Najib’s Political Reform and its Impact on Singapore; a case for the ISA
I received the following from someone who wishes to identify him/herself as “DL”. A -very- lengthy analysis about the ISA “reversal” in Malaysia. Was it really a reversal? This would make an interesting Sunday read.
When Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced on 15 September 2011 that he would repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) of 1960, along with three other Emergency Declarations, the immediate question that formed in my mind was this: what would the impact be on Singapore?
That question is a natural one because the two states were once part of the same Federation and before that, under the same colonial power: Britain. That both Malaysia and Singapore should inherit the same laws that were crafted by the British is not a surprising fact. Both have kept it since their independence from Britain – until now, that is. Malaysia’s ISA awaiting replacement by another two laws but Singapore’s ISA remains firmly in place.
Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean gave a ministerial statement on the matter in Parliament on 19 October 2011. He called it a “shield that protects Singapore against threats”, highlighting a central tenet of the Government’s philosophy towards Singapore’s security. I share the same view because our security and defence are non-negotiable matters.
Political observers and the occasional pundits may say that Singapore would eventually follow the footsteps of its neighbour across the Causeway to the road of liberalisation. But we must pause and think: Why liberalisation? At what cost, liberalisation? We must first look at the reasons and rationale for PM Najib’s reform actions.
General Elections are due in Malaysia by April 2013 and many expect the elections to be called this year. The impending polls have given PM Najib impetus to reform, weaken the opposition’s pull, and to garner more support for his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. From this perspective, the replacement of the ISA with two other laws can be seen as a political ploy. The fact that there are replacement laws goes to show that it is a mere change in form, not in substance and this is a view corroborated by PM Najib’s critics. They have also called his moves farcical and I am inclined to believe that this is not in the best interests of Malaysia. Also, do not forget the communal nature of Malaysian politics. A potent and lethal ISA is necessary to detain those extreme and radical individuals who take advantage of the existing racial fault lines in Malaysia to incite civil unrest. The absence of the ISA is likely to weaken the Malaysian government because it is now short of a crucial tool that can help it deal with potential security threats. It is my belief that decisions made out of public pressure are not the most sound, because it hints at weak leadership, and that ultimately compromises the long-term stability of a country.
So, those who argue that Singapore should mimic Malaysia in getting rid of the ISA ought to think again. Our success and security have long been premised on strong leadership and stability, and the ISA has contributed to this with its powers of preventive detention, allowing the leadership to adequately pre-empt and contain threats to our peace and security. Thus, Singapore’s ISA is for the express purpose of dealing with “evolving security threats”, from Communist subversions and espionage to Islamic extremism and terrorism. Those who call for the abolishment of Singapore’s ISA are in denial of reality, which is that we live in a very treacherous geopolitical region where the shadows of Islamic extremism, radicalisation, and terrorism hang perilously over us. Globalisation and our openness to the world exacerbate this vulnerability to external threats, which is in turn compounded by our miniscule size. In light of the above, should we liberalise just because it is the most fashionable thing to do? And what next after we have satisfied the egos and agendas of liberals who have no interest in the continued prosperity of our country? What use is there in pandering to these liberal pressures? They serve no more than to derail us from our economic growth and development. Excessive liberalism is a cocktail for unrest and instability.
Liberal critics of Singapore’s leadership and governance have lambasted it for its lack of rights and civil liberties. Notable among their litany of complaints are the perceived lack of free speech, free press, and the freedom of assembly. These are meaningless in the face of good governance. I firmly believe that given our multiracial social composition, we must consciously exercise responsibility with our speech and in what we publish because these must neither inflame nor incite any tensions in Singapore. To say that we censor ourselves out of responsibility to prevent unrest is an exercise in curtailing freedoms of speech and of press, is to say that we should not take responsibility for our actions. In this vein, unfettered liberal freedoms would seem no more than childish fantasies when juxtaposed against the need for maturity and responsibility for our thoughts, words, and actions as citizens. Also, the freedom of assembly is not constructive, in thought and in practice. When the freedom of assembly allows people the to gather en masse in civil disobedience and protest, peaceful or otherwise, the very act of assembly disrupts peace and stability. Industrial peace in Singapore is highly valued because it engenders the necessary conditions for economic development and growth. Over the years, Singaporeans have gradually come to realise that there is no real worth in the freedom of assembly because of good governance. Singapore’s history serves as a painful reminder: the riots and strikes of the 1950s and the 1960s were bloody and lives were lost. Many Singaporeans did not grow up in that generation (I most certainly did not) but it is necessary to remember these lessons lest we repeat them once more. Our delicate racial harmony must be preserved at all costs because it is key to our continued progress as a cohesive nation. That is why Singapore has the ISA and the Sedition Act to discipline individuals who have derelicted their responsibilities as citizens of this country.
In conclusion, Singapore should retain the ISA to deal with potential security threats that might compromise our survival as a nation. Frankly, there can be no premium placed on security, especially for a small country like Singapore when we are responsible for ourselves. Whilst it may be unpalatable, it certainly serves a very useful purpose which ordinary legislation cannot adequately do. As long as threats exist, the ISA remains relevant because it is tied to the paramount issue of Singapore’s continued existence as a prosperous nation with good governance.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author alone. These opinions do not represent the views of any institutions or organisations whatsoever.