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ISA 'accepted as part of political system': Lee Jr


Straits Times March 11, 1999
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SINGAPOREANS have accepted the Internal Security Act as part of the political system here, said Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He argued that opposition MPs were aware that the Act had public support, and this was why they had not made its abolition an issue at election time.

Workers' Party candidate Francis Seow had made speeches on the subject in the 1988 general election campaign, soon after being released from detention under the Act.

But he had not said that he objected to the ISA, but merely that the government had misused it, noted Brigadier-General (NS) Lee.

"He did that because he knew that it was the best way to collect votes. So, I don't think anybody can say the ISA has no political support," he said.

The Act allows for the arrest and detention without trial of those suspected of being involved in activities that might threaten national security.

Yesterday, opposition MP Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) had called for it to be abolished or suspended, arguing that it was a relic of a bygone era.

Disagreeing, BG Lee said the Act was an important safeguard to allow the government to act immediately and decisively with a security problem before it got out of hand. "The ISA is a precaution, a safeguard, which we have had for many years now and use very lightly. It has been accepted by Singaporeans as something which is necessary as part of our political landscape," he said.

He maintained that the Act was still relevant today, noting that two people were detained under the ISA in 1997, and another four last year, for espionage activities.

These cases, he said, were not publicised as the government did not want to inflame relations with the countries and agencies involved.

But any MP who was not convinced that these cases were genuine could ask for a briefing on them, he said, pledging that they would be given the details.

Said the DPM: "We are not in Toyland, where everybody can be taken at face value and all is well.

"But while you maintain the smiles and a certain facade of normalcy, a certain amount of cloak-and-dagger skulduggery continues all the time, and that is one of the reasons, not the only one, why we still continue to need the ISA."

Published in the Straits Times. March 11, 1999

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