Member of European Parliament Graham Watson presses Singapore case

WRITTEN QUESTION E-3332/06 by Graham Watson (ALDE) to the Commission

Subject: Political situation in Singapore

In her reply to my parliamentary question ref n° E-2159/06, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner observes that ‘there has been a gradual change for the better’ and that ‘the climate of political debate in Singapore is less restricted’. In fact the opposite is true.

1. In the past, when PAP officials have sued opposition leaders, the matters have been argued in open court. In the past two defamation cases (2001 and 2006) however, the PAP has resorted to using summary judgment where judgments are awarded to the PAP without even having to go to trial.

2. Three opposition leaders will face a trial in August 2006 for a total of 17 charges for ‘speaking in public without a valid licence.’

3. The new Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s son, said during the elections in May 2006 that if more opposition candidates were elected ‘instead of spending my time thinking of what is the right policy for Singapore, I have to spend all my time thinking what is the right way to fix them, what’s the right way to buy my own supporters over.’

The above is just a small sample of the undemocratic practices that have occurred in the last few years.

Also the view that ‘the media covers opposition activities in a more objective manner’ is inaccurate. The coverage on the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has been extremely skewed. This is because the SDP has been campaigning for democratic reform in Singapore. The following is a recent excerpt of an analysis of the elections in 2006 by Professor Garry Rodan (Murdoch University), foremost expert on Singapore’s political affairs:

‘Although the PAP generally has little tolerance of opposition, it reserves special disdain for the variety championed by Chee Soon Juan and the SDP. Like the WP when it was led by J.B. Jeyaretnam, the SDP has been the party that has most substantively questioned and challenged PAP ideology and governance systems. As bankrupts, Messrs Chee and Jeyaretnam are not only ineligible for this election, but also barred from making rally speeches or broadcasting messages through proxies. Nevertheless, attacks on Mr Chee continue unabated in the state-controlled media.’

Will the Commission now revise its view of ‘democracy’ in Singapore?

E-3332/06EN Answer given by Ms Ferrero-Waldner on behalf of the Commission


The Commission shares the Honourable Member’s concerns about certain faults in the democratic system in Singapore, in particular certain behaviour by the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), for instance pressure on opposition parties and party leaders such as described by the Honourable Member.

In its reply to written question E-2159/06 by the Honourable Member, the Commission indicated that it is fully aware of the problems in Singapore, but that some gradual progress had been observed. However, it is clear that certain faults do persist and the Commission will continue to follow the situation and take all appropriate opportunities to raise the issue with the Singaporean government.

The Commission via its Delegation in Singapore is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to engage Singapore government agencies, civil society bodies and specific target groups in a discussion on the value of democratic principles. Furthermore, the emphasis on the value of democratic freedoms is an integral part of all publicity material.

Together with the EU Member States in Singapore the Commission holds regular dialogue on these issues with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A dedicated Human Rights Group at EU Political Counsellor level is identifying strategies to encourage Singapore’s government to adhere to international human rights standards. The group liaises closely with key stakeholders in Singapore’s civil society including human rights lawyers.

Together with the EU Member States the Commission facilitates and participates in regular intellectual dialogue between high profile representatives of the EU institutions or Member States and local think tanks in the format of an EU-South East Asia lecture series.

The Commission’s communication strategy targets in particular future decision makers, i.e. tertiary students and young adults. The strategy entails panel discussions and seminars on issues such as freedom of speech alongside regular distribution of official publication material.

The Commission facilitates dialogue with civil society bodies as part of official missions from EU institutions. On the occasion of the visit of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and ASEAN to Singapore in November 2005, the Commission facilitated dialogue with members of the opposition parties.

See also Europe learning more about Singapore’s ‘democracy’.