Saturday, December 17, 2005

Post No. 45: Musings on Democracy (III)

Some Words Before I Begin:

To be honest with you all, I was actually hesitant to write and post this essay of mine, considering the recent speculation that after clamping down on racist bloggers, the Government may be targeting political bloggers next. However, in the end, I decided to still write this essay and post it up here. Well, in case you all are curious, there are mainly 4 reasons which led me to my final decision. One, the points that I would be discussing below are, though somewhat critical of the Government, nothing new and have been discussed & examined by quite a few other commentators on local politics; some of who are or were from the supposedly pro-Government Straits Times. Two, it is my own rough estimation that the amount of human traffic accessing this blog (and reading it) can be counted with one hand only. Hence, bearing in mind the low human traffic on this blog and that the points I will be covering are critical yet moderate in nature, I don’t suppose I would get into any trouble by posting them here. More importantly, it would be a case of hypocrisy on my part if, after advocating that we Singaporeans should not let fear prevent us from speaking up more in my Post No. 20, I choose to not post this essay for fear of getting into trouble. In addition, in view of the fact that I will be eligible to vote by next November and the recent talk about an upcoming General Election, I suppose it is quite appropriate timing for me to discuss issues pertaining to local politics here on my blog. Ok, enough with my lengthy preamble and on with my essay…

After discussing about Democracy in general in my 2 earlier posts (Post No. 42 & 43), I would now look at local politics in Singapore. Let me state for the record that while I recognise the effectiveness of the PAP Government and its policies, I am no die-hard supporter of it, though I suppose that when it comes to an election, I would still cast my vote for the PAP (however, this depends on the quality of the contesting oppositional candidates). In other words, while there are areas where I think the Government has done an excellent job in, there are also areas where it can improve on. Hence, in this essay, considering that most of us are already familiar with the good track record of the Government, I would be discussing those areas in which the Government can improve on.

It cannot be denied that besides relying on its track record of effectiveness in governance and ability to deliver material/economic benefits for us Singaporeans, the Government has also, from time to time, relied on, as what Dr. Cherian George termed it in his recent essay “Managing Civil Disobedience” (ST, October 10th 2005), “calibrated coercion” to maintain its hold on power (for those interested to know about the contents of Dr. Cherian George’s essay, it can be found at the following website: Since most of you all would most probably be quite familiar with what this “calibrated coercion” includes, I would not go into details about it (for those interested, they may refer to my Post No. 20). Whether or not this “calibrated coercion” is a conscious policy undertaken by the Government isn’t crucial, what’s important is that in the minds of most Singaporeans, it is typically assumed that if you go overboard (or “out-of-bound”) with your criticism of the Government, “retribution” would come your way. Hence, as much as the Government would like to deny it, it can be observed that there exists a “climate of fear” or “caution syndrome” amongst ordinary Singaporeans when it comes to publicly discussing and/or criticising government policies. As what I have discussed in my Post No. 20, such a phenomenon of Singaporeans being somewhat afraid (or at least apprehensive) about talking about local politics in public would most likely not bode well for the future of Singapore.

While I recognise that the Government needs to prevent instability from occurring and to protect its integrity from fraudulent attacks, my hope is that it would not become too overzealous in confronting challenges or criticism to its authority and policies. Hence, it is my hope that the Government would relax rules governing the state of political discussion here. Of course, I’m not advocating that it be a free-for-all or that all rules should be abolished but just that the rules would not be too restrictive to the extent that healthy political discussion is curbed. Thus, it heartens me to observe that the Government would continue to adopt a policy of gradual opening up in the years to come. To those who clamour for the opening up to be at a faster pace, remember that while some of us may find the current pace of opening up too slow, there are also those who may find it too fast a pace and they too hold voting power, hence the Government needs also cater to their wishes. That said, it nonetheless remains to be seen whether this opening up would have any substance to it or that it would be, as most naysayers claim it to be, just a charade put on by the Government. Well, I personally hope that it wouldn’t be a case of the latter.

In addition, it is also my hope that the Government would correct the current situation of “unfair competition” between the PAP and the opposition parties. Don’t be mistaken, I’m not advocating that the governing party should “handicap” itself so as to allow opposition parties a better fighting chance. Like what an eminent member of the Government (I seriously can’t remember who it is) once said, the PAP isn’t obliged to ensure the survival of opposition parties. To demand that the PAP “handicap” itself to give its challengers a better fighting chance would be akin to asking a champion heavyweight boxer to tie one arm behind his back while fighting against an underdog challenger. Yet, if the champion boxer is allowed to wear metal knuckledusters on his fists while the challenger isn’t or if the challenger has to wear lead weights around his ankles while fighting but the champion boxer needn’t do so, I suppose most of us would agree that this isn’t a completely fair match. Likewise, while I recognise that it is just part of realpolitik for any governing party to maximise its advantages and have the odds in its favour, something is just not right when the governing party tap on governmental assets in their competition with opposition parties. Yes, I recognise the logic that these governmental assets have been built up by the governing party and thus it is up to them how it decides to use them, it remains that such a move somewhat violates the sense of fairness intrinsic in all of us. These governmental assets which I refer to, include, besides others, the short notice given to the public regarding changes in electoral boundaries (in the 1997 General Election, changes were announced just one day before Nomination Day) and the promise of upgrading (or the withholding of upgrading) for HBD estates. In my opinion, similar to those expressed by Mr Warren Ferandez and Mr Pei Shing Huei (“Don’t let electoral boundaries breed cynicism, apathy”, ST, September 23rd 2005) who are both columnists for the Straits Times, while the PAP can tap into these governmental assets if it chooses to, it hardly needs to as it has many other strengths which it can tap upon and that it would be better if it doesn’t so as to prevent cynicism & apathy from breeding in Singaporeans (though these may be already present in most of us) with regards to the fairness of local political competition. If a champion heavyweight boxer is able to win a match without wearing metal knuckledusters, he should really not wear them lest he be accused by the spectators of not playing fair. Personally, I feel that a fair match would be a most exciting one and one that really demonstrates the prowess of a champion boxer.

Next, I would like to use this opportunity to correct a perception common to most Singaporeans. And this perception is: “Singapore = Government = PAP”. As Mr Ngiam Tong How has astutely pointed out in an interview with the Straits Times a few years back, Singapore is bigger than the PAP Government. Personally, I think that there lies a twofold danger to Singaporeans equating the survival of their country to the fate of the governing party. But before I start talking about what these 2 dangers are, I would first put forth the proposition that if we really equate Singapore to the PAP Government and cannot think otherwise, we would become reluctant to challenge the PAP Government since any challenge against it would be perceived as an attack upon Singapore. Hence, considering this proposition of mine, it can be seen that one danger of equating Singapore with the PAP Government would be that should the PAP Government ever become corrupted (not very likely but nevertheless not impossible in the long run), it would become most difficult for this possible corrupted Government to be removed since there would be the subconscious fear that if this Government was removed, Singapore would also collapse. Intertwined with this is the possibility that so unassailable and entrenched in power is the PAP Government that if should it ever become corrupted, it would be in such a dominant position that it would be near to impossible to remove it. In addition, there is also the danger that if the image of Singapore becomes too intertwined with that of the PAP Government, those who may have the capability to contribute towards the advancement of Singapore but disagree with the PAP Government could feel so alienated that they do not contribute what they can since they don’t want to contribute to an institution which they disagree with and has equated with Singapore. Hence, it is my hope that we all can, as Mr Ngiam has had, recognise that Singapore is bigger than the PAP Government.

In conclusion, I would like to use this opportunity to urge my fellow Singaporeans, especially those similar in age with me, to be more aware and pro-active with regards to the political affairs of Singapore. Despite the common misperception, politics does affect all of us one way or another. If all of us continue to think that it doesn’t concern us and not care about it, there will come one day when something happens which we cannot & must not accept, we will find ourselves powerless to change it because we have allowed others to make decisions for us all this while. So I urge you all to start being more concerned about local politics before it is too late.

1 comment:

cos they lied, said...

I agree with what Enqi said. Above and beyond just being more aware of the socio-political climate that governs us and keeps us safe and prosperous, not only should we be thankful for this boon, we should also start to look into what motors the structures and systems we are all abiding by.

What is the heartbeat behind it all? What, at the end of the day, is one being fueled by in their daily combat with the problems, in the righting of the wrongs?

I'm on the verge of delving into God and Man and the stark distance between these two. I hope you discuss religion - and go deep into any other related issues you feel are pertinent.

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