Unbeknownst to most Singaporeans — as well as police officers apparently — the Government quietly passed subsidiary legislation a few years ago to ban all forms of political activity.
Under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance)(Assemblies and Processions) Rules, permits are required for a group of 5 persons or more to:
(a) demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person;
(b) publicise a cause or campaign; or
(c) mark or commemorate any event.
What kind of law makes it illegal for citizens to come together just to express a view or to publicise a cause or campaign? Indeed what kind of a government passes that kind of law?
But even this is not enough. The Government now wants yet more power to ensure that no one even attempts to assemble in public. The Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng said two weeks ago that the Government will review and expand public order laws specifically to pre-emptively arrest persons it suspects of trying to conduct “illegal protests”. (Since when were protests ever legal in the eyes of the PAP anyway?) The Government is even proposing to outlaw the filming of such illegal activities.
Singaporeans need to understand the seriousness of the position that we are in. We have been bound and gagged, and our captors can do anything they want to us and our loved ones all in the name of the law.
But we are not totally helpless. There are things that we can do to stand up to our oppressors. The first is to get rid of our mental enslavement that laws passed by the PAP is good for the country and should be unquestioningly obeyed.
It bears repeating that good and just laws benefit the people and must be followed. But bad laws such as the Miscellaneous Offences Rules mentioned above and the ones the Government is proposing are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to further subjugate citizens and perpetuate the one-party state.
The second thing we need to do is to take concrete, proactive steps to bring about reform. We need to do more than just post our views and comments on the Internet. We need to act. Remember if you cannot fly, run; if you cannot run, walk; if you cannot walk, crawl. But we all need to do more.
We also need to get rid of the mindset that the only way to repeal such laws is to get elected into Parliament. In functioning democracies citizens freely engage in politics by joining political parties, NGOs or simply speaking up as individuals. They conduct meetings, both in pubic and in private, to let their elected representatives know their views.
But of course we are not a democracy, functioning or otherwise. When our lawmakers make laws that forbid citizens to even come together to express a view, how does one expect to get elected and elected in numbers to change laws?
Under Rule 2(b) above, opposition parties cannot even gather in numbers of more than four to sell newspapers, distribute flyers and meet the people because they are “publicising a cause or campaign.”
How does an opposition party become successful at the polls when the law allows the ruling party to criminalise legitimate political activities?
This is not to say that the Singapore Democrats are not interested in elections. We state clearly that it is important to continue to participate in elections.
But over and above elections, we – the opposition and civil society – must continue to work for the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. This is the foundation upon which free and fair elections rests. Without it, changing laws through elections is a fantasy.
We have had 12 general elections in the last 50 years since the PAP first came to power. Laws have been constantly changed not just to ensure that the PAP wins every single time but that the opposition’s presence in Parliament remains non-existent or miniscule (think GRC, elections deposit, the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, ban on podcasts, the Films Act, etc).
The PAP’s strategy, of course, is to continue to propagate the falsehood that laws can be changed through the elections, elections that the party controls. Do we need another 50 years to realise that we’ve been had?