A government out of order

The Public Order Act, which was just passed in Parliament on Monday, got me wondering just how far the PAP will go to thumb its nose at the Constitution to serve its narrow political interests.

Among some “highlights” of the law are:

  • A demonstration by a lone person is called an “assembly”.
  • Two persons walking together form for a common cause is a  “procession”.
  • Assemblies and processions both need permits from the Commissioner of Police.
  • Cause-related activities (i.e., political activities) require permits regardless of the number of persons involved. (I guess that means that zero-person activities can also be banned.)
  • An entry-level policeman has the power to order people to “move on” away from an area, even if they are not committing an offence. Those people have to comply, even if that policeman is in the wrong.
  • The police have the power to ban ordinary citizens from filming them as they work.

Government lawyers were obviously mindful of Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to assembly but allows laws to be passed that restrict that right in the interest of public order. This Public Order Act was specifically named and worded to exploit the full letter — but not the spirit — of that provision.

While I may acquiesce to this restriction on civil liberties if it were genuinely for the sake of public security, I am convinced that the purpose of this law is not public security, but to make life easier for the police and to save their political masters from any embarrassment resulting from political protests.

How in the world can a one-man assembly wreck such havoc that we need such a draconian law to deal with him? If I walk hand-in-hand with my wife to commemorate an event, I would be taking part in a procession which needs prior approval from the Commissioner of Police.

It is plain to me that this law was drafted with one event and one person in mind: APEC and Chee Soon Juan.

Firstly, they want APEC to go so smoothly that the delegates, including Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao, will see nothing but happy, smiling faces as evidence of how happy Singaporeans are with our government.

Secondly, they will not have Chee Soon Juan and his people (all 20 of them) ruin their APEC glory by stealing media attention away from them, like they did during the 2006 IMF-World Bank meetings.

Just how much more discretionary powers do the police need to maintain law and order during this “special event”? As far as I’m concerned, the job of a policeman in Singapore is already a walk in the park compared with his counterparts in other countries, including developed countries. Now we need to make it even easier, and in the process curtail our civil liberties even further?

Is President Obama’s psyche so delicate that he will faint if just one person holds up an anti-US placard? Will he really extend his praise to Singapore for clamping down on freedom of assembly just so nobody says nasty things about him?

Or is the government trying to demonstrate to China’s Hu Jintao how well we can implement authoritarianism through “rule of law”, so that he’ll send more of his officials to learn from us?

So what if Chee and his colleagues decide to go on some freedom march during APEC? Are his activities so violent and detrimental to public order that they warrant enacting a whole new law just to deal with him? In fact, I think that devoting police resources to try to contain his movements — with or without this Public Order Act — will unnecessarily divert resources away from the meeting venue.

And finally, the prohibition on filming police in action is clearly meant to prevent films like Martyn See’s Speakers Cornered from being filmed, not to prevent people from filming security forces carrying out an anti-terrorist operation. Do we have such a rambunctious media that will dare to film and broadcast on live TV footage of commandos rappelling down buildings?

I really scratch my head in amazement at how our “brilliant” policymakers can come up with such ridiculous laws. This is not just hardline. It is laughable the kind of somersaults the minister and his MPs had to perform in Parliament to justify this law. To use the situation in Thailand to justify this law shows how shallow an understanding they have (or choose to have) about democracy and freedom of expression.

Please stop making my country a laughing stock in the rest of the world!

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

12 thoughts on “A government out of order”

  1. I knew this blog post was coming :-) I also *scratch head* when I heard it on the news. Saw the Law Min speaking in Parl and I could tell from his body language that this was not an easy case to put across. Absolutely drastic and ridiculous. It is a consolidation of power from a state that does not trust its people nor entertains any form of dissent imaginable. Reminds me of steps taken by some despotic regimes in the past century prior to some turning points in history. Sends shivers down my spine. I hope the electorate will vote with both their hearts and minds at the next election.

  2. now, who is the opposition idiot who voted for a pap mp instead of an oppo one?

    the fact that the parliament can pass any bill without constructive debate, thanks to the “majority rule”, shld wake up your ideas that it is never good to give a blank 66.6% cheque.

    check-and-balance, i say!

  3. This law might be potentially costly, in a political sense.

    Sometimes, the old maxim of “be smart, not too smart” should be respected. The laws on the books are adequate to ensure public security and any coverage of counter-terrorist activities (should they happen), can easily be prevented by security cordons and desist orders put forth to the national media.

    This Bill, in my opinion, is really a case of overreaction.

  4. Man, i really feel like hurling a bottle into the crowd containing the estimable Chee. This fellow is apparently beyond reproach eh? Throw a flaming cocktail into his crowd of sycophants and watch the fireworks explode! BOOM!

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