At the forum organised by The Online Citizen on 18 August 2011, in which all four presidential candidates took questions from the small audience, I had the opportunity to ask a question about an independent elections commission and where each candidate stood on Section 377A of the Penal Code, which makes homosex a criminal offence.
I didn’t expect that any candidate would give an unequivocal answer to 377A; they would no doubt be conscious that this is a controversial issue and like all politicians would hate to take a stand. Nonetheless, gay, lesbian and transgender communities are very good at reading between the lines, so that even if they hummed and hawed, we are still able to draw meaning from that.
As it turned out, the four candidates gave quite distinct answers, and I believe they said enough that LGBT voters can be guided by what they hear.
The question asked (starting from 7 min 42 secs in the video) of the four candidates was whether they would favour the idea of an independent elections commission, perhaps with oversight by the president rather than the government, and where they stood on Section 377A.
Here is the transcript (I hope without errors):
(At 09 min 32 secs)
Tony Tan: My guiding principle is very simple, I would do what I think is in the best interest of Singapore, and with regard to what the elections commission should . . . or with regard to section 377A, I think that these would be matters which obviously government would be involved. Parliament will be involved. The president may have a view which he should express to the prime minister . . .
Viswa Sadasivan (moderator): I guess the question is, what is your view?
Tony Tan: What is my view with regard to . . .
Viswa: At this point of time.
Tony Tan: At this point, my view with regard to this is that I think that these are issues which do not have clear black-and-white answers. I think we should look into it. 377A has been discussed in parliament and I think that this has been brought up many times. Obviously if it is a simple black-and-white answer, this would have been resolved long ago and I don’t think it is right for us to make simple black-and-white answers to what could be complex situations.
Viswa: On the issue of the election commission?
Tony Tan: On the elections commission, I would say that we want elections to be free and fair. I think that is the basic principle which we have to work under and we want the best arrangement for that.
(At 11 min 10 secs)
Tan Jee Say: I will give you clear answer. The answer is yes, move out of the PMO into the presidential, to an independent commission. Number two is no. Alright? Just to get . . .
Viswa: On 377A?
Tan Jee Say: No, I would have no discrimination. No discrimination.
Tan Jee Say: I’m not a lawyer. Ha, ha. I need to consult a lawyer on the intricacy, but I said, no discrimination.
(At 11 min 45 secs)
Tan Cheng Bock: For me, yes, I think we should move to an independent body for this election. As for the other question of three-three-A, I think as a doctor I’ve seen patients of mine also with this type of lifestyle, it is his lifestyle choice. So I am not . . . I have no difficulty in accepting this lifestyle choice.
(At 12 min 14 secs)
Tan Kin Lian: Now, I will move the election commission outside the Prime Minister’s Office, to be managed independently and I will respect the right of people to have their choice of their life so long as it doesn’t cause any harm to the general society.
* * * * *
[Update: I think some are wondering what was said in the inaudible parts and if it might be significant.
The first inaudible part was me saying “Er. . . no? No to what?” The second inaudible part was me again but I can’t quite remember what I said. I think I said something like “What about the law itself? 377A. Do you have a stand on that?”.]