Correcting Minister Shanmugams misperception that Singapore is a stable democracy
- Wednesday, October 28, 2009
News and opinions from an independent perspective
Correcting Minister Shanmugam’s misperception that Singapore is a “stable democracy”
At the Opening of the seasonal meeting of the New York state bar association International Section, Singapore’s Law Minister Mr Shanmugam told the delegates that Singapore’s (political) stability can be seen by the billions of dollars invested in Singapore annually by international organizations.
“Our main selling point is that there will be good value added when they invest here, their investments will be protected, and that we are a stable democracy,” he added.
Mr Shanmugam cannot be more wrong. For those who are aware of Singapore’s political system, it is neither stable nor is it a democracy.
A diplomatic term to use will be a “sham democracy”. To put it bluntly – Singapore is a one-party state, a dictatorship or more realistically a “feudal dynasty”.
Mr Shanmugam may be able to pull a wool easily over the eyes of politically naive Singaporeans back home, but surely he has to work harder to convince the astute Americans that Singapore is anything remotely linked to a democracy.
According to former Thai Minister Anand Panyarachun, there are seven main pillars for the artchitecture of democracy: elections, political tolerance, rule of law, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency, decentralization and civil society.
Robert Alan Dahl, the Sterling Professor of Political Science from Yale University defines democracy as according to the following five criteria:
- Effective Participation – Citizens must have adequate and equal opportunities to form their preference and place questions on the public agenda and express reasons for one outcome over the other.
- Voting Equality at the Decisive Stage – Each citizen must be assured his or her judgements will be counted as equal in weights to the judgements of others.
- Enlightened Understanding – Citizens must enjoy ample and equal opportunities for discovering and affirming what choice would best serve their interests.
- Control of the Agenda – Demos or people must have the opportunity to decide what political matters actually are and what should be brought up for deliberation.
- Inclusiveness – Equality must extend to all citizens within the state. Everyone has legitimate stake within the political process.
It is obvious that save for periodic elections which are neither free or fair, Singapore does not satisfy both sets of criteria for democracy to exist and flourish.
Singapore only appears to be politically on the surface so long as the strongman is still around to hold the fort. Unlike established democracies with an institutionalized system of power transfer which allows for different political parties to assume power peacefully, Singapore has been ruled by a single party since independence.
In an ideal democracy, there will be competing centers of power who are able to replace the incumbent should it fall from power (and grace).
In Singapore, the entire political milieu is dominated by one single party which is in control of all critical state institutions such as the police, media and grassroots organizations.
There is no division of power between the executive and the legislative. Neither is there a credible and strong opposition to check on the ruling party in a system which lacks accountability and transparency. The people are politically weak, ignorant and apathetic. All these structural flaws are recipes for a disaster waiting to happen.
As former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun said during the Third Amartya Sen Lecture Series last year:
“An apathetic electorate is easy prey for any organized group to seize power by force or fraud, giving rise to totalitarianism.”
Singapore is able to exist as a near totalitarian state so far because its citizenry is largely ignorant of its implications. In a way, it is lucky that the present batch of leaders are relatively capable and decent, but what if a rogue leader will to assume power one day – he/she will have unlimited power and nobody can remove him/her from office.
The opposition is too weak to field enough credible candidates to challenge the ruling party partly because Singaporeans are either too afraid or disinterested to participate in politics.
The GRC system greatly enhances the chances of the ruling party as they are able to change the electoral boundaries as and when is needed to suit their own partisan interests. Heavy-weight ministers are put in each GRCs to “protect” the weak candidates who may otherwise lose in a straight one to one contest in a single ward.
The election campaigning is only 9 days long which gives little time for the opposition to highlight the important issues to the people. The mainstream media is entirely controlled by the ruling party and is blatantly biased towards it. Ruling party candidates are always portrayed in a positive light while opposition ones are smeared, demonized or in the words of Prime Minister Lee, “FIXED”.
Then, there is the use of the infamous defamatory lawsuits to cripple the opposition. Many credible candidates in the past such as J.B. Jeyaretnam, Tang Liang Hong and Dr Chee Soon Juan are kept out of parliament or barred from elections as a result of being made a bankrupt.
The greatest potential danger to Singapore’s future lies in the complete absence of a civil society to check and rein in on the excesses of the executive. Brainwashed by years of state propaganda, Singaporeans continue to retain a blind faith in the ruling elite. A rogue leader will have no problems controlling the populace because they are politically naive to begin with.
As we can see from above, Singapore’s political stability is only a mirage which can vanish anytime without its people realizing why for most are still blissfully unaware of the inherent structural weaknesses in its obsolete and archaic political system.
The Freedom House rankings for 2009 placed Singapore together with Iraq at 151 out of 195, below Haiti, Colombia, Kenya, Moldova, Guinea, Pakistan and others, he added.
Mr Shanmugam said the government approach to such rankings was “to ignore the criticisms which made no sense, and it continued to do what was better for the city-state, and Singaporeans also knew better.”
If the criticisms make no sense, then why is Mr Shanmugam speaking at the opening address of the New York Bar Association to defend his regime’s dismal record in human rights and political freedoms?
Only he knows if his party is doing what was better for Singapore or for its own political survival and hegemony.
Lastly, Mr Shanmugam cannot claim to speak for all Singaporeans. Though the majority of Singaporeans remain deluded, there are some who knew better what kind of government Singapore has – far from being a “stable democracy”, it is a perfect totalitarian state which would have made Stalin or Mao proud.
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