Monday, June 02, 2008

Wow! How some people think really makes me worried, especially since it sounds a lot like what the majority of people in Singapore express publicly. I'm gonna cite the two Straits Times forum articles as well as quote them in full since I don't think the articles will stay in perpetuity and I think the full text is very instructive:

Don't choose to ignore Singapore's positives

ALLOW me as an ordinary Singaporean to refer to recent events whereby Singapore's values and quality of life have been questioned by Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) leader Chee Soon Juan and his sister.

The quality of life we enjoy today, and sometimes take for granted, is the result of good governance. Dr Chee and his sister have ignored the progress that we have made as a nation.

Like all law-abiding societies, we are free.

Apart from the odd pornographic site that is blocked, we are essentially free to surf the Internet where we want, and watch what we wish.

Piqued by Dr Chee's railings, I visited the SDP website for the first time on Thursday.

The first question that struck me was: Where were the media restrictions Dr Chee complained about? His website certainly didn't have any.

Patronise the coffee shops and we hear a variety of criticisms from which the Government and the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) are not exempt. My favourite: PAP, which coffee-shop critics will have you know stands for Pay And Pay. Has anyone been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for such talk? Where are the Government's human- and civil-rights violations?

The ISA of today is not the ISA of yesterday. The ISA of yesterday had political detainees, whose detention was necessary for a young Singapore's stable growth. The ISA of today has terrorists like Mas Selamat, whose capture is necessary for national security. This subtle shift in the ISA's role was ignored by Dr Chee.

Has Dr Chee ever been detained under the ISA?

If Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was not so forward-thinking in the early days, Singapore would be less than what it is today.

MM Lee's leadership style while he was prime minister was like a strict father's; SM Goh's, like an elder brother, while PM Lee Hsien Loong's is that of a peer who works, plays, laughs and cries with us.

All three styles match the respective stages of Singapore's development.

As for the SDP website? I found it an entertaining read, much like the reported antics of Dr Chee and his sister.

Lim Boon Kwee

Celebrate unique style of democracy

I APPRECIATE the views of Mr Lim Boon Kwee on Saturday, 'Don't choose to ignore Singapore's positives''. As a Singaporean born before independence, I have seen how Singapore transformed itself from a nation of attap houses into modern Housing Board residential estates. Our families sleep peacefully every night now.

Many foreigners, especially Westerners, choose Singapore for their overseas posting, because they know that when they go on business trips, they do not need to worry about the safety of their family and home in Singapore.

A foreigner may be hard put to locate our little red dot on the world map, but when Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew travelled to the United States, President George W. Bush, who leads the world's champion in human rights, welcomed him with open arms. What does this tell us?

In Paris recently, people wrestled with a wheelchair-bound Olympic torch bearer. Do we need this type of democracy and human rights?

Across the Causeway, former Malaysian strongman Mahathir Mohamad is feuding bitterly with his handpicked successor, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. In Singapore, Mr Lee, an octogenerian, is still our travelling salesman doing his utmost for future generations of Singaporeans.

Singapore is unique. We cannot copy the Western style of democracy blindly. We need our own unique democracy and human-rights style which suit us. We have crafted and honed it for the past 40 years and this Lion City is still roaring.

Without Mr Lee and his style of leadership, we might not have survived after being kicked out of Malaysia.

We should feel very lucky and be grateful to Mr Lee, or as the Chinese saying goes, 'yin shui si yuan' (never forget where one's happiness originates).

The late US president John F. Kennedy once said: 'Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.'

Perhaps, our equivalent is: 'Ask not what LKY can do for you forever - ask what you can do for LKY now.'

I am not a member of the People's Action Party. But, this is Singapore's style of democracy and human rights.

Steven Tan

I think at the heart of both letters are the following key thrusts:

1. Necessity dictates the state of our politics.
2. We should be grateful for what we have.
3. "Look! We are free! Kinda."

They are not wrong per-se. In fact, at one point, I would have agreed with them. However, imho, the arguments used by these two gentlemen are fundamentally flawed. I can summarize it as the frog-in-a-well syndrome. I have been out here in the US for 8+ years now. There is no such thing as "Western style democracy". Each democratic regime in the "West" has its own style, its own standards, its own good and bad. The "western" champions of human-rights and democracy have irked me as much as our own "Singapore is unique" arguments. These are people who, imho, are unwilling and unable to keep an open mind. The former need to stop being pedantic and even hypocritical (where somehow "their" democracies can do no wrong). The latter tries to justify sitting on their asses and doing nothing in the face of authoritarianism, an unfair political system and refusing to face the serious long-lasting damage a failure in the PAP could potentially do to the country where no opposition party is in a position to effectively replace them ruling the country.

The authors of the two letters have also used very flimsy specific examples to justify their argument lines. For example, if the ISA is invoked to arrest someone for saying "PAP stands for Pay and Pay" then Singapore democracy is in serious trouble. In fact, the recent line of argument employed by the Zimbabwean army chief to tell its soldiers to vote for Mugabe (or leave) feels eerily like some of the logic (note: just a feeling, the former is really too extreme) used by the PAP to scare people (aka "Potong Pasir will turn into a slum", "It is not the ruling party's job to help the opposition"). A qualification on the latter: It is indeed not in a ruling party's interest to "help the opposition", however, I think it is the government's job to ensure that our democracy is fair to all. Unfair allocation of resources (Pasir Ris: 2 (3?) rounds of upgrading, Potong Pasir and Hougang: 0) where everyone pays taxes just leaves a great distaste in any neutral observer.

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