The letter of demand is an old-school weapon – heavy, effective, and double-edged. It also has serious knock-on effects, and pretty much ignores everything else going on in the environment. It’s basically a nuclear weapon from the medieval age, if monks had spent more time studying physics instead of perfecting beer. I for one am glad there were no medieval nukes.
The most interesting thing about the letter of demand is the fact that it is a reminder of a persistent weakness in the G’s (or at least PM’s) gameplan.
1) The G hasn’t convincingly won the communication battle against Ngerng’s sometimes dubious statistics and claims
It horrifies me a little to realise that Ngerng, operating almost solo and with no resources, could pose a real communication threat to the G mechanism.
PM had to resort to the G’s (and the PAP’s) traditional area of strength – lawyers – and call upon legal juggernaut Davinder Singh to try to bring Ngerng’s campaign under control. Such legal action may be justifiable, but the fact that it has been deemed necessary says a lot about how much of a threat the PM thinks a blogger like Ngerng is to his credibility. Does the PM have an itchy lawyer trigger finger, or is Ngerng’s really so convincing?
2) The narrative of a lawsuit is elitist
Roy is an individual with few resources. PM can afford to summon a top-drawer lawyer to make demands of his opponents. The threat of costs and damages to Ngerng is substantial, yet are perhaps a drop in the bucket of the world’s highest-paid PM. “I am powerful; watch your words or I’ll sue” it seems to say. “Respect me or you will be destroyed”.
I’m not saying that the letter of demand was baseless, but it certainly reinforces the top-down, brute force, elitist narrative that PM and the G are trying so hard to shed. While a legal victory may seem assured, this will have to be counted as a step backwards for PM’s image. Ironic, since it’s a defamation suit that’s being threatened.
3) Ngerng now has the opportunity to evolve and gain both credibility and audience
There’s a humourous but true adage – don’t argue with fools, they will only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. In this case, the opposite could be true. Using the steel gauntlet of Drew and Napier to pummel Ngerng first requires dragging him up to PM’s playing field (for said pummelling). Ngerng may get bloodied, but will could come out stronger.
After receiving their various letters of demand, Alex Au, Leslie Chew (Demon-cratic Singapore) and Richard Wan (TRE) have evolved from being incredulous fringe critics to more cautious, but more believable, online voices who have “earned their stripes”.
If Ngerng plays his cards right, he too may earn his coveted place in that fraternity.