In 2009, I blogged about the NDP parade and the much touted ‘universal pledge moment’.  Everyone was encouraged at a single point in time, 8.22pm, to take the pledge.  I questioned whether most Singaporeans that took the pledge understood the implications of the pledge and if so, how many of them were sincere about the pledge. 

The article is here:  http://article14.blogspot.sg/2009/08/822-hypocritical-oath.html

Between 2009 to now, the major political shift that has happened in Singapore is the 2011 General Election.  Due to the shock therapy given to the PAP by the voters, the government has been on a back foot for the last one year.  There is a growing hope that we would be able to make a genuine attempt at accomplishing the goals that we have outlined for ourselves in our national pledge.  The often ignored phrase “to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality” has to be resurrected in our collective psyche so that when we take the pledge we mean what we say. 

Too often, I have come across PAP apologists that preach to me about the demerits of democracy.  These chaps would enthusiastically participate in the farce of pledge taking.  But, when it comes to the crunch, they do not believe in some of the words that they are pledging.  Where does it leave a person if he pledges to build a democratic society whilst at the same time he believes that democracy is a nuisance that gets in the way of economic efficiency.  He is not going to act on his pledge.  That would make him a hypocrite. 

When the Hougang by-election case was in Court, there were many netizens that chided Mdm Vellamma for wasting resources and time in bringing the case to Court.  Though her application in Court was the most democratic (and responsibly patriotic) thing that a voter could do in the aftermath of the vacancy of the Hougang Parliamentary seat, there were those that wished that she would lose the case and bear the legal cost so that she would ‘learn her lesson’.  The people that wished that upon her are not fit to take the pledge.  They’d be hypocrites if they did. 

As I dwell on the issue of Hougang by-election, another matter comes to mind.  Many of us, including Constitutional Law experts from NUS and SMU, reasoned that the vacancy of a Parliamentary seat in a single member constituency would give rise to an obligation on the part of the PM to call for an election with the limited exception that the timing of the by-election was within the PM’s discretion. 

Last week, the High Court made a ruling that under our Constitution, the PM is not obliged to call for a by-election if there is a vacancy of a Parliamentary seat.  I have some reservations about the reasoning in the judgment.  Leaving that aside, the High Court decision represents a step in the wrong direction (a less democratic direction).  If a seat falls vacant (or for that matter in an extreme hypothetical example all the seats in Parliament fall vacant), the PM has full discretion as to whether to govern all the way till the next election without adequate Parliamentary representation.  This is a regressive step in our democracy and I don’t see any reason to cheer the outcome. 

If we truly believe in the pledge that we take, we would be advocating a Constitutional amendment to impose a mandatory obligation on the PM to call for by elections whenever a seat falls vacant.  If we truly believe in the pledge that we take, we would be advocating for an end to the GRC system.  If we truly believe in the pledge that we take, we would oppose detention without trial.  I can go on and on.

There are many ways in which our political and legal system has to change in order to meet the requirement of the phrase in the pledge… “to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.”  But, many of us would be reciting the pledge so blindly that we do not realise the significance of building a democratic society.  Many of us would understand what the pledge says and yet feel that the ‘democratic society’ bit is irrelevant and so go ahead hypocritically to take the pledge.

Maybe, this National Day, more of us would take the pledge with a greater degree of sincerity. 

Happy National Day.

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