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Singapore is no role model

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  • Mellanie Hewlitt
    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/06/11/200336478 1
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 2007
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      Letters: Singapore is no role model

      Monday, Jun 11, 2007, Page 8

      `I am sure that the people of Taiwan cherish their hard-won political freedom and are proud to live in a democratic society, a society they contribute to and continue to shape.'

      Dear Mr. Ma Ying-jeou ( ñRÓ¢¾Å ):

      Warm greetings to you from Singapore. I understand that you are visiting Singapore and would like to welcome you. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your candidacy in Taiwan's presidential election next year.

      However, I read with great dismay in Singapore's Straits Times on June 2 that "Ma cites Singapore as an example for Taiwan." In the report, you were quoted as saying that "Singapore is different from us [Taiwan] as its emphasis is not on democratization. Nevertheless, it is professional, corruption-free and efficient, which is worth our learning" and that "The Singapore Government is very efficient. They can reach consensus easily and there is no squabbling or fighting."

      The paper also said that you had cited the high pay of Singaporean ministers as one example of the country's pragmatism.

      Perhaps what you have read or heard about Singapore is the official line. The government puts out a lot of misinformation and propaganda. Please allow me to reveal some truths.

      The "corruption-free" image that the People's Action Party (PAP) government projects to the world stems from the fact that the state's leaders have used draconian laws to silence its critics. Opposition politicians have been bankrupted, imprisoned and run out of the country for trying to hold the government responsible to Singaporeans.

      In the numerous civil lawsuits and criminal trials which the country's leaders and the government have brought against their dissenters, the courts have always ruled against the defendants.

      All forms of media here are controlled by the authorities. Newspapers, magazines, TV and radio networks are owned by the state. Even Internet service providers are government-owned.

      Singapore has been dominated by the PAP since the 1960s. The party has always had more than 95 percent of the seats in parliament even if it might have less than 70 percent of popular support. Elections in Singapore are far from free and fair. The Elections Department is answerable to the Prime Minister's Office. The Group Constituency Representation was established in 1988 to deal with the rising unpopularity of the ruling party. During elections, the government hands out bribes in the form of shares that can be cashed in. This, in the view of many in Singapore, is vote-buying. Lee Kuan Yew ( Àî¹âÒ« ) and other PAP leaders have sued opposition candidates over the years and have never lost a case.

      These are just some of the tactics that the PAP government uses to ensure that it wins with a overwhelming majority in each election.

      As you have noted, Singaporean ministers are highly paid. The prime minister of Singapore is paid 12 times what Taiwan's president earns. Even the salary of a junior minister here is more than seven times that of President Chen Shui-bian ( êË®±â ). There is a difference between pragmatism and avarice. I am afraid you have mixed the two up. Perhaps this explains why consensus is reached easily in the government. When money talks, consciences keep silent.

      Other countries are also looking at Singapore as a role-model for economic success. Thailand (under ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra), Hong Kong (under former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa ( ¶­½¨ÈA ), China, Cambodia, Russia and Venezuela, among others, look to Singapore as a model for economic development.

      However, economic progress and political development are not mutually exclusive. In trying to follow the Singapore model, political and social landscapes will be severely and negatively affected. The type of "affluence" achieved in Singapore cannot be realized without the suppression of rights and basic freedoms.

      While you say that Singapore's emphasis is not on democracy, you also say that the government is corruption-free. Yet I am certain that you are aware that democracy is the most effective way to hold a government accountable and ensure a corruption-free system.

      I am sure that the people of Taiwan cherish their hard-won political freedom and are proud to live in a democratic society, a society they contribute to and continue to shape. In fact, in many ways democracy advocates in Singapore draw inspiration from Taiwan in its transformation from martial law to a bona fide democracy.

      I am perturbed that a leader from one of Asia's most vibrant and proud democracies should cite the PAP as a model-of-sorts. I sincerely hope that during your visit to Singapore you will express support for Singapore's struggle for democracy.

      Chee Siok Chin

      Singapore Democratic Party
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