There is a big misconception that the PAP abides by the rule of law principle but in actual fact it enacts and introduces “laws” to ensure that the rule of law is curtailed.
Rule of law is really the other side of the same coin with democracy.
The rule of law dictates that all citizens are equal under the law, including the government.
But what is the reality in Singapore? The PAP government has resorted to laws to ensure that citizens’, civil society groups’ and opposition political parties’ rights are denied while its powers are enhanced. In other words, one set of laws for the PAP and another set for the rest.
For example the recent arrest of five SDP leaders outside the Istana, using a new law that makes it an offence for two or more persons to assemble or hold precession in a gazette area.
Let’s look into the genesis of this particular piece of legislation. In 2002, two SDP leaders Dr Chee Soon Juan and Mr Gandhi Ambalam were arrested by the police on May Day outside the Istana while trying to hold a rally. For being outside the Istana, the two were charged with trespassing. Finally, they were tried and found guilty in October that year. And in November 2002, the PAP government brings in the new law that prohibits assemblies and procession by two or more persons.
The Public Entertainment and Meetings Act is another legislation that has been conveniently broadened to deal with political opposition. When Dr Chee spoke at Raffles Place in Dec 1998 and Jan 1999 without a permit, he faced a charge under the then
Public Entertainments Act. It was only after his conviction and sentence, the word “meetings” was added as amendment to the original act.
The Films Act is yet another typical example of how the PAP resorts to the use of “laws” to undermine the rule of law. In 1996, the SDP produced a 20-minute documentary for the impending general elections but the film censor board had immediately banned it from distributed to the electorate. Only after the 1997 general elections, the minister for information moved amendments to the act in the House to include films of political nature.
Broadcasting Act was amended to bring foreign broadcasters such as the CNBC and BBC within the ambit of the law after they had earlier given wide coverage to Dr Chee’s public speeches at Raffles Place.
The Political Donations Act is entirely a new invention of the PAP. After Mr J B Jeyaretnam and Dr Chee founded the Open Singapore Centre in 2001 and appealed for funding from overseas, this piece of legislation was passed to prevent organizations that the PAP named “political” from receiving funds.
It’s clear that these laws were enacted to curtail democratic activities to further entrench PAP’s authoritarian rule. By any stretch of imagination this cannot be considered the practice of the rule of law.
The abolition of appeals to the
Privy Council is a classic case of PAP government’s disregard for the rule of law. After Singapore became independent in 1965, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London continued to remain the ultimate court of appeal for Singapore. This was because the then prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew had expressed the hope that “faith in the judicial system will never be diminished, and I am sure it will not, so long as we allow a review of the judicial processes that takes place here in some other tribunal where obviously undue influence cannot be brought to bear”.
But all these lofty ideals ended as mere rhetoric when the law lords in Oct 1988 allowed Mr J B Jeyaretnam’s appeal and noted “their deep disquiet that by a series of misjudgments the appellant and his co-accused Wong have suffered a grievous injustice. They have been fined, imprisoned and publicly disgraced for offences for which they are not guilty.”
That was a damning indictment. Soon steps were taken to delink Singapore’s judiciary with the
Privy Council in London.
In addition to all these new laws, amendments and repeal of some existing ones, the PAP government is concentrating on broadening the Penal Code so that more civil and political activities are criminalized and penalties enhanced as further deterrent for the push for democracy.