There were actually eight invaders, including one Peggy Leong. But perhaps sensing that God was not on her side, Peggy decided not to to show up for the EGM yesterday. The rest of her fellow conspirators were thoroughly quizzed and questioned, and then decisively thrown out by the women of Singapore.
The meeting, in all its dramatic details, is now widely reported in the news. I'll just reproduce Today's summary of it:
Sounds sappy, but today I actually feel proud of being a Singaporean.
The Aware EGM: A blow-by-blow account
TODAY Weekend • May 3, 2009
Loh Chee Kong
12pm: Queues begin to form, with Aware's membership having swelled to more than 1,800 in recent days as extensive media reports on the leadership controversy sparked interest.The night before, organisers booked an adjacent hall to accommodate the anticipated crowd. By 1.30pm, the queues snake along two levels of the Suntec Convention Centre.
One corporate trainer in her 50s says she feels the New Guard should be given a chance to prove themselves. But undergraduate Kishan Kumar Singh thinks the old guardis more inclusive approach should be the way forward. “The issue affects more than just women ... its a larger societal issue,” says Mr Singh.
Mild argument breaks out between ushers and sections of the crowd, after the latter are told by an unidentified personnel to cut the queue and head straight to the registration booth - only to be turned away.
2.40pm: The EGM starts after a 40-minute delay. The crowd, by some estimates, has hit 3,000. Incumbent Aware president Josie Lau begins her speech but is interrupted repeatedly the audience. She calls for security to “escort” the unruly out. Photographers are also asked to leave as some are using their flashes - against
the house rules, according to the Exco.
3pm: Disgruntled members begin to make their presence felt as they take to the microphones to voice their impatience: They want Ms Lau to go straight to the fourth item on the agenda: The vote of no-confidence.
A shouting match erupts between the Exco and members, after assistant honorary treasurer Sally Ang tells the crowd to "shut up and sit down". Loud boos ring across the hall.
Succumbing to crowd pressure, Ms Lau agrees to skip the first two administrative items on the agenda and call for the meeting to vote on a no-confidence motion - but not before she asks Rajah & Tann lawyer Gregory Vijayendran to spell out that the constitution does not explicitly provide for such a motion, and that it could be
challenged in court.
The lawyer adds, nevertheless: “Whilst a vote of no confidence does not mean the new Exco has to step down, they should consider doing so."
Members are briefed on voting procedure. A new member interrupts the proceedings by criticising the new guard for trying to take credit for the spike in membership. This sets off another shouting match.
The roused crowd chants "Where were you", when immediate past president Constance Singam asks where the new Exco members were in the last 24 years.
Feminist mentor Thio Su Mien takes the microphone and rattles off her achievements to "establish credibility”. “I know you all don't like the term feminist mentor,” she says, urging them to nevertheless “show respect" to elders.
4.30pm: Ballots for the no-confidence motion are cast. Afterwards, while the votes are being counted, the Exco goes on to discuss proposed constitutional amendments. After protests from members that some of them have not even seen the proposals, the Exco proposes a 10-minute break so that members can obtain copies to read through.
Members continue to question the Exco on various matters, including the decisions to sack Ms Schutz Lee - Aware's former centre manager - and to install CCTVs at the association's Dover Crescent premises.
Attention turns to the cost of booking the venue for the EGM. Honorary treasurer Maureen Ong reveals Aware spent $23,000 - enraging several in the crowd who are vocal in their displeasure on the excessive use of funds.
One member points out that under the group's constitution, the Exco has to seek members' approval to spend more than $20,000 in a month. When she becomes agitated, she is escorted out of the hall by security officers.
Upon further questioning, Ms Ong says the Exco has spent $90,000 in the past month, mostly on organising the EGM. The crowd lets out an audible gasp. ”We had to find a venue to accommodate all members,” Ms Ong explains.
7pm: The crowd, getting restless, are told the results will be out soon. Meanwhile, the censure of the Exco continues. A new member who introduces herself as Irene Ho takes issue with being told to sit and be quiet.
She loudly declares, to some cheers from the crowd: “Today is the time to stand up and speak up, not shut up and sit down."
The members start to question the Exco's decision to sack Ms Braema Mathi as chair of Aware's subcommittee on Cedaw (short for the United Nation's Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women).
The Exco try to explain how they dissolved the subcommittee “in line with the constitution”, and note that Ms Mathi has not submitted a draft shadow report owed despite repeated requests. Ms Mathi steps in to say she had offered to meet with the Exco, and that their comments are “significantly defamatory".
Other members involved in the Cedaw project voice their displeasure that the subcommittee was dissolved without their being informed. That's tantamount to being sacked without notice, they say.
One member says agitatedly: “You took away our choices, so are we wrong for screaming and shouting at you? How can I respect you if you are treating me as a child?”
8pm: There is a tense silence as Ms Lau reads out the ballot results. This gives way to ecstatic cheers, when it is revealed that the motion has received nearly twice the votes in favour as those against it. While Ms Lau keeps a straight face and tone, many members jump out of their seats and hug one another.
One member of the old guard takes the microphone and spells it out for the Exco: “You no longer have the moral authority to run Aware.” They are asked to step down graciously, or face motion to remove them.
Almost stiffly, Ms Lau says the Exco will speak to its legal counsel and consider. The crowd starts booing; Ms Mathi has to calm them down. Addressing the Exco, the Aware veteran stresses that “the conclusion is the conclusion”, even if the Exco have been “wonderful” in comporting themselves under flak throughout the afternoon.
Others join the call for the Exco to step down. Member Rose Tan says: “I feel sorry for all of you but you just don't have the experience and networks ... Everybody wants you to go, so please, just go.”
The Exco is given five minutes – until 8.40pm – to discuss their decision.
8.40 pm: The Exco, which has exited the hall, is a no-show and uncontactable.There are whispers that they may have made a quick escape. Ms Mathi announces: “By their action and conduct, I declare the current exco has indeed resigned."
Still, she gives them another 10 minutes - and when they fail to reappear, she goes ahead with the motion to remove the Exco. Only two hands in the entire hall are raised in objection.
By a show of hands, the election of the new Exco proceeds rapidly. Names are thrown up and seconded within a blink of an eye. Positions are filled within seconds. The noise level is growing as the crowd cheers for the new Exco, who one by one fill the stage.
9.15pm: Halfway through the proceedings, Ms Lau and her team finally turn up. They interrupt the elections, saying they want to make a statement.
The boos turn to cheers, when Ms Lau announces their decision to resign and wishes the new Aware leadership well. She hopes they will hit the Cedaw-set target of 30 to 35 per cent female representation in the country's political and social spheres – what appears an indirect retort to earlier suggestions that Ms Lau and her team did not understand Cedaw's work.
“I declare the meeting closed,” Ms Lau then says. The microphones are turned off, and as the old guard try to get them turned back on so the election can continue, they applaud the ousted exco for stepping down graciously.
The new exco is finally declared, and Ms Constance Singam, who is all smiles, is brought back as its advisor.
I'm proud of every Singaporean who spoke up against the dishonest tactics of Josie Lau and her gang. I'm proud of every Singaporean who was smart enough to see through the hogwash of individuals like Thio Su Mien the "feminist mentor". Most of all, I'm proud of all the women who forked out their $40, went down to Suntec and sat through a 7-hour meeting to stand up for what they knew was right. I love you all!
A great day for Singapore.
There was one moment when I felt a sense of deep pity arise in me. That was when I was watching this Youtube video of Thio Su Mien. Specifically, it was those parts where she kept saying things like "Show some respect for your elders" and the crowd just went on making derisive sounds at her.
Truly, I felt sorry for Thio. Sorry that she is such a misguided human being. After all her scheming, plotting behaviour in recent months, she still actually seems to think that she deserves respect. And just for being old.
Thio, next time, try being transparent and honest. It's an easier way to get respect.