Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Institutional Challenges and Constitutional Struggles in Singapore

[More police power in Little India shows the institutional challenge side of story. It also posts a constitutional struggle for being a police state by giving extra power to the police. ]  

The publication of “The Singapore Constitution: A Brief Introduction”#1 by a group of SMU students clearly shows that there is a lack of constitutional education in Singapore. In addition to the insufficient education, ‘3 out 4 local lawyers leave practice in the first 10 years practising law’ indicates the constitutional struggles in Singapore. Why is there no interest in fighting justice in the Courts? Very few Singaporeans have in fact a serious understanding of our Constitution, even within the law practice professionals.  

Institutional challenge can come from external factors as shown in the Little India riot.   But the greatest institutional challenge may be the philosophical questions of ‘are we proud of being Singaporeans’ and ‘Singapore belongs to whom – rich or poor Singaporeans’.

Since independence, Singapore under the PAP government has wanted to project a ‘strong’ institution and ‘weak’ constitution in the running of the country. As what the PAP claimed we need a strong institution so that we can deal with all the difficult problems facing a new nation.  Our economic model is also based on this format so that we can have an efficient market environment.

This model has worked well.  It is so successful that Singapore is now one of the richest nations in the world. Unfortunately, we have reached a turning point, a new political norm that posts many institutional challenges and constitutional struggles for Singapore.

The following examples show the ‘loose’ definition of institutional challenges in Singapore:

-Little India Riot;
-SMRT bus drivers’ illegal strike;
-Corruptions involving senior civil servants;
-MRT breakdowns;
-Hong Lim Park’s protest on Population White Paper.
-CPF and reserves: More and more people are showing interest and more and more are demanding to know more.

The following examples show the constitutional struggles in Singapore:

Hougang by-election court case: The Court has to give the meaning of ‘by-election’.  However, the PM finally called it even he has a right to call or not to call one. The PM is struggling between the PAP and public definition of the Constitution. Is his decision (to call the by-election) under the pressure of public and international opinion?

PE2011: The voters clearly have a better understanding of ‘what an independent President’ can do. They have clearly rejected the pro-PAP candidate with nearly two-thirds of the votes. The voters have yet to agree with ‘how independent they want’ and are struggling to decide the ‘check and balance’ role of an elected president under the Constitution.

Access to counsel: ‘Even as the High Court dismissed alleged hacker James Raj Arokiasamy's application for immediate access to counsel, it ruled prosecutors had failed to show that allowing him access would have jeopardised investigations.’#3This news report looks more like a constitutional struggle (to please both sides) to me.

Anti-gay law: ‘Singapore's High Court on Wednesday dismissed a constitutional challenge against an archaic law criminalising sex between men, the second such petition turned down this year. In a written judgment, the court reiterated an earlier ruling that it was up to Parliament to repeal the provision in the penal code, known as Section 377A.’ #4 The Court wants to shift the constitutional struggle back to the Parliament.

Internal Security Act: It will be hard to imagine the government can use the ISA as it did in the past. Malaysia has already done away with it. Under the constitutional struggle, what is the new political meaning of the ISA? Will it become a political paper tiger?

Balancing institutions and constitutions

With a political norm coming, the past ‘strong’ institutions and ‘weak’ constitutions framework will have to change.  The above examples indicate a new balance between institutions and constitutions is coming.

Any future government, whether PAP or oppositions, will not enjoy the same kind of ‘strong’ institutions likes the past.  Similarly, when people are aware of their rights, the demand for more check and balance, the willingness in political participation, a ‘weak’ constitution will not be possible too.

This will show the maturity of Singapore and how mature Singaporeans are. Without the protection of ‘strong’ institutions and ‘weak’ constitutions, will it be more difficult to run Singapore? And how will it affect the future talent pool of the PAP leadership? Considering politics no more an easy game, are they fighters or quitters?





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