Singapore govt rebukes White Papers claims on repression of political freedom
- Thursday, November 12, 2009
News and opinions from an independent perspective
Singapore govt rebukes White Paper’s claims on repression of political freedom
From our Correspondent
The Singapore government has responded to the White Paper released by law firm Amsterdam & Peroff which made headlines worldwide a few days ago attacking Singapore’s political system and judiciary.
In a 25 page report posted on its website (www.gov.sg), the government rebukes some of the claims highlighted in the paper and dismissed them as “recycled” views and comments that Dr Chee Soon Juan has regularly expressed.
The report began by proclaiming the Singapore government is voted into office with a mandate from the people.
“Singapore is a democratic state with a Government that is elected through universal franchise. It has a clean and transparent government. Its public officials are held responsible against the highest standards of probity and integrity.”
U.S. NGO Freedom House said in its latest report that Singapore is not an “electoral democracy” as other important pillars of functioning democracy, such as freedom of speech, a free press and civil society are absent.
The report then followed to recycle earlier allegations it has made about Dr Chee to smear his character such as his sacking from NUS for “misuse” of research funds, his “ousting” of Mr Chiam See Tong from SDP and “heckling” of then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong during the 2001 general elections which were widely publicized in the state-controlled media.
It defended the legal suits government leaders had filed against Dr Chee on the need to protect their reputations:
“This Government holds itself to the highest standards of probity and integrity. Ministers, MPs and civil servants found wanting have been dismissed and charged.”
The International Bar Association (IBA) Human Rights Institute released a damning report last year casting aspersions on the judicial independence of the Singapore judiciary.
Neither the Singapore Law Minister nor the Attorney-General Chambers took legal action against the IBA to uphold the integrity of the Singapore judiciary.
In contrast, blogger Gopalan Nair was sentenced to three months in jail for allegedly “insulting” a judge.
The report even dished out the Singapore Constitution to prove that political freedoms are guaranteed in Singapore:
“All Singapore citizens, including Dr Chee and his supporters, are guaranteed under Article 14 of our Constitution the right to assemble peaceably and the right to form associations. The Constitution recognises that these rights are not absolute and allows for necessary restrictions in the interest of the security of Singapore or public order.”
What was not mentioned is the fact that the writing in the Constitution was seldom put into practice and the ruling party makes decisions arbitrarily to curtail the civil and political rights of citizens in the “interest of the public” without much consultation with the public.
The SDP had applied for a police permit to hold a public forum at Bukit Panjang to discuss the wet market issue with the residents and was rejected. Permission to use the nearby community club was also not granted. No reasons were given.
It was stated that:
“Dr Chee is entitled to express his views freely and has done so. He has also organised, unfettered, numerous public meetings lawfully to discuss his political views, including criticism of the Singapore Government. Neither he, nor those who have attended such activities or meetings, have been penalised or victimised.”
In April this year, a group of SDP members held an indoor film showing for invited guests only. The film was “One Nation under Lee” made by film-maker and artist Seelan Palay. Halfway through the screening, officials from the Media Development Authority (MDA) entered the room and confiscated the film. Seelan Palay and his associates are still now under police investigation.
The report posted by the Singapore government carries nothing new and it certainly has far limited outreach and influence than the White Paper released by Amsterdam & Peroff.
It is losing out in the war of “public perception”. Regardless of what the truth is, for every one person who read its explanation on the Singapore government website, there will be thousands who have read the White Paper and believe in what it says.
The Singapore government needs to take concrete action to show that Singaporeans genuinely enjoy basic political freedoms instead of mere empty rhetoric which is neither convincing nor substantial.
With the world’s eyes on Singapore now, it will be hard to avoid discussions and criticisms of its dismal human rights records.
For all its efforts to portray Singapore as a modern democracy, there will be people who can see through the facade. The sooner it comes to terms with reality that the “Emperor has no clothes”, the faster it will take real action to reform the obsolete, archaic and oppressive political system it has perpetuated to serve its own (not public) vested interests.
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