Have you heard of Article 5(2A) of the Singapore Constitution?
If you have not, it’s important you know.
Article 5(2A) was passed in 1991 but has been held in abeyance since.
This means that it is not in force yet and hence not binding on the Government.
1. What is Article 5(2A) about?
Article 5(2A) states that a national referendum is needed if changes are to be made to the following sections of the Constitution:
(i) this clause or Article 5A
(ii) any provision in Part IV
(iii) any provision in Chapter 1 of Part V or Article 93(A).
(iv) Article 65 or 66
(v) any provision in the Constitution that authorises the President to act in his discretion.
Key among the above is Part IV which enshrines our civil liberties including the freedom of speech, assembly and association.
The Article also protects the Elected President’s powers particularly in relation to matters relating to the budget.
Principally, therefore, Article 5(2A) is designed to safeguard against the potential for a tyrannical or profligate government.
Despite the importance of this Article to our democratic narrative, the PAP has again stressed last week that it does not want it to come into force yet.
Because the PAP – according to Shanmugam – needs flexibility on bills relating to government spending as it foresees the need to make adjustments to the tax system due to increased social spending
“To bring Article 5(2A) into force before that would otherwise potentially trigger a national referendum each time we needed to make a further refinement or adjustment,” said Shanmugham.
As to why the parts pertaining to our civil liberties could not be enforced first, Shanmugham said that “Article 5(2A) comes as a package”.
2. More than Meets the Eye?
When one takes a look at laws such as that on Unlawful Assembly which prohibits a gathering of 5 or more persons that violate our civil liberties, one can’t help but wonder if there is more than meets the eye in the PAP’s refusal to enforce Article 5(2A).
3. Should we be concerned?
As we all know, Singapore is at most a quasi-democracy in which the PAP has an overwhelming majority in Parliament and has put in place many anti-democratic mechanisms to prevent the Opposition from gaining ground. It has also used various laws like the Internal Security Act to silence and intimidate critics.
This means that the Party can do as it wishes with very little accountability. In other words, the potential for tyranny is a very real one.
The PAP’s argument that Article 5(2A) can wait while it sorts out the intricacies of increased social spending is flawed because it is predicated on the flawed assumption that its politicians will always act in the interest of the people and respect our civil liberties.
Who is to guarantee that in the near future, a Burnese military junta-like leadership would not take control either in the face of perceived or imagined social chaos or out of a desire to go back to the orderly days of Lee Kuan Yew when everyone was cowed by the Patriarch’s absolute power?
So in summary, the PAP’s procrastination on Article 5(2A) is a threat to the well-being and integrity of our democracy. Then again, we should not be surprised; as history has shown that in its quest for permanent power, civil liberties rank low on the Party’s list of priorities for it makes for complex and complicated politics that it’s technocrats are ill-equipped to handle, as we are witnessing now.
First seen on The Alternative View: