Sunday, June 21, 2015


There are human rights violations, and abuses, and restrictions on human liberty; and then there are the strict controls maintained by a conservative government to preserve the unity of the nation and ensure its stability; exactly where the line is drawn between these two is not always clear, and the name of that line may well be Singapore. 

An island at the foot of the Malaysian Peninsula, Singapore is, per capita and per square foot, one of the richest countries in the world, with a skyline so tall it reduces even New York to humility. Much of that high-rise is government-built apartment blocks, where most of its people live, freed of the burden of mortgages that they cannot afford to pay back, and encouraged by the government to spend their leisure time making babies. 75% of the population are Chinese, with Indians and Malays making up most of the remainder. There is a theoretical multi-party democracy, though no one has yet won an election against the People’s Action Party, which sounds like a Socialist or Communist label, but in fact is a paternalistic form of Conservatism. The following, however, is cited from the website of Human Rights Watch:

“The Singapore government continues to impose wide-ranging restrictions on core civil and political rights. Criminal defamation, and contempt of court charges, including ‘scandalizing the judiciary’ are used to rein in criticism of the government and the ruling People’s Action Party. The Public Order Act 2009 mandates a permit for any cause-related assembly in a public place. At the Yale-NUS College, political protests and partisan political societies are prohibited. Singapore implemented welcome legal reforms which granted judges limited sentencing discretion in place of mandatory capital punishment for certain offenses. Singapore maintains article 377A of its penal code to criminalize sexual acts between consenting adult men. The High Court turned aside a constitutional challenge to that provision, ruling that repeal of the law would further a societal norm that has yet to ‘gain currency’.”

As I say, a very fine line.

The responsibility for the "success" of Singapore rests primarily with Lee Kuan Yew, who founded the country and brought it to independence from Britain, united it with Malaysia, only to be thrown out of that union; and then applied the Mussolini principle for thirty-one years as Prime Minister, before handing over to his son, who holds power still. Lee Kuan Yew died in March 2015, leaving behind a legacy that will trouble politicians, politics-watchers and human rights activists for ever. Among the obituaries, one former MP, asked on the radio if Lee Kuan Yew had not in fact been a despot, insisted that no, he had simply passed laws forbidding people from doing what no civilised person should surely be doing anyway: spitting in the street, leaving behind litter, engaging in drunken brawls, freely expressing opinions that were insulting to religious or ethnic or racial minorities. A very fine line indeed, and one which the succession to Lee Kuan Yew has not been quite so successful, either in defining, or walking.

Marks Against: 25 (the number of people waiting on Death Row at the time of writing)

Still More Marks Against: 117 (the number of countries in the UN which voted to create a moratorium on the death penalty as the first step towards its abolition; Singapore was not one of them)

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

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