Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh has broken its party's decade-long silence on Section 377a with a statesmanlike speech.
At the National University of Singapore (NUS) Political Association Forum 2019, Pritam stated WP's position on 377a, its first update since 2007, when parliament had a major debate on the law which criminalises sex between men.
Here is the WP's position as stated by Pritam:
"Our stated position, which remains today, is that WP would not be calling for the repeal of 377a because there is no consensus within the party’s central executive committee on the issue. Even within the party at large, views differ on the matter, a microcosm of Singapore society."
Pritam has not just given an updated position on 377a, but he managed to articulate his party's stance that helps him align himself with the times and challenges faced by the new generation of Singaporeans.
377a, a divisive issue that splits Singaporeans
Pritam said that he has decided to speak about 377a, "a divisive issue that splits Singaporeans" after much reflection.
He subsequently mentioned Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's take on 377a.
PM Lee noted the very different views among Singaporeans on whether homosexuality was acceptable or morally right, but also recognised that enforcement of the law was problematic.
Pritam went on to state that PM Lee took the position of an “uneasy compromise” on 377a, where the law would remain on the books, but the government would not enforce it.
Then Pritam went on the offensive, stating his discomfort with the positions held by both the conservatives and liberals.
"377a, as framed, generates a lot of heat, but sheds very little light"
Pritam highlighted that 377a has become more of a symbolic lightning rod for conservatives and liberals.
He noted that conservatives frame their campaigns as pro-family, while the liberals refer to theirs as the right-to-love.
Unfortunately, Pritam felt that the necessity of such framing "leaves little room for each side to stop and listen to each other and reduce temperatures".
On the pro-family conservative camp, Pritam advised them to focus on the larger issues besetting Singaporean families.
He said that political leaders of the current generation is to equip Singaporean families to face the socio-economic pressures of globalization and disruption, and "not drag the family into the public square to flog a sin for all to see".
On the right-to-love liberal camp, Pritam said that they have unwittingly weaponised the concept of love for many of those in the middle, particularly those who do not take a position on the matter.
Pritam added that the implicit suggestion is that those who align themselves to conservatives, by default hate LGBT people.
Moreover, Pritam said that respected religious figures and friends are singularly judged through their views on 377a, rather than their tremendous contributions to the society.
Pritam's three questions, five principles
Pritam hence have three questions for people to ponder:
1. Would not the active championing of either the conservative or liberal camp by any political party immediately invite further polarisation of the matter with even less prospect for consensus or tolerance?
2. Would it not invite politicisation to divisive issues such that our political leaders and Members of Parliament start taking positions based on political expediency and majoritarianism, rather than on conscience and strengthening our common space?
3. Would it not cause voters to reduce the complex political and economic issues we face as a country into this one singular issue and choose leaders based on their view on Section 377a? Do we want Section 377a to define the ballot box and determine elections?
Pritam then proposed five principles that could guide the way forward for Singaporeans.
First, Pritam will adopt a family first strategy that is an enlightened and inclusive one.
This approach will include traditional families, caring for the single, widowed and divorced mothers, unmarried singles, and children with parents going through a divorce.
Importantly, Pritam said that Singaporeans must consider homosexual friends and their family members who are coming to terms with their sexuality.
Second, Pritam urge Singaporeans to never politicise the issue. For WP, they have not and will not turn 377a into a political issue by pandering either to conservatives or liberals.
Pritam said that WP's selection of candidates is based on their integrity, credibility, ability and the depth of their concern for Singapore and Singaporeans.
Third, Pritam wanted Singaporeans to continue the dialogue on the issue, with mutual respect given to parties with different views.
Fourth, Pritam wanted to respect individual's conscience on the issue, as WP members hold deep religious, spiritual and philosophical beliefs that form their individual conscience. It is this very sense of individual conscience that gave the members courage to drop their fears and acquire the mental strength to accept the sacrifices to join WP to serve Singaporeans.
Lastly, Pritam asked Singaporeans to "rise above the culture war", adding that such culture wars of American and European societies cannot represent the Singapore war.
In other words, Singaporeans should not fight over who is more right than the other, but listen, discuss and debate with the suspicion that we may be wrong, and look for common ground to overcome our differences.
In conclusion, Pritam said that WP will not participate in the culture war over LGBT issues because this is prejudicial to the common good of Singapore.
Pritam said that the moral courage required to address the issue of 377a is not to revel in taking absolute stances on what one believes is right, but in swallowing one's pride and listening to another.
Top photo from Pritam Singh Facebook page.