From assembly without permit to organisation trade fair without licence, the PAP government once again wants to show its establishment might. It even wants to right and guide the political development here: if the opposition town council is in the wrong side of the law, the institutions have the right to correct it and bring it to the court. Will this work in the new political norm with a better informed voters?
For the recent NEA vs. AHPETC#1, the PAP is taking a political risk that there are no gains but loses. In the 'assembly without permit' era, it had an upper hand as the media was under PAP control and people have few access to alternative news and views. Furthermore, most people listen to the PAP side of the story and were more willing to give the 'benefit of doubts' to them in exchange for economic prosperity. Unfortunately, this 'give and take' model has gone. Voters are more calculative now and good jobs are not easy to get.
However, in the era of social media and new norm in politics, using the same old bottle to contain the new political movement is an outdated model. The model works very well in the past will not guarantee another success for the PAP. If NEA wins the case, it just shows the high hand of the PAP but no high return in votes. It shows the bully side of the PAP. Not to mention if NEA loses the case.
Just imagine the case of Singapore institutions vs. JBJ, voters still wanted to vote him in. If a bankrupt can stand for election in Singapore, voters will still give JBJ the chance.
So, why does the PAP want to engage in this political adventure? It looks like a non-brainier committing a political suicide. Perhaps, PAP MP Baey Kam Seng gave an indirect answer when he told a group of NUS students that “ this is the system here”.#2 The system works well for the PAP and so why doesn't the PAP continue to do it, be it an illegal assembly or an unlicenced trade fair?
This shows how ignorance the PAP is. They fail to catch up with the time and changes. They still think 'the system' can be used and re-used forever.
If PA has a close relationship with the PAP, so do NEA and the PAP. Let's see how MP Baey explains it:
[Responding, Mr Baey acknowledged that some feel the close ties between the PA and PAP are unfair. But while the system may have “evolved or may be planned for certain objectives and motives”, what matters at the end is how it can be used to benefit people. “At the end of the day, does the CCC serve the people? It has to serve the people,” he said. ] #2
MP Baey brings out a tall order: serving the people. PA is serving the people even though it is political connected with the PAP, so do the NEA.
Here, I want to refer to my previous post of 'Institutional Challenges and Constitution Struggles'. PA, NEA and other government agencies are facing the institutional challenges. They should restrict themselves in serving the people and not involve in party politics. If they continue to act like the past, they will do more damages to Singapore as well as to the PAP. The PAP needs to learn new skills to engage Singaporeans rather than overly depending on 'strong institutions'. There is a day the 'over used system' will bring more harms than goods to the PAP.
In fact, the strong institutions have to have strong support from the people. And the meaning and enacting of the Constitution needs the backing of the people. The official representatives of people will debate and enact the meaning of the Constitution in Parliament. We have seen more oppositions MPs now. We are going to see more as MP Baey acknowledged the PAP only scored 6 out of 10. At least 4 out 10 have to go to the oppositions to debate and enact the meaning of 'illegal assembly' and 'unlicenced trade fair'.
Will people agree with the interpretation of 'this is the system here'? In fact, the system has already changed since GE2011 and PE2011. According to MP Baey, the PAP is only entitled for 60% of parliamentary seats if based on proportional representation. However, they have already had more than their share. Why do they still need to rely on 'strong institutions' to protect their legitimacy?
Singapore Constitution has yet to show its spirit and new meaning. It is inherited from the colonial time and is derived from the Constitution of the State of Singapore 1963, provisions of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia made applicable to Singapore by the Republic of Singapore Independence Act 1965 (No. 9 of 1965, 1985 Rev. Ed.), and the Republic of Singapore Independence Act itself. #3
Article 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, specifically Article 14(1), guarantees to Singapore citizens the rights to freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly without arms, and association. However, the enjoyment of these rights may be restricted by laws imposed by the Parliament of Singapore on the grounds stated in Article 14(2) of the Constitution.#4
The mindset of 'this is the system here' does a disservice to the original meaning of the Constitution. We need more oppositions or even a change of government to correct this mindset.