Excluding Religion from Politics and Enforcing Religious Harmony – Singapore-style

by Assoc. Prof. TEY Tsun Hang

ABSTRACT

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act is a unique feature in the legal landscape of Singapore. The statute – an important part of the Singapore government’s large and extensive arsenal of legal instruments to regulate inter-ethnic-religious relations in the country – gives the executive untrammelled discretion to curb political expression and political activity in the interests of maintaining religious harmony. Placed against the backdrop of its political developments, this article explores the political motives for the introduction of the statute, examines the exact nature of its structure and scope, and compares it against other legal instruments that perform similar political control. A particular focus is upon how the statute underscores the thinking behind Singapore-style state paternalism, and reflects its political leadership’s deep distrust of the electorate, and instinct to restructure voting behaviour and party politics. This article also reflects on the adverse effect of such enforced stricture on otherwise legitimate political activities by religion-linked organisations in Singapore.

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