Friday, October 26, 2007

Centralized Power--- Political Time Bomb

The following is the translated version of the Chinese article:

I would like to thank you for putting up my previous article “The Spirit of Democratic System”. I would like to discuss rationally the political problems, or even the political time bomb that our Nation is facing.

I need to make clarifications to Mr. Lim that I am not “denying the workings of Democracy” here in Singapore but merely point out the fact that having elections alone is not the only standard to determine whether the system is democratic or not. If half of the voters do not have the opportunity to exercise their voting power, how could the power of the people be enshrined by the system? If 40% of the voters' political choice could not get adequate representation by the electoral system, then how could this system enshrine the political will of the mass in totality?

To be more specific, democracy should be a consensus building process and this process should include more different voices and views. The Nordic country's proportionate representation system should be a good role model for us to research on. If we want to pick an Asian successful model of proportionate system, I would recommend Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong is just a Special Administration of China without universal suffrage for its Chief Executive, but its concept of separation of 5 powers is quite distinctive. Although it did not set up specific organization which is empowered with the power of impeachment, but we all know its judiciary, ICAC and press are all very independent. Couple with the examination system for its civil servants, it has enshrined the independence of the power of judiciary, impeachment and examination. The executive power lies with the Chief Executive and its legislative power lies with the Legislative Council (Legco). In addition, it has Town Councilors who are elected at the grassroot level.Half of its Legco members are elected by means of universal suffrage via the proportionate representation system while the other half are elected by the various functional groups. Diverse interests and choices of the people are fully represented by the whole system.

On the other hand, although Taiwan has the 5 powers Constitution, but due to the long period of marshal law rule, this system of 5 powers separation has not really been practiced. This is why in my previous article, I stressed on the importance of having both the constitution and execution process to explicitly enshrine the spirit of 5 power separation. Taiwan's present political instability is due to the process of jumping from one system of extreme concentration of power to the extreme of civil liberty. This has similarities to the French revolution whereby it took more than 100 years before the whole political situation stabilized. I personally do not wish to see this happening to Singapore and thus, I hope that Singapore could progressively move towards a more mature democratic system.

In fact, the ruling PAP knows that the present system has a hidden big time bomb within, but just like what Mr. Lim says, PAP refuse to amend the constitution to disarm this time bomb due to the considerations of its own interests. This huge time bomb refers to the fact that if this system of high concentration of power is to fall into the hands of those devious ones (these people could come from any political parties, including PAP itself!), Singapore would inevitably face the biggest disaster in history!

The proportionate representation system does not necessarily disadvantaged PAP totally. I dare to say that at this moment, PAP face the problem of having MPs that lacks the baptism of fire. Especially for those younger generation MPs whom we observe during the last Generation Election, they keep making verbal bloopers. Even some seasoned candidates are making the same mistakes. This is a sign of the hidden crisis. If we do not have a competitive environment for our politicians to train themselves, it would inevitably subject the fate of regression according to the law of evolution. Even if they could get themselves elected due to their ruling advantage, could they handle the complex international politics in time to come? If the proportionate representation system could make more MPs and ministers to go through the baptism of fire, this will only benefit both the Nation and the ruling party. To keep soldiers untrained, defeat will be the inevitable.

Furthermore, if Mr. Lim's wish really come true and PAP lost two GRCs, then it would mean that it will possibly lose two or more ministerial caliber candidates. This will be a deep blow to PAP. Under the proportionate representation system, this could well be avoided.

Rules are set by human beings and most important of all, who are the ones that finalize them. If we allow an autocratic ruling party to determine the rules, it would be inevitable that they will make full use of the rules to entrench themselves. This will become a vicious cycle. We must use a more rational, more altruistic attitude that is truthful to the interests of the Nation and its future political stability to set these rules. We should go through a democratic process to produce consensus and then set a new direction for a new set of rules, so to disarm this huge time bomb. This is the only way we could guarantee our Nation's long term survival and stability.

Unfortunately, I think at the present moment the only way to force PAP to amend the Constitution for the good of this nation is to make them feel the pain of losing more ministers during elections.

Goh Meng Seng

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


This is the original article sent to Zaobao which is published today with some modifications.




讲得具体一点,民主应是个协商过程, 而这协商过程必须容纳更多不同的声音和民意。北欧的比例制民主议会应该是我们作为参考的楷模。如果要举亚洲比例制的成功例子,那我会推荐香港,虽然它只是中国的高度自治特区而又还没实现特首普选,但它的五权分立的概念非常清晰。虽然没有特定的弹劾院,但众所周知,它们的法院、廉署、媒体都非常独立,加上它的公务员都必须通过考试才会被考虑录取,这体现了司法权、弹劾权和考试权的独立行使。它的执行权在特首,立法权在立法院,加上它还有地方区议会。它的立法院一半是由比例制普选出来的,另一半是由功能组别选出来的。 民意和民权可以充分体现在整个制度里。


其实执政的行动党不是不知道现有的制度存在着一颗巨大的定时炸弹,只是诚如林君所说的,行动党为了现时的自身利益,要它修宪来分权真的比登天还难!这巨大的定时炸弹就是, 现有的集权制度如果落入意图不良的人手里(这些人有可能来自任何政党,包括行动党本身!),那新加坡必定面对前所未有的大灾难!






Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Translated: Spirit of Democratic System

As requested by some readers, the following is a translation of my Chinese article published in Zaobao today:

The spirit of the Democratic System

It is interesting to read about the discussion of “Democracy”in your paper's forum around 10 October, the celebration of the first success of Asian Democratic Revolution in China led by Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Since its during this period of celebration, I will start with Dr. Sun's theory of Democracy, i.e. The three principles of the people and the separation of Five Powers.

First of all, why would we want to talk about “Asian Democracy”? The ruling party PAP has always argued that we cannot just apply Western Democratic system on Asian societies because it is not compatible to Asian values. However, during the late 19th century and early 20th century, Dr. Sun Yat Sen has already provided an intellectual discourse on how to apply Democratic system that is suitable to one of largest Asian country, China. Although I do not agree with some of Dr. Sun's views, but I think Asian countries, including Singapore, could take Dr. Sun's discourse into serious consideration when implementing Democracy.

Although the process of democratic development is important, but we must ensure that the spirit of Democracy must be thoroughly enforce or implemented accordingly in the Constitutions as well as the execution process. Dr. Sun has been right on the spot in saying that Democracy is the balance between extremes, the total freedom Anarchist vs totalitarian rule. In any advanced society, total freedom values, Anarchist, cannot work. However, while we recognize the need of having a governing body in a society, modern Democratic society also recognize the potential ills that could be derived from a concentration of powers. This actually means that Democracy is built upon the “distrust” of human beings. This is because power could corrupt (human minds), absolute power corrupt absolutely but at the other extreme, total freedom would result in the demonstration of worse side of human beings.

This is also basically why Dr. Sun's revolution is unlike Western revolutions, never about “freedom” but about toppling the corrupt feudal system and build a system that is based no Democratic values and the separation of 5 powers. The importance of the separation (or rather, independence) of the 5 powers lies in the mechanism of REAL checks and balances. It prevents any individuals or ruling organization to monopolies power but at the same time, prevent any others to make use of the system's impeachment or legislative powers to prevent the normal functionality of the government. Throughout the whole revolution, it is all about the checks and balances of the powers. I will not comment on the success or failures of Dr. Sun's revolution but concentrate on on his Asian perspective of Democratic reforms.

The concept of Dr. Sun's 5 powers includes: Executive Power, Legislative Power, Judiciary Power, Power of Impeachment, Power of Examination. In fact, in Chinese ancient history, the concept of 5 powers has already existed. However, these 5 powers were concentrated under the courts of the Emperors. In comparison to the Western concept of 3 powers, the Chinese political administration is actually more advanced. This is because, other than the 3 powers, the Chinese have included another two important aspects of governance, the Imperial system of impeachment which acted as an internal checking mechanism, as well as the Examination system that aimed at selecting best talents to become court officials. These systems were set up to help the Emperor to implement a ruling system that would provide checks and balances within as well as selecting the best talents to help him rule the empire. Unfortunately, due to the nature of concentration of power, it normally led to problems of corruptions.

The fundamental problem lies with the rule of law/system vs human. If it is an totalitarian system, it will inevitably end up with the corruption under human rule. But it is not possible for the whole political system to base on books or rules only basically because it will inevitably involves human elements. Thus, the whole political views is focused on how to build a balanced system that would minimize corruption and at the same time, a selection process that would get the best people to join the government.

However, I cannot agree with Dr. Sun's concept of “Examination Power”. In his theory, all candidates for legislative representatives must go through a system of examination. This would mean that technically, the people do not have direct universal suffrage right on their political representatives. (Most likely it will end up with a total elitist system.) Dr. Sun might have advocated this rule basically because political awakening or awareness among the Chinese population may be lacking and this would prevent unscrupulous politicians from cheating votes. I do agree that all civil servants must go through a system of examination as a selection process to get good people to work in the government. But for representatives of people, I would prefer a more diverse representation from diverse background (instead of an elitist one).

I would say that this “Examination Power” should be a concept of “selection process” which would include “Power of Election”in the context of modern Democratic system. This would mean that the “Power of Election” must be separated and independently administered. i.e. The Election Department must be Independent.

Democracy is not what Mr. Lim's (a writer to ZaoBao on 11 October) deems to be, “majority rule”. Democracy emphasizes on people's power being adequately represented, powers of the system must be checked and the system must be balanced. If a ruling party systematically and relentlessly uses its monopoly of the parliament to amend the Constitution in a bid to ensure its entrenchment and continuous monopoly of power, then this isn't a compliant to Democratic principles.

In modern Singapore, we do not have any independent organization that is entrusted with the power of impeachment. Due to various reasons (not merely opposition parties do not have enough candidates) Parliament is monopolized by PAP and lost its function as a check on the government. On the other hand, the media could not perform effective checks on the government as well. Under all such circumstances, it is really undesirable for our long term development as a Nation.

In Western Democratic discourses, they have realized that there are weaknesses in “majority rule”. Such system of “majority rule” would end up with “tyranny of majority rule”. This is basically why in recent democratic development history in Western worlds, they have slowly shifted towards proportionate representation. Proportionate representation is relatively more rational. For example, if a GRC has 40% of voters that voted the opposition, the present system would not be able to give these voters an adequate voice or representation in parliament.

In Western Democratic discourses, they have realized that there are weaknesses in “majority rule”. Such system of “majority rule” would end up with “tyranny of majority rule”. This is basically why in recent democratic development history in Western worlds, they have slowly shifted towards proportionate representation. Proportionate representation is relatively more rational. For example, if a GRC has 40% of voters that voted the opposition, the present system would not be able to give these voters an adequate voice or representation in parliament.

In conclusion, I would illustrate the following criteria for a mature democratic system to evolve:

1) Separation of 5 powers which includes power of elections/examination and impeachment/ media/ freedom of expression.
2)A complete political participation of citizens and the exercise of their voting rights.
3)The checks on the powers
4)The balance maintained in the system
5)The diverse representation of people.

We must seriously examine the potential harm that a prolonged monopoly of power could bring to our nation. It is very unhealthy to have a system that lacks real checks and balance for a long period of time. I believe we should first understand Democracy and come to the simple conclusion that we have now is far from being democratic even though it has elections. The only way to prevent concentration of power of corrupting the human minds and leads to the corruption of the government is to set up a truly democratic system.

Most important of all, we must see clearly that there are no contradictions or incompatibility between Asian values and Democratic principles. This should not be the reason to reject the implementation of democratic system. From Chinese ancient history, we could observe clearly that for Asians, we also have a concept of checks and balances in maintaining our political system. We are at a cross road of political development in Singapore and it is an urgent matter for us to reform our political system now. This is because we cannot anticipate how the present political system will evolve in the post-LKY era. We must ensure that Singapore's political system must develop and extend in a stable manner. I personally feel that only via building a real mature democratic system would guarantee long term political stability for Singapore.

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, October 15, 2007



The local Chinese ZaoBao has published my article in today's (17 Oct 2007) publication.

The unpublished article to ZaoBao:



首 先,为何谈“亚洲式民主”呢?执政的人民行动党经常说西方民主制度不能照搬,不适合亚洲民情。但事实上,早在十九世纪末,二十世纪初,孙中山先生就已经对 如何在亚洲大国之一的中国实施符合中国国情的亚洲民主制度作了具体的论述。虽然对孙先生的一些建议本人有一些保留,但大致上我还是认为亚洲国家,包括新加 坡,还是可以参考孙先生的论述。

虽 然说民主过程很重要,但民主的精神更必须在宪法、执行过程等彻底贯彻。孙中山先生在他的演讲中曾经说得很精确,民主是极端自由无政府主义和极端集权主义之 间的平衡。在任何进化先进的社会,极端自由无政府主义是行不通的。但是在认同有必要建立一个治理社会或国家的政府基础上,现代民主主义也意识到一个集权于 一身的政府或封建制度多数会产生许多弊端。这也意味着民主主义是建立在“不相信人性”的基础上,因为权力能使人腐败,极端集权更会使人彻底的腐败,而另一 个极端的自由也会使广大民众展现人性最丑恶的一面。

这 就是为什么孙中山先生的革命,并不象西方革命为“自由”而革命,而是为推翻腐败封制集权,建立另一个符合三民主义、五权分立的宪法政权。五权分立的重要性 在于它是一个互相制衡的制度。它防止任何一个人或集团垄断政权而变独裁,也防止任何人或集团借用弹劾权或立法权防止政府正常运作甚至瘫痪整个政府。在整个 政治改革运动中,讲求的是保持政权的互相制衡和有效运作。姑且不论孙先生的改革成败,我着重的是他本人以一个亚洲人对政治改革的期望与理念。

孙先生的五权观念是:执行权(Executive,总统和执行政府),立法权(Legislative,立法院), 司法权(Judiciary, 法院),弹劾权(Power of Impeachment, 监察院),考试权(Power of Examination, 考试院)。其实在中国的历史上,这五权概念早已经存在,只不过这五权都集中在于一体,帝皇制度。与西方的三权概念,中国的政治体系其实是更健全的,因为除了三权以外,中国很早就实行弹劾制度和考试(科举)制度。这些制度是为了使历代皇朝的皇帝拥有一个制衡文武百官、遴选贤才来治理国家。可惜的是,就因为权限集中,导致贪腐丛生。



我反而认为这“考试权”在现代民主制度可以容入“选举权”。这也就是说“选举权”必须独立分立。 负责选举事务的“选举局”必须独立分立。这才符合“五权分立”,建立互相独立监督牵制的机制。



在西方的民主论述中,他们意识到“少数服从多数”这理念有它的缺陷。这样的“少数服从多数”的体制会导致“多数对少数的专制”(tyranny of majority rule)。这也就是为何在许多的西方国家里,他们都逐渐的把选举制度改革为比例制。比例制是比较合理的。比方说,在一个集选区里有四成的选民投给了反对党,但是现有的制度却没法给这四成选民的意愿在国会里得到充足的代表。

如 果实行比例制的话,在一个有五个议席的集选区,这反对党便可得到两个议席而可以代表那四成的选民。这样的制度就可以防止“多数对少数的专制”,也可以防止 任何政党独揽政权而使整个民主制度失效。这也可以扩充民众的政治参与,因为在这种制度下,任何政党都无需填满所有集选区的议席(比如五席集选区可派三个候选人参选), 而能在更多的集选区竞选。反对党也无需为了防止三角战而让选民少了政治选择。目前,许多新加坡人都因集选区制度实行的关系,长久以来失去了投票的机会。这 对提高国民意识是非常不利的。这是因为失去了选举的机会会逐渐的使民众去政治化,逐渐导致民众对国家大事漠不关心。比例选举制就能纠正这弊端。


  1. 五权分立,这包括“选举/考试权”,“弹劾/媒体/自由言论权”的分立。

  2. 民众全面政治参与和投票权的行使

  3. 政权的制衡性

  4. 确保制度的平衡性

  5. 广大民众的多元代表性

我 们必须正视我国政治被长期垄断所可能带来的灾害。一个长期没有被充分制衡的制度是非常不健康的。我认为,我们必须先对民主有所认知,而真正了解现有的政治 体系,虽然有选举但实质上,是离真正的民主体制还很远。唯一能防止集权制度腐蚀人性而使政权腐化的途径是建立真正的民主制度。

最 为重要的是,我们必须认清,亚洲价值观并非与民主理念有所冲突而断然拒绝实行民主制度。从中国悠久的政治历史可看得出我们东方人也有政治制衡的观念。我们 正处在政治改革的尖端,势在必行,因为我们无法估计在后李光耀时代会出现什么样的政治变化。我们必须确保我国的政治发展能平稳延续下去。我本身认为只有设 立一个健全真正的民主制度才能确保我国的政治长久的稳定。


Saturday, October 13, 2007

What is Democracy? - Asian Perspective

I have actually written a Chinese article on the values of Democratic system which I am holding it back here because I have sent to the Chinese newspaper ZaoBao in response to one of their reporter's question on why I choose to put up my views on blog but not the local media. I am just making a subtle point that blog has its advantages, especially in Singapore's context, that it could carry the message in its complete form without any distortions. I will be posting the original article here on Monday.

Incidentally, not so long ago, someone has emailed me to talk about the "compatibility" between "Asian values" vs "Western" Democracy. It just happens that I have some interests in the late Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's historic struggle in the late 19th century and early 20th century after watching the lengthy Chinese TV series, "Towards Republic".

The most common "theory" that PAP comes up to rationalize its legitimacy in monopolizing power in Singapore is that Western Democracy is "not suitable" for Asian countries. This is a flawed assumption. More than 100 years ago, there was already an Asian intellect that has thought about designing a democratic system that is suitable for Asian largest country, China. That is Dr. Sun Yat Sen.

There are quite a number of studies and commentaries we could find on the net about Dr. Sun's theory of "Separating of the FIVE Powers". However, I prefer to look at Dr. Sun's very own speech in Mandarin to form my own opinion.

Dr. Sun has pointed out an interesting observation: In the Western world, Democratic Reform or revolutions were normally aimed at achieving "Freedom" or "Liberation" from the harsh control of the feudal lords. But in Dr. Sun's struggle, it was a revolution against the corruptions of the Qing administration to set up a Republic government that is based on democratic principles of checks and balances. He recognized the need to curb certain liberty or freedom of the people to avoid anarchist result but at the same time, provide an effective control over the government administration to avoid tyrannic rule due to the power that it holds. Most important of all, it is more of a dream of building a government that is totally responsible towards the interests and welfare of the people.

This is very different from the Western "liberalization" movement that aimed at achieving "freedom". The Western Democratic theory involves separation of powers in various ways. The British system is based on Constitutional Monarch which achieves the aim of separation of power from the Monarch to the parliament which is a representation of "people's power". However, it does not have a clear systematic way of separating powers within the system. The British has experimented a different set of system in Hong Kong before it handed it over to China. Instead of a parliamentary system like the British, it has in fact created an executive arm vs the legislative arm, dividing the powers between the two. Apart of having the Judiciary fiercely independent, it also has the very diverse press as one of the public opinion platform to check on the government. The Legislative Council is elected from a proportionate representation election system couple with "functional group representation" which ensures diverse views of the society are adequately represented.

This is actually the trend of the democratic reforms over the the years. The American democratic system is based on the separation of the three powers: Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. The "fourth power" is always referred to the role of press freedom or rights in exposing flaws of the government of the day. However, technically speaking, the power of impeachment is still embedded within the Congress and Senate instead of being separated out.

Dr. Sun has taken the American's model as a case study for his own research instead of the British system basically because he felt that the basic separation of powers in the British system is very lacking. The Executive and the Legislative powers are mixed as the executive Prime Minister is being selected from the majority party in the legislative parliament.

However, he has extended the concept of separation of powers into FIVE instead of Three which are exhibited by the American model. This concept of Five powers, ironically, is derived from the Chinese feudal systems of the past. In Chinese ancient history, its advanced system of governance is something that has been a model for many other empires. Its system of governance includes the executive powers held by the Emperor, the Imperial court of senior ministers that set laws, the Judiciary department to carry out vetting of court cases, a specially created bureau which has powers of impeachment of court officials and a system of imperial examination which select talents to become court officials.

The only problem with this feudal system is that these five power are being concentrated under the Emperor's court instead of being separated. Technically speaking, the bureau that empowered with impeachment function should be made independent and protected from persecution but this is hardly so in practice.

The idea of including the Examination Power in Dr. Sun's democratic reform is to ensure that the civil service as well as politicians are being examined for their "proficiency". In my view, such examination system may be good to ensure the civil service is being staffed with quality people, but it will hinder universal suffrage of politicians based on the electoral process. It would mean that candidates have to be "screened" by whatever means before they are eligible to be elected by the people as their representatives. Such system will actually end up with a congress or parliament filled with elites which may not fully represent the whole spectrum of the societies. Elitist system with elitist legislative representatives will end up with a disconnected power from the ground.

Thus instead, I think the Power of Examination Power should only apply to civil servants selection process while for the electoral process, we need an independent Election department to ensure that gerrymandering is being used as a means by individuals or political parties to entrench their monopoly of power.

In fact, I would advocate a electoral system that is based on proportionate representation which could avoid the tyranny of majority rule. Only such system would promote all round inclusive governance. Democracy is not merely about "majority rule". Such thinking is one of the most crude primitive understanding of Democracy. Many of the advanced Democracy in Europe has shifted to proportionate representation system to ensure that there is sufficient checks and balances within the political system and decisions are made through real consensus making that is inclusive in nature, not bulldozed through by mere tyrannic of majority rule. Interesting enough, the British has in fact experimented the concept of proportionate representation in Hong Kong in spite of the fact that it has a commonwealth style of Westminster parliamentary system.

In fact, if we look at the whole Hong Kong political structure, it has more or less followed Dr. Sun's concept of Separation of Five Powers except for the electoral system. In Hong Kong, there are special examinations designed for those who aspired to be civil servants, regardless of their paper qualifications. The famous ICAC is very independent empowered with the task of checking on the politicians, civil service as well as corrupt practices among the private companies. The Judiciary system is also "fiercely" independent. Although the executive arm, Chief Executive and his cabinet ministers, are not elected directly by universal suffrage, but its power has been restricted and independent from the Legislative Council (Legco). There are further separation of functions from the elected representatives. There are two types of representatives elected from the people. One is for the Legco, the other is for the respective grassroots representatives of Town Councilors. Apart from all these separation of the Five Powers, the freedom of the press has acted as an independent subsidiary arm of checks and balances.

Thus, I would say that even if Hong Kong is not a country by itself but a special administration of China, it has demonstrated that practicing democracy in an Asian society is possible and there is no "conflicts" or "incompatibility" problems between Asian Values vs Democratic Values.

The ultimate aim of any political system is to seek a stable and long lasting governing system for the society. Historical experiences have shown us that any system that is based totally on "freedom" or "concentration of power" is unstable and undesirable for the society. Democracy is not solely about "freedom" or even "human rights" but it is about building up a political cum governing system that is beneficial to the people, for the people, by the people.

In Asian context, there is nothing "special" for it to deviate from such universal desires. The European countries have gone through various political experiments with Marxism, Socialism, Communism, even Fascism to come to one simple conclusion that any power that concentrate too much power with little checks and balances inbuilt within the system is totally undesirable. We have also learned that total freedom - Anarchist does not work at all in modern days' complex society. I would say that in Asian history, ancient Chinese administration has provided a concept of what a government should possess in terms of powers as well as the necessary checks and balances needed to make it works. However, what is lacking is the concept of separation of such powers in past dynasties.
To say that Asian Values is not compatible to Democracy or vice verse is really far from the truth. Either in theory or practice, Asian societies have evolved and implemented successfully to a certain degree, a Democratic system that is tailored made according to the traditional concept of powers.

In Singapore's context, our political system is far from democratic because we are facing the same problem of Chinese dynasties whereby most of the powers are concentrated to a few individuals or the ruling party. This is unhealthy and it may just face the same ups and downs or even crisis like the Chinese dynasties. I feel that instead of focusing our effort in "fighting for freedom" or "rights", the most important and urgent thing for us to pursue is to develop a more balance political system by designing a proportionate representation electoral system couple with an effective separation of the Five powers.

This is basically my political aim for my lifetime.

Goh Meng Seng

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My interview reply to SG Review

I have recently given a lengthy reply to the email interview from SG Review. You could read the interview here:

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, October 08, 2007

Constitutional Right to Peaceful Assembly

The following quote is from the Constitution of The Republic of Singapore found in Singapore Government website:

Freedom of speech, assembly and association
14. —(1) Subject to clauses (2) and (3) —
(a) every citizen of Singapore has the right to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) all citizens of Singapore have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; and
(c) all citizens of Singapore have the right to form associations.
(2) Parliament may by law impose —
(a) on the rights conferred by clause (1) (a), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence;
(b) on the right conferred by clause (1) (b), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof or public order; and
(c) on the right conferred by clause (1) (c), such restrictions as it considers necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part thereof, public order or morality.
(3) Restrictions on the right to form associations conferred by clause (1) (c) may also be imposed by any law relating to labour or education.
As the Constitution here clearly states that Singaporeans have the right to peaceful assembly as in 14.1.b, one would wonder why the police would normally reject any applications for peaceful public demonstrations in Singapore, regardless of whether it is from political parties, politicians or just any citizens?

To be fair, I would say that the police actually did approve permits for political parties to hold political rallies during General Elections. In fact, after approving the permits, the police has to give guidelines and instructions to the political rally organizers to ensure law and order as well as smooth conduct of these rallies.

It would mean that the clause 14.2.b is not a clause that grant the PAP government blanket power to stop people from peaceful demonstration or assembly during or off general elections time. Clause 14.2.b is actually in place to make sure that public order must be maintained during such public assembly or protests. The need of application of permit from the police is not supposed to be a means for the PAP government to prevent people or groups from organizing such peaceful assemblies which is a RIGHT granted by our Constitution. It would be unconstitutional or against the constitution if the PAP government or any state organs deliberately and consistently deprive the citizens' right to peaceful assemblies.

Then what is the purpose or rational of the law that requires police permission for organizing these peaceful assemblies? And what is the law that is used against protesters? The famous law of "illegal gathering of more than 5 persons", what is exactly the rational behind this law?

I will explain the last question, the myth of any gathering of 5 persons constitutes illegal gathering. This law is actually enacted in response to problem of secret societies back in the 1950s and 1960s. The actual law says that any gathering of 5 persons and above with the intention of committing unlawful acts, will be considered as illegal gathering. That means that not every gathering of 5 persons and above is illegal. This is only logical because if 10 friends just go to East Coast Park to have barbecue party, it could not possibly constitute illegal assembly!

Thus, it is really not right for the police to charge anybody who only has the intention to exercise their constitutional right of peaceful assembly without arms, under this law.

The other law that the state used against people that organize peaceful assembly is "assembly without permit". Now this is where the interpretation of law comes in. The police will normally use the excuse that any peaceful assembly organized by non-PAP related organizations or individuals will constitute public order problem, thus, not granting them any permits. In the end, using the "no permit" as the basis to charge these people for "illegal assembly". Is this a fair practice? Constitutional?

We have seen the Workers' Party organizing political rallies that attracted tens of thousands of attendants and not a single incident of riot happening. If this is possible for WP during GE where emotions run high sometimes, why would a seemingly, expectedly small size protest organized by anyone could pose problems of law and order?

Thus, the premise of the police rejection of application of permits is totally flawed. Singaporeans are generally law abiding citizens. Singaporeans are generally well educated and not hooligans.

As I have mentioned, the law that requires any citizens who want to exercise their constitutional right of peaceful assembly should not become a tool to deprive or even rob away citizens' right. If the main concern is the question of law and order of such events, then the only logical reason for this law to be in place is to FACILITATE the whole process to make sure public law and order is being maintained.

Yes, in any matured democracy, this is the primary function of such law. Even US, British and most European countries have such law that requires the application of permits for peaceful assemblies. However, they will never use such law as the tool to deprive their citizens of the right to peaceful assemblies as that would be unconstitutional.

The state, including the government of the day and the various state apparatus, should be upholding the Constitution of the land as well as the rights granted to the citizens by this Constitution. In Singapore, this is sadly not happening.

The right thing for the police to do is to grant the permits but come into the picture to make sure that any peaceful assemblies are conducted in a lawful manner that takes public order into great considerations. This is what happens in Hong Kong:

Hong Kong has peaceful protests and demonstrations quite frequent, often done during the weekends. The organizers will apply the permit and notify the police. Then the police will normally grant the permit but with certain conditions attached. Sometimes, there will be negotiations held between the organizers and the police on the details like duration of the protests, marching routes if any, crowd control coordinations, safety requirement like ambulances and first aid stations...etc. This basically means that both the state and the citizens are involved in the whole process of organization, making sure that the balance between public order and the rights of citizens to peaceful assemblies are met.

The PAP government self-proclaims itself of "First World" government but it seems that their practice of depriving citizens' constitutional right to peaceful assembly is anything but the acts of "First World".

The ultimate question is, WHY should we conduct or even allow peaceful demonstration? This has been touched in NSP's recent press release. As a country working towards a "First World" country, we must ensure that our citizens must be more rounded in their own development, beside the pursuit of materialism. Public spirit, social and political awareness/ consciousness must be cultivated in the people, not merely through textbooks but via a more active citizenry. Civil activism includes freedom of expression in all forms, including peaceful assemblies.

Core values of the society is normally molded via active participation of citizens in various activities. This has been demonstrated by many historical examples, including present times. Hong Kongers' identity has strengthen greatly after the legendary 7.1 protest march in 2003 which involves half a million Hong Kongers.

In fact, even in Singapore's own history, Nationalism was built up in the late 1950s and 1960s via the various protest marches against the colonial master, Britain.

Then why the PAP government, which itself has come into power via various street protests and demonstrations, decided to "ban" peaceful protests or assemblies? (Note: even using the word "ban" here, is really unconstitutional!) One could only conclude that is it is really a self-serving technical use of the power and law rather the concerns of "public order". This is based on the fact that Singaporeans at large are capable of behaving themselves in politcal rallies of massive attendance.

It is precisely the fact that PAP come into power using such means that it is afraid that any other political parties could use the same methods to win power. Even the promise by PAP of "more open society" does not include the protection (rather than the deprivation) of citizens' right of peaceful demonstrations.

I would urge the PAP to progress with time. This is a new era of a new century. Such closed and conservative mindset could only hinder Singapore's development into a true blue First World country.

Goh Meng Seng

Chinese ZaoBao Fairer in Reporting

The following is the press report on NSP and SPP press release:









Comparing this to the press report on English Straits Times, I would consider the Chinese newspapers doing a fairer job. ST report is as follows, printed on 06 Oct:

ST, Oct 6, 2007

S'pore opposition parties condemn crackdown

THREE Singapore opposition parties have condemned the violence in Myanmar and called on the international community to help put a stop to the crisis.

The Singapore People's Party, in a statement signed by secretary-general
Chiam See Tong, the MP for Potong Pasir, called on Myanmar's ruling military junta to restore democracy.

'We call on all Asean nations to distance themselves from the Myanmar military junta unless they stop their dictatorial rule and (re-install) their parliament and comply with the ideals of Asean,' it said.

The Workers' Party, in a separate statement, also condemned the use of violence by Myanmar's military.

'Whatever the 'peace' that will be achieved by the present crackdown, the yearnings of the people to be free from more than four decades of military rule will not go away,' said party chairman and Non-Constituency MP Sylvia Lim in the statement.

She called on the international community, including Singapore, to 'use all influence and means at its disposal to stop the continued repression of the Myanmar people and to free all political detainees'.

Meanwhile, the National Solidarity Party said it 'unreservedly' condemned the killing of civilians in Myanmar and urged other countries to do what they could to 'prevent any further bloodletting and help Myanmar to set a timetable towards a stable and peaceful transition to democracy'.


It seems that the Straits Times has deliberately left out the main message of our press release on the need of PAP government to progress with time and recognize the need to open up for citizens to express themselves as in public demonstrations.

Public demonstrations could well help to mold our core values and build our own National identity as a people. This is totally ignored by the PAP government.

I share touch on this topic in my next post.

Goh Meng Seng

Saturday, October 06, 2007

NSP Press Release on Free Myanmar

In Solidarity With University Students’ Application Of Permit For Peaceful Demonstration Against Inhumane Oppression In Myanmar

The National Solidarity Party unreservedly condemns the brutal killings of peaceful demonstrators by the Myanmar Junta. We urge the world as well as the Singapore Government to use whatever means they have to prevent any further blood letting and help Myanmar to set a time table towards a stable and peaceful transition to democracy.

We take issue with the PAP government for their rejection of the application by university students for peaceful demonstrations in Singapore in protest of the inhumane oppression. To evolve into a ‘real’ First World country, Singapore’s developmental path must go beyond mere economic consideration. The cultivation of social-political values, awareness, and public spirit is an important step towards a more balanced Nation. We must try to cultivate a high sense of moral and social concerns among our future generations beside the traditional pursuit of

We have witnessed recently that there are some positive signs of civil activism from citizens. The initiative of the university students is one such example of social-political participation by citizens. However, it is regrettable that the request was flatly turned down. This demonstrates that the PAP government has not progressed with time.

Social-political activism through means of peaceful public demonstrations by citizens and politicians alike serves to create bonds and shared public values in the society. Contrary to PAP propagandas that such activities could break the fabric of the Nation, many places around the world, such as vibrant Hong Kong, has shown us that such civil public demonstrations build up social and national identity.

While supporting the suffering Myanmar people in their bid for democracy, we also urge the PAP government to uphold the core values of democracy on this land by facilitating peaceful public expressions like peaceful protests and demonstrations.

In solidarity with the students, we hope that our intrepid and broad-minded students can persist with the application of a permit to advance their noble cause, whilst being mindful of not overstepping the law. At the same time, we would like to see a manifestation of open-mindedness on the part of the PAP government by granting the student the required permit. This will demonstrate the government’s sincerity beyond the rhetoric expression of “revulsion” at the human tragedy in Myanmar.

Central Executive Council
National Solidarity Party

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Free Burma

In support of the Burma people in search of their political freedom and continual effort in condemning the Myanmar Junta, I am putting up this Photo in conjunction and solidarity with the international bloggers movement.

Goh Meng Seng