Friday, February 05, 2010

Making Pluralism work in Singapore

This is really my response to Kenneth Jeyaratnam's comments on a Facebook page "Pluralistic Democracy for Singaporeans -Make it Happen." I was somehow unable to post (probably too long):

Please refer to the above link for the context.

My basic concern is with the lack of a suitable environment in which we can build pluralism into our democracy. Hence the baby step.

Citizens need to at least have the basic realization that they form the main basis of a democracy, not the government nor any political party. Eisenhower's letter, imho, was partially intended to highlight the natural distance between government and citizenry and how they must both work toward bridging that gap.

From that principle, one can potentially then proceed to work in the logical direction for follow-up actions to be taken. At this point, I'll admit a profound level of ignorance on my part, at least with the "hows" in the Singapore context. I am sure the Reform Party has considered each of the following points at some depth and are taking appropriate action:

1. Guiding credos/identity - What governing principles does the Reform Party intend to live by? Will its policies be liberal or conservative? How much internal pluralism of different viewpoints (as with all large groups of individuals, differences will always be present and that is good) will the Reform Party tolerate within its ranks? How will the Reform Party let these principles be known to the general public? Through its manifesto? Through its constitution?

2. Politician contact with the citizenry. I'll break it down into several parts:

a. Walkabouts - bridges the gap between policy and citizenry. Are we informally surveying people's concerns and working these concerns into the party's principles? Are we trying to project the party's principles onto the people, convince them this is the right way to go? Are we encouraging them to take a stake in the democratic process, not just at election time, but to speak out whenever they observe potential problems for themselves or others? Are we encouraging them to be open minded about different viewpoints, even ones they strongly disagree with?

b. Meet-the-people - Are they just intended for people who need specific problems solved? Can we not encourage citizenry to come to MTP sessions with ideas or just to thank or criticize their MPs? Can we not wean them off the idea that government MUST be the solution to ALL their problems (eg. in some cases, teaching them to fish instead of fishing for them)?

c. Surveys - serves pretty much the same purpose as Walkabouts. Could be made scientific and more rigorous. Could serve as more concrete evidence to back up policy ideas and implementation.

3. Expert consultation for policy implementation. Is the Reform Party keeping in touch with the widest possible range of NGOs, think-tanks and academics out there willing (usually non-partisan) to talk to you? Are you able to draw on their expertise, hard data and views for drafting specific governing policy based on your own principles? Imho, Singapore is surprisingly rich with NGOs and I wonder if the PAP ever spoke with them on issues.

I apologize for not having any concrete proposals and for the muddled thoughts streaming out in this post. The only way forward that I see is to actively encourage and work with Singaporeans to be more aware of, and interested in, their role in a pluralistic democracy. That:

1. diversity is valuable.
2. civil disagreement is valuable.
3. their views as individuals are valued.

From what I can tell, this will be a long and hard road. However, I think once you have that, multi-party democracy will naturally follow. Frankly, the very first thing I'd get rid of is compulsory voting. The biggest turn-off for someone to democracy is forcing them to vote. A just-get-it-over-with vote is, imho, worse than not voting at all.

Other than that ... go win elections ... :P

1 comment:

Fievel said...

Thanks, I've joined the Facebook group.

I think that should be the biggest aim of opposition in Singapore right now. We need to get back some of those 87 seats and for the first time gain the power to veto bad PAP decisions.