Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave this bit of advice to world leaders at the G-20 summit in Argentina last Friday: “We cannot freeze the status quo, we will not succeed in preserving out of date arrangements, because the world will leave us behind.”
He was making the point that countries have to embrace technological change instead of yielding to their anxieties and causing obstruction.
The twisted irony here is that he and his government seem to go against the grain of what he is preaching.
Social media is an offshoot of the technological revolution. Instead of embracing it, the government has long been suspicious and apprehensive, viewing it as untamed and unhinged, a mighty source of irritant and a purveyor of fake news.
Even before legislation to combat fake news comes into effect, dire warning signals have already been sent to bloggers and socio-political sites. In tightening the screws, will the country not be set back and left behind?
Whether 3G or 4G, the leadership is intent on sticking to much of the same old playbook and politics. In other words, freeze the status quo – the very thing PM Lee cautions against.
First and foremost, preserve one-party rule. Dish out treatment of the opposition the way it has been dished out for decades. Deal with dissent and critics the same old way – if words and arguments do not work, then bring out the hatchet and the sledgehammer.
Freedom of the press? Don’t even think about it! Don’t ever cross the red lines! And so the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act has to be preserved for good measure – characterised by strict licensing restrictions on newspapers and voting rights only to a select few management shareholders.
The Internal Security Act for detention without trail? That has been used to devastating effect for decades so it has to be preserved, no question about it.
And what about 377A, that most archaic British colonial law? Apparently, there’s nothing wrong with keeping that frozen in time too.
So much of the status quo has to be preserved.
And yet PM Lee goes halfway across the world to lecture his audience against “freezing the status quo” and against “preserving out of date arrangements.”