Our Revered and most Venerable political masters have chanced upon another great idea that is unrelated to the real business of governing. On the face of it, the proposed new law for the sanctification of the name and image of the Great One, the Unmentionable, the FF of our nation appears to be targeted at preventing commercial exploitation of His Name and His Face (and, presumably, other such body parts as may be visually identifiable as relating to Him).
If the law is passed, one of my Facebook friends’ idea of selling Lube KY jelly may be threatened. It may not be so easy to manufacture a diaper brand called “Leak on Yew”. And if any of you liberal minded sorts out there were thinking of playing with the irony of a bookshop named LKY Free Press Ltd, you can kiss that idea goodbye and go and kowtow to the Great One in the cul-de-sac.
Jokes aside, I wonder what the motivation behind this proposal is. Minister Lawrence Wong referred to this idea whilst answering questions from the press. However, nothing really happens coincidentally when it comes to the mainstream media in Singapore. This was probably a feeler sent out to the public to see how Singaporeans react to what appears to be a potential ‘lese majeste’ law.
The Minister’s own words seem to indicate that this is not some fanciful idea that he came up with. He was able to refer to the potential existing legislation that could be extended to cover the name and image of the Man. (The Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act is the statute that they are looking at or perhaps to pass another law. Let’s see…. The Singapore Arms, Face, Name, Flag and National Anthem Act anyone?)
The Minister referred to restricting commercial use / exploitation. Having read both the straits times and channel newsAsia reports, I noticed that channel news Asia report refers to ‘misleading use’. They state:
“The Government is studying laws that can be put in place to prevent misleading use and commercial exploitation of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s name and image, said Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong”
We have had other occasions where laws were passed for a certain purpose and have later served a different function. I wonder if the present proposal is intended ultimately to protect LKY’s name and legacy from being sullied by insults and historical retelling that contradicts the official narrative or is it only to prevent commercial exploitation of the name and image.
How did the idea for this start?
When Amos Yee was charged, most of us knew that his comments about Christ were the least of the concerns that the authorities had. As we discovered at trial, the reports were made by LKY devotees. The guy that slapped Amos Yee did so because of the disrespect that the latter displayed towards LKY.
There was a harassment charge, involving the insulting remarks made against LKY, which the prosecution stood down. Honestly, I don’t see how the charge could have been made out. I wouldn’t be surprised that some of our policy makers started mulling over how to protect LKY’s name and legacy from insults and attacks after the Amos Yee youtube video. The Protection from Harassment Act is unlikely to afford sufficient protection for the name of a deceased person.
After LKY’s death, there is going to be more people coming forward with stories about his authoritarian ways and this will sully the image of the great, huggable teddy bear in the sky that they worked so hard to create during the 1 week mourning period. Would this new law attempt to muzzle that as well?
The channel news Asia article refers to “misleading use”. That would be broader than what the minister said. I hope that, if they do come up with a law to protect the use of his name, it is restricted to commercial exploitation. Please don’t criminalise negative comments about LKY. He is a politician, a man. We don’t need to deify him. Kingdoms sought legitimacy for their authority in some ‘divine’ or God-given right to rule. Kings elevated themselves to a position where they were gods on earth and to protect that authority they put themselves beyond criticism and ridicule. Even then, it would be unusual to have a lese majeste law that protects the name of a dead King. You are entitled to show your respect and perhaps even adulation for LKY but please don’t turn this country into a Kingdom.
What I fear most about this new proposed legislation is that it might be used against political commentators, bloggers and other citizens that might seek to present alternative readings of our history where LKY was so much a part of it. These alternative views clearly contradict the official version of the nature and extent of LKY’s contributions, they question the motives behind arrests and detentions, merger with Malaysia and many other key political decisions. In these alternative versions, LKY is presented as, at best, a Machiavellian leader and at worst …… (well, if you go all the way down, there are some pretty nasty stuff people say at the far end of the spectrum. The still and clear water of propaganda on the surface hides a lot of shit at the bottom. So long as you don’t stir the shit, the water is still safe to drink.)
These alternative stories need to be told. They need to be heard. People may not be convinced by many of them but the point is that we get to engage in a rational debate about our history. It is an unfortunate aspect of history that it is largely the victor’s version but a nation will benefit immeasurably from the ability to examine itself and its past honestly and in a nuanced way. I really do hope that this proposed new legislation for the protection of the LKY name and image does not extend to restricting alternative perspectives of his life. There are sore wounds carried by our fellow citizens; citizens that were so concerned by the lot of their fellow men that they were willing to stand up for their rights and in the process had to pay the ultimate price of giving up their liberties. Their stories must be told. Those stories will not present LKY in a flattering manner. We, as a nation, must have the courage to interrogate our past.
The current PAP leaders have placed too much of a premium on the party’s past record and a large part of that record is merged with the image of LKY. I can understand that it is almost a matter of political survival for the PAP to ensure that the official narratives about LKY’s life and legacy are maintained unsullied and unadulterated.
This issue at stake here is not the political hegemony of one political party. This is about having the freedom to think about our nation, our values and our history without being told what is the right thought process. (Then again, getting us to think in a particular way is also an LKY legacy.)
When the Protection from Harassment Bill was being debated in Parliament, there was much discussion about vulnerable individuals being victimized online, etc. In the end, it is the Ministry of Defence that has managed to get protection under that statute. My worry is that whilst we start out with the proposition that the proposed ‘LKY law’ is to prevent the commercial exploitation of His name, the law is eventually used to silence critics. I hope that I am proven wrong.
The other worry about such a law is that the plan might well be to turn it into an authorization of broad executive discretion. The present Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act is a 2 section statute. Section 1 is about citation of the statute and Section 2 is as follows:
The President may make rules for all or any of the following purposes:
(a) to prescribe the manner in which and the places and times at which the Arms and Flag of Singapore may be displayed, exhibited, flown or used;
(b) to prescribe the manner in which and the places at which the Singapore National Anthem may be performed;
(c) to prescribe that any act or omission in contravention of any rules made under this Act shall be an offence and to prescribe penalties for those offences which penalties shall not exceed a fine of $1,000.
Statutes like these start out with general power-conferring provisions. Parliament authorizes a member of the Executive arm of government to make appropriate rules. This is a familiar and common approach in many countries where the complexities of modern governance has led to the reliance on ‘delegated legislation’. Parliament passes an Act which confers power on a Minister to make delegated legislation. As there exists a potential for abuse of power, it is important in such cases for Parliament to impose restrictions on the way that the power is to be used. Similarly, the Courts in countries such as the United Kingdom have adopted an interpretive approach that assumes that Ministers are not given too broad a power and any exercise of discretion is to be construed restrictively (for nothing less than the rule of law is at stake when too much discretionary power is given to the Executive).
If the ‘LKY law’ is introduced via the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act, it would presumably in the form of conferring a discretionary power on the President to determine how the name is to be used. Presidential discretion is ordinarily exercised at the direction of the Cabinet. Effectively, the determination of whether, when and how the LKY name/image may be utilized will be at the discretion of the Cabinet. We already have many laws that give excessive discretion to the Executive. Parliament has been too generous in sub-contracting its law-making powers to the Executive. The MDA’s broad discretionary powers involving ‘class licence’ is an example of this. https://article14blog.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/making-sense-of-the-legislative-framework-underlying-mdas-move/
We already have precedent for broad power-conferring legislation in the form of the Broadcasting Act which allows for arbitrary decision making by government bodies to be draped with the authority of law. I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar discretion-based model is used for the proposed ‘LKY law’. With regard to this, I again hope to be proven wrong.