Without even and just Rule of Law, society breaks down

by Brad Bowyer

Most commentators on governance say besides free and fair elections the next most important defining characteristic of any democracy is the rule of law.

While the people choose their leaders and representatives through elections, the rule of law defines the relationship between the leaders and the people between those elections.

So, what is the rule of law?

According to the United Nations, it is “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”

For many reasons, governments may stop following this tenet and start to use the law as a tool to suppress the people or direct citizens behaviour towards their policy goals or both.

This is often combined with not being subject to the ‘rule of law’ themselves (nor often are their friends, relatives and protégés) but enjoy special privileges or are exempt from the ordinary citizens’ obligations.

When a government start to abandon the principles of “rule of law” and starts to “rule by law” the whole functioning of society starts to break down.

The citizens will live with this for a while but eventually, the cost of complying with the dictates of the government will outweigh the cost of resisting such imposition and then change is inevitable.

The nature of the change will vary.

If the government realises its errors and self corrects or steps aside it can be a peaceful transition but often the dictatorial government tries to hold power and uses all its tools both legal and martial to hang on and then revolution inevitably happens.

This pattern has repeated for thousands of years of mankind’s history and yet the “leaders” seem never to learn from this.

Of course, historically the citizens were often poorly educated and easily kept divided or manipulated so only the extreme results occurred. Leaders had to reach extreme levels of abuse before the people reacted but when they did it was often met with an extremely violent and bloody reaction.

Now we have highly educated populations who are connected via the internet and can share, organise and potentially come up with more peaceful transitions than forced revolutions.

Enlightened governments are adapting to this and changing their ways, but the outdated authoritarian ones are increasingly seen as preparing for martial suppression and hanging on rather than self-correcting or stepping aside.

We see them interpreting, rewriting and using laws to attack those who question them or for personal agendas.

We see them writing laws that they will not have to comply with.

We see them trying to shut down all avenues of the people’s ability to talk, share and organise.

And we often see a large influx of foreign- and foreign-born armed security personnel and police who are less likely to hold back when ordered against the people than the native population.

When you look at where Singapore sits in relation to this discussion the signs are not good, and we may be heading in a very dark direction indeed.

I hope that the enlightened members of our government can hold some sway over the more authoritarian ones and bring them to their senses before the tipping point is reached.

I also hope the people themselves can awaken to the dangers of what may be ahead because even if the government is recalcitrant, we do still have some level of democracy with our votes to reign in the increasingly dictatorial administration before the costs of the inevitable change become extremely high for everyone.

It may be decades away or it may be sooner as you never know when the trigger point will happen when the government goes one step too far and the oppression and anger clash but if the direction is not changed now while it can be done peacefully then we or our children are in for a turbulent and potentially terrible future.

It may sound dramatic, but history and its lessons often are, and everyone needs to wake up to the true dangers when Law is no longer respected but becomes an arbitrary tool instead of a system we live by.

This was first published on Brad Bowyer’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.