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I am Singaporean XV – Open/Close April 15, 2009

Posted by The Truth in I am Singaporean, Vol. II.

So now the new Public Order Act has been passed, which, according to the States Times, “gives police more effective powers to maintain public order.”  In response to NMP Siew Kum Hong, who said that the need for a permit in order to assemble was an emasculation of the right of assembly (i don’t know why the States Times decided to put it in quotation marks), our Law Minister gave us a list of things which somehow showed how progressive the Gahmen has been in liberalising the political space, focusing on Speakers’ Corner.

While the demonstrations organised by Tan Kin Lian in the wake of the investors’ crisis may show that these efforts have borne fruit, but it was not until 2008, 8 years after Speakers’ Corner was opened, that this actually took place.  And it was only possible after 1st September, 2008, when the need for a police permit was lifted for the Speakers’ Corner ONLY.  Yet, this only shows that the liberalisation can work, and not that it does work.  The most basic, underlying concern regarding political expression, namely that someone is watching and you will be ridiculed or even be charged for defamation if you touch a too-raw nerve, still exists.  Also, the fact that your concerns will go more or less unanswered is also a basic assumption

Note that with ‘assumption’ i doesn’t mean that it is always the case which is like that.

So the measures taken have not led to corresponding results.  The point here is that listing a list of measures taken to reach a particular goal does not mean that the goal has been achieved.  Mr. Shanmugam’s argument is based on simple causality – the Gahmen has done such-and-such – and so we should be politically more liberal than before.  He neglects effectively the other probable causes which may have checked liberalisation in place – like the ISA, a dominating mainstream media, a government which lashes out hard against criticism, and a culture of fear and anonymity and more.

And yet, more measures have been introduced, most pertinent of which are the ‘move-on’ powers which the police now have.  So empowered, the police can now order any individual to ‘move on’, if they suspect him or her to be potentially dangerous to public order.  Now, according to TOC, “the Act will allow the police to act “without people being able to argue about it”. Worse, there will be no judicial review of a move-on order: the home minister alone can decide on an appeal.

The Gahmen seems to have opened up, but the new Act appears to close things up further.  Attempts at liberalisation have not taken (perhaps the Gahmen never wanted them to take), and the introduction of the new Act means that liberties will be further restricted, in that you can be ordered to leave an area on suspicion that you are up to no good.  Black-and-white for the police and the Gahmen, which loves black and white, but what about us?  Black or white or any shade of grey?  The Gahmen seems to work with an assumed personal political space (which sadly is curtailed by the Gahmen and the individual) and an assumed public need for safety (assumed in terms of quantity of safety.)  Assuming means that the Gahmen may be wide off the mark, and that the Gahmen’s standpoint is naturally biased – naturally some people want more public safety and some are willing to have slightly less public safety for more individual rights.

And while the Gahmen must necessarily assume that they exist and that there is a balance, how do they know where the balance exists?  They are supposed to represent the people, but how are they represented?  Is this another case of formally open, actually close?



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