Singapore: Parliamentary Business As Usual

1999

Dr Chua Beng Huat

The first day of March saw the launch and inaugural broadcast of Channel News Asia by the Television Corporation of Singapore, adding one more channel to surf for current affairs reports. Switching between nightly local news and current regional affairs on the new channel is a constant reminder of the 'exception' of Singapore in the region. For two weeks, beginning from 8 March, the Singapore Parliament debated the annual budget for every ministry. During one of these nights, while Indonesian students discussed the uncertain future of democracy in their country on the News Asia channel, the local news was broadcasting parliamentary debate on changes to the car ownership allocation system! For the Singapore parliament it is apparently business as usual.

The economic domestic downturn has been put to good use by the PAP government. It has allowed the over heated real estate market to fall by over thirty per cent, cut wages by about fifteen per cent and provided incentives for laid-off workers, who were reluctant when employed to seek skills retraining. It claims to have turned Singaporeans into leaner and meaner competitors for when the regional economy turns around. Economic confidence was given a boost with reports of rapid take up rates in some of the newly released condominiums in the private housing sector.

Meanwhile, the Police Authority has denied Singapore Democratic Party member, Wong Hong Toy's charge that he was abused in prison. He chose to go to jail in lieu of paying fines for assisting the Party's secretary general, Chee Soon Juan, during the latter's 'illegal' public speech making. Further investigation of the allegation has also been denied. Dr Chee, an American-trained neuropsychologist, was charged and imprisoned for making public speeches without a permit. Throughout, the PAP government has refused to be drawn into public debate, treating the incidents as criminal cases best left to the police to take proper action.

Another significant political development involved the members of the committee for Tamil Language Week. Having successfully sued the Workers' Party for defamation last year, they are now seeking to take bankruptcy proceedings against the Party for its inability to pay the awarded damages of more than half a million Singapore dollars. If the suit succeeds, the Workers' Party will have to close and its two MPs in the current parliament, including the veteran J.B. Jeyaratnam, will have to resign their seats. This would be a serious negative development in Singapore politics.

WATCHPOINT: In what other ways may the economic downturn be exploited by the PAP government?

 

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