18 October 2007

The conservative case for 377A

Gabriel Seah has recently argued that the energies of the state and the activist citizens of Singapore should not be spent on a campaign to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code. The act criminalises homosexual sex as unnatural gross indecency, yet for all that it's worth, various leaders of the state (i.e. father and son) have stressed repeatedly that this law will not be enforced.

For male homosexuals in Singapore, a curious state of affairs now exist: the very acts that some say define their existence are illegal, yet these theoretical criminals are free to practise their lifestyle choices, free of legal persecution. J.Tan may froth at the mouth, alleging continued persecutions of homosexuals, but the fact remains - and is acknowledged even by Alex Au, leader of the gay equality movement in Singapore, that the only instances of prosecution since 1988 have been in cases involving minors, non-consensual sexual activity and public play.

Practically speaking, gay people can pretty much practise whatever they want, wherever they want, in the privacy of their homes or business establishments (clubs, spas, etc). They are free even now to strike up friendships in singles bars, attend the ubiquitous gay-themed plays at Theatreworks and other stage productions, and so on. We can no longer speak of active persecutions, only the usual restrictions against political organisation (aka registration of PLU) and perhaps civil marriage (a fight for another day) and inheritance and maintenance of spouse and surviving children (then again, HDB rules disadvantage single mothers too).

Yet for a conservative, this fine balance or legal impasse is intolerable. Singapore is first and foremost a nation run by the rule of law. That we as a populace observe its laws, that Singapore as a polity lays down laws and regulations, is the key to its success. Singapore is not a cowboy town, not a free-for-all; we are not ruled by strongmen and robber barons, for our laws ensure that Singapore is seen as a predictable and safe place to do business, and to nurture businesses.

Singapore, run by the rule of law, is seen as a well-run polity. Laws are reasonable and logical, otherwise they won't be laws. Our legislators make good laws, simplify complicated ones, and remove those that no longer serve the state.

Our leaders refuse to enforce Section 377A for moral reasons: Minilee believes that "some people are like that and some people are not. How they live their own lives is really for them to decide, it's a personal matter." In other words, this law is not enforced because it does not have a legal basis.

For it to remain on the books is to say that we have a law where the leaders forbid the police to enforce, the attorney-general to prosecute, and the judges to administer. Given that we all agree not to enforce 377a, not repealing it means that we now proclaim to the world Singapore does not take its laws seriously - some laws will never be enforced because they are wrong and baseless, yet there they are on the statutes, as fully legal as every other law on the statutes...

If one law is seen to be unfair yet legal, legal yet unenforced, then we make a mockery of the system, and encourage people to think they too can decide which laws society should not enforce. Worse, we encourage a mindset where people disrespect the legal framework and undermine it. By letting one toothless law stay on the statutes just for show, the government of Minilee encourages others to cherry pick other laws as possibly unfair, just for show, and deserving of flouting.

Because one law does not apply, others will be encouraged to rely on their own personal interpretations of the constitution, to discover for themselves other laws that should not apply. Then as every man becomes the law unto himself, the rule of law will no longer hold sway in Singapore, chaos and riots will break out, and Singapore will be finished.

Singapore must not just be seen as a place where the rule of law prevails, but where the rule of law must be seen to prevail. Given that Section 377A is seen as legally unsound, that it is unenforceable, that the guardians of the state refuse to enforce it, they must therefore take steps to ensure that the law is struck down, and Singapore's legal framework is not undermined by this unenforced law.

04 October 2007

Sedition! Russian Edition

Jonathan Eyal (read as "isle") is the research director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, and also apparently the correspondent for the Straits Times Europe bureau in London. On most days of the week, Eyal has a doctorate in International Law and Relations, and is by all means a respectable military historian and analyst.

Of course, respectable is a relative term; as a respectable analyst and Eastern Europe specialist, Eyal was part of the intellectual community that facilitated and provided justifications for the conquest and occupation of Serbia, but still he did deconstruct the GWOT for the charade that it is.

What I do not get is how Eyal manages to be a ST correspondent on some days of the week. Note that whenever he talks about Europe, it is almost always through a libertarian set of glasses: Europe outside UK is almost always economically sclerotic, addled with overtaxed citizens paying for exorbitant and inefficient social welfare, losing the civilisational will to live in contrast to its immigrants and probable heirs, the Muslim immigrants. And so on, and so forth. While not supportive of Bush, Eyal has made a living supporting any European leader who supported Bush. And so on, and so forth.

Here's Jonathan Eyal on Putin's Power Play:

"Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that he intends to retain political influence when he steps down from the presidency... By accepting to lead United Russia - the country's biggest political formation - he could become the next prime minister.

It all sounds cleverly simple: a new figurehead president will be elected to respect existing constitutional provisions, while Mr Putin continues to run the show as prime minister...

Top powers will have to be granted to the government rather than the head of state. Furthermore, Russian prime ministers are not popular for long. They are expected to take controversial decisions..."

Eyal muses therefore that "Mr Putin... could become a kingmaker from the sidelines."

"But this scenario would be even more confusing. Governments and investors would have to deal with officials who, despite their formal titles, would have no real power, while the man really pulling the strings would have no official position."

I'm sure Jonathan Eyal would have realised that's how Sonia Gandhi is the leader of India even though she isn't the President of India.

And looking closer to who's paying for Eyal's bills, he might as well have saved us the sight of reading yet another "analysis article" (WTH is it that all his analysis articles are in the news section and not the op/eds?) if he just wrote a 4-word article:

Senior Minister Vladimir Putin