At a forum organised by The Online Citizen, a participant asked the presidential candidates about the ISA. Here is the exchange:
TJS : “I don’t even know whether it was justified in the first place, because the ISA has been used on political opponents and those on the other political side of the law…”
Before Tan Jee Say could complete his sentence, Tony Tan interrupted him.
TT: “When one says this is used against political opponents, I think this is a very serious charge. You must be able to back it up"
Tony Tan spoke about the neccessity of the ISA because terrorism is a threat in modern Singapore. There has been calls to abolish the ISA to replace it with an anti-terrorism act so that it is more effective against terrorism rather than having it as a blunt instrument that can be misused.
Tan Jee Say then said that the ISA was used on "political opponents" and Tony Tan interjected to demand proof to back up this assertion. Actually, TJS did not say the ISA was used on people "because" they were opponents of the PAP. He said the people arrested were political opponents of the PAP. This assertion is factual because most of the people arrested and detained under the ISA were indeed opponents of the PAP - many, if not most, were opposition members e.g. members of Barisan Socialis, Workers' Party etc. The question is whether these people were arrested because they opponents of the PAP or they were violent communists, anarchists or terrorists....and just happened to be members of the opposition. Singaporeans have been waiting for proof of the later for more than 20 years. Many of the detainees released have stepped forward to say in public that they were not violent communists but socialists or just supporters of the opposition. Not a single weapon, plan of violence, hint or evidence of any sort terrorist intent has been shown to the public for those detained under Operation Spectrum and Operation Coldstore. If there is anyone who has to back up their assertion, it is the PAP govt that detained some of these people for decades. Detainees reported that they were interrogated, tortured, traumatised and were forced to sign "confessions" - if there were acts of violence, it was not committed by the detainees.
Tony Tan said that he was part of the cabinet during the Marxist Conspiracy and cannot reveal more because of the OSA. Lets put it this way, the govt had so little evidence at that time, they had to put the detainees on TV to "confess" their "crimes". These people were re-arrested when they revoked those confessions which they said were made under great duress.
Teo Soh Lung and Vincent Cheng both joined the SDP and went public to describe in detail what they did and what happened to them in speeches leading the last elections.
If you want a president who stands for justice and fairness, you really have to really have to ask yourself whether you can find it in someone who supports and justifies the draconian ISA. No other developed county has it or need such a legislation to ensure peace and security for its people. It was Tony Tan's opportunity to show his independence and he blew it.
It is a mistake for the PAP govt to retain the ISA and ISD as it is a constant reminder of what they have done and how it was used it in the past. By keeping it, they make themselves less acceptable to newer generations of Singaporeans who find such draconian laws unnecessary and ineffective in a modern society. The older generation of Singaporeans who had gone through the tumultuous years of colonialism, world war and developing world poverty saw a society in rapid transition towards modernisation and prosperity were perhaps more amenable to the ways of the PAP and Lee Kuan Yew. As a society, we have to move on from here and away from authoritarian past towards a more democratic future. The ISA is like a chain that tie us down with fear and a reminder of the unjustified acts committed our fellow Singaporeans.