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Educational journey of the passage of POFMA

by Teo Soh Lung

I was in parliament yesterday expecting the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill (POFMA) to be passed. The absence of so many People’s Action Party (PAP) ministers and Members of Parliament (MP)s, however, cast a doubt in my mind. Wouldn’t they want a full house to vote for the bill? It would be a great censorship tool for them when the general election nears?

From what I gathered on television, the sheep must have returned to the pen in the night to give “overwhelming” support for the bill. All 72 PAP MPs voted Aye. And so the Ayes have it!

In the few hours that I was in the gallery, I was impressed with the opposition and the Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP)s. Leon Perera, Pritam Singh, Anthea and Walter Theseira spoke and delivered their speeches with conviction. The PAP MPs were nothing compared to them. They were just regurgitating the minister’s stand. Indeed, there were a few clowns which were quite entertaining. They did more damage than good for their cause!

I was called out by the ushers’ midstream and missed a large part of Anthea’s speech. I was told to sit 3 rows from the front where I was originally seated. No reason was given to me.

Anthea spoke with conviction and bravely urged the house to give the NMPs’ motion to amend the bill a chance to be voted. It would be a “vote of conscience”.

I was impressed that the NMPs did not withdraw the bill despite rebuttals and persuasions from the minister. I hope all three NMPs will be safe to carry on with their professions after this. In the past, those who disagree can expect some flak.

The fact that I was right in predicting that the PAP would never bow to pressure gives me no joy. The pressure mounted on this bill was extraordinary. Never before had the government received so many criticisms, both locally and from abroad? Its image must either be severely damaged or enhanced.

The PAP responded at every opportunity, even when invited to a religious event. The minister himself had to stoop to the level of a comedian in “Ah Lian Meets Minister K Shanmugam”. We pay him millions and he becomes a part-time actor.

If POFMA was passed with an overwhelming majority, it is I think because the whip was not lifted. But it tells a lot about the quality of PAP MPs and ministers. None had the courage to exit the house. I cannot believe that all of them agree with the law.

The journey of POFMA has been educational. I hope it will not be the first and last time that a proposed law receives attention and generates much interest and resistance.

This was first published on Function 8’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.