This “political condition” and the denial of it were clearly evident during the parliamentary debate on the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill on 15 August 2016. At first sight, this “political condition” was a clear reference to the tyranny of the parliamentary majority enjoyed by the ruling party. If the House were in full attendance on the evening of 15 August 2016, the voting result would have read: 92-9 instead of 72-9. The tyranny of the parliamentary majority should worry us all.
Look no further than the 2013 Population White Paper.
The Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill was another piece of legislation and regulation in recent years that sought to expand the powers of the executive arm. To name but a few: (i) Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, (ii) Public Order Act, (iii) Broadcasting (Class License) Notification. The tyranny of executive power should worry us all.
As executive power broadens, public interest suffers. As the executive arm is able to dictate the agenda and define the meaning of “public interest” , it further empowers the undercurrents of complacency, arrogance and “I know best” attitude that lurks behind the public face of humility and consultation. Public interest would no sooner be defined in strict accordance to the interests of the political party that forms the government at the expense of everyone else, the majority of us who are not in a position of power.
The abuse of power is the new safeguarding of public interest. Illegality is the new legal.
To invest far too much trust in any entity or individual is a recipe for the abuse of power to manifest. That it has not happened thus far does not mean that it will not happen at all in the near future. We cannot rely on the words of a particular minister or politician, we need robust institutions to checks our representatives in government and hold them accountable whenever the need arises. To think that a government will “ownself check ownself” will only worsen our present “political condition.”
But we deny the present state of our political condition. We are in a state of slumber. We return the ruling party to power with overwhelming majorities after majorities. We look away, although a part of us knows that they will one day cash out the blank cheque that we had inadvertently handed to them.
This is akin to the denial of death in our contemporary society. We look away, hoping that we can delay the inevitable. We refrain from engaging with the issue of death, and allow ignorance and contempt to take hold. And we lose the opportunities to inform and educate ourselves. The effect: Fear cast a permanent shadow over all of us. It becomes a natural state of affairs and we become resigned to it. And we safely leave the matters of our funeral [daily affairs] to a “professional” funeral director [politician bureaucrat], a complete stranger with total confidence. We disempower ourselves in the face of [life and] death. We look away, out of sight, out of mind.
We come to accept that Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) are our voices in Parliament. We come to accept that there is no need for a political insurance. We come to accept that the Government Parliamentary Committees (GPCs) can replace any credible constructive opposition. We come to accept that the government backbenchers are sufficient enough checks and balances on the government. The debate on the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill demonstrated that these are nothing but the figment of our own wishful imagination. But sadly we continue to allow this problematic political system to continue the way it is, without any safeguards and oversight.
The social contract today in Singapore is an agreement between David on the one hand, and Goliath on the other. The odds are stacked against David. And we continue to allow the odds to be stacked against David. This is the political condition that we are confronted with, exacerbated by our continued apathy and ignorance. We continue to slumber. Maybe it’s time to awake from our slumber, before our children suffer from our hibernation away from public life.
Mr Kok, at the very least, abstain.