SINGAPORE: Asked his personal view on whether he would get rid of Section 377A, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that "my personal view is that if I do not have a problem, this is an uneasy compromise, I am prepared to live with it until social attitudes change".
Mr Lee was speaking as part of a wide-ranging interview with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur on the HARDTalk programme on Wednesday (Mar 1).
"This is a society which is not that liberal on these matters. Attitudes have changed, but I believe if you have a referendum on the issue today, 377A would stand,” he said.
Section 377A, first introduced in 1938 by British colonial administrators, carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts. However, the Government has said the law is not actively enforced.
“It is a law which is there. If I remove it, I will not remove the problem,” Mr Lee said. “If you look at what has happened in the West, and in Britain, you decriminalised it in the 1960s, your attitudes have changed a long way but even now gay marriage is contentious. In America it is very contentious. Even in France, in Paris, they have had demonstrations in the streets against gay marriage.”
“MILLIONS WOULD COME IF WE ALLOWED IT”
When pressed on other controversial issues, such as the "repression of dissenting voices", Mr Lee said: "If it were such a miserable place, you would not be interviewing me. You would be going down the streets and getting ‘vox pops’ and all sorts of people would be saying terrible things about the Government and some of them would have emigrated."
“But the fact is, Singaporeans are happy. They have chosen this Government, we are governing the country and the people to the best of our ability. Millions more would like to come if we allowed it,” he added.
Politics in Singapore is open, Mr Lee said, adding that there are no constraints on people forming political parties or standing for election.
Responding to a question on succession planning, Mr Lee said that finding a successor is the most difficult job, but a leader will have to be chosen by younger ministers and not picked by him.
“I have assembled a team of younger ministers. Some are in their 50s, some are in their 40s … They are able people, they have to work together, they have to build their team, they have to build the trust of Singaporeans. And amongst themselves they must throw up and acknowledge and support a leader.
“They have to decide whom they are going to work for. If I pick their leader and they do not support him, one day when they decide they are off to become the curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum or something like that, well, that is the end of Singapore.”