole George W. Bush administration, while we are at it.
posted by Skeptic at 7:48 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Organizations like that should have a protective mechanism along the lines of MetaFilter's: after joining, members go through a passive period before they earn certain privileges. Obviously if there's an election coming up within a reasonably short time, new members should not be permitted to vote.
posted by Dragonness at 8:03 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

This sort of thing is why whenever I've been involved in writing charters or constitutions for political organizations (or even non-political volunteer organizations with big pocketbooks), I've always argued in favor of anti-hostile-takeover provisions. Requiring candidates for officer positions to be active members for a non-trivial amount of time generally makes a takeover much more difficult, and the impact on those with bona fide interest is minimal.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:08 AM on April 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

AWARE is just the latest battleground between the "pro-family" evangelical right and the rest of the country. Many people still remember very clearly the very intense debate surrounding the parliamentary review of the illegality of consensual gay sex in the Penal Code. Church of Our Saviour was very much involved in the fray, and the daughter of the abovementioned Thio Su Mien made a rather impassioned speech in Parliament trampling on logic, reason and the same principles of human rights that her day job involves.

It's sad, and I'm angry. I'm a voting member of AWARE and I intend to exercise my vote this Saturday in the interest of inclusiveness and secularity.

Unfortunately, this is a much bigger issue than AWARE itself, and it exposes the growing divisiveness in Singapore society. This time, public opinion seems firmly set against the hostile takeover, but it is likely we will see more flashpoints in the years to come.
posted by hellopanda at 12:53 PM on April 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

hellopanda, please keep us updated. And good luck.
posted by mediareport at 4:12 PM on April 28, 2009

This pissed me off as well when I read about it in the papers. The level of homophobia expressed by Thio Su Mien's statements were nauseating.
posted by Alnedra at 6:38 PM on April 28, 2009

Stacked meetings are a fucking hoot. Been to a few at my university days.

Jeez, people take committeeship of TEH UNIVERSITY MATHS BEER DRINKING CLUB very seriously indeed.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:21 PM on April 28, 2009

Unfortunately, this is a much bigger issue than AWARE itself, and it exposes the growing divisiveness in Singapore society. This time, public opinion seems firmly set against the hostile takeover, but it is likely we will see more flashpoints in the years to come.

I lived in Singapore for a couple of years - sure, it's nowhere near as chaotic as Indonesia and the Philippines, but I believe the local culture is unhealthily averse to any kind of conflict. You guys could use a few more heads butting with no big brother around to run to.

Uninformed opinion aside, I'm rooting for you guys, hellopanda. Good luck!
posted by micketymoc at 12:46 AM on April 29, 2009

The extraordinary general meeting is as of this time ongoing, and I'm following the proceedings on Twitter (via the tag #aware). Quite a fascinating process, but possibly indicative of the immaturity of civil society in Singapore, as much of the meeting seems to have been dominated by chaos. Speakers have been shouted down, the microphones used by the floor have been arbitrarily switched on and off, and the organisers were quite inefficient in terms of registering people to let them into the meeting venue.

That said, Twitter has never been used (AFAIK) to such a large scale in Singapore for any event, whether for the last general election, concerts, rallies or even the last government-orchestrated national cheering/ back-thumping event.

I'm not optimistic about the effect the event will have on civil society in Singapore, but it's a step in the right direction, in terms of raising awareness (ha ha) about the existence of such organisations here; the vast majority of people here tend to either not know or not care. Sure, it's not gone very well, but hey, baby steps. Baby steps.

I would quote an appropriate aphorism about avalanches and pebbles at this time, but as I mentioned, I'm not optimistic.
posted by WalterMitty at 2:03 AM on May 2, 2009

Sorry - via the tag #awaresg.
posted by WalterMitty at 2:06 AM on May 2, 2009

I was present throughout the entire event, which eventually lasted more than nine hours (including queuing up for registration). Things indeed got a little crazy and unnecessarily shrill at all times during the meeting, especially at the beginning, when the exco demonstrated much condescension towards the attendees. There was plenty of heckling, jeering, shouting, and free-flowing anger and accusations flying all around. Both sides were definitely guilty of unreasonable behaviour and lost tempers. I did feel that much of it was because the events of the past month had generated a lot of emotions in people, and everyone felt the need to vent. Things pretty much calmed down when the exco gave in to the demands for the people to be heard.

Maybe I'm just a little more optimistic than WalterMitty, but I do think that this is quite a watershed event in Singapore politics and civil society.

First, Singaporeans have rarely had the opportunity to actually change things. In a country where parliamentary contests have been producing walkover results for the past four decades, people lose sight of the importance of having a vote. Debates over major social issues have been primarily legislative and/or regulatory in nature, and can hardly be characterised as battles that can be won by galvanising the popular vote. A lot of online petitions, perhaps, but nothing of practical effect. The fight for AWARE, however, took place in a very different sphere, where one member's vote had the ability to directly affect the outcome. People were arguing over whether men should have the right to vote in a women's organisation. They paid attention to the resolutions , the motions, the voting procedures. They asked for scrutiny over vote counting, for reassurance against ballot stuffing. There was, to some extent, active participation in the democratic process. Again, not something common in Singapore.

Second, Singaporeans have not been able to get together for free debate. Not until the establishment of Speakers Corner in 2000 was there room for freedom of expression (and mind you, that particular concession extended only to the physical limits of the park, and came with the requirement of police registrations). Just two weeks ago, Parliament passed the Public Order Act to strengthen police powers against demonstrations or other "cause-related events". Yet it was at this meeting when opinions on controversial topics like homosexuality and sex education were exchanged; everyone had the right to speak, and not just the eloquent, powerful or (if I may admit) intelligent. For a while - with the waving placards and standing ovations, cheers and chants - it felt like a demonstration. And if you know what Singapore's like, you'd know that no demonstration has ever taken place on such scale and with such fervor since the 1960s. People stood up, spoke out - and won. It may not have had taken place on a national political level, but definitely on a platform large enough for it to impact people's lives and make an imprint on the collective psyche of Singaporeans.

Third, many Singaporeans are now made aware of the vulnerability of the organisations that they vaguely know of and support. This entire saga, I'm sure, has galvanised people into taking up membership in such groups and taking an active interest in their governance and operations. This can only strengthen civil society and give them greater support and credibility.

I could go on. I don't think Twitter played as big a role as Facebook and blogs in spreading the message, rounding up supporters, and keeping people updated. The group behind the counter-coup, We Are AWARE, set up a website in no time and got the word out very effectively. They even sent SMS updates to supporters in the meeting, reminding people to "be calm, be dignified", and instructing supporters on how to vote correctly. I do notice a greater level of maturity in how the online communities have been dealing with this matter.

All in all, I'm triumphant, hopeful and inspired.
posted by hellopanda at 12:25 PM on May 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

The insurgents have been voted out. A new ex-co representing the "old guard" has been voted in. Blow-by-blow account here. Feeling a lot of schadenfreude for the Church of Our Savior today, who are now furiously backpedaling on their support for the insurgents.

Congratulations, hellopanda!
posted by micketymoc at 11:12 PM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

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