Category: Current Affairs
Published on Tuesday, 13 October 2015 16:51
Written by Belinda Yek
I read with interest an opinion piece that appeared recently on the straits times entitled "Across the globe, a growing disillusionment with democracy
". In it, the authors were basically saying that citizens in those so called established democracies are getting so unhappy with their institutions that they are even willing to do away with them and let the President make decisions without having to worry about Congress.
The article also talked about the worrying trend showed up by a recent survey of Americans if they approved of "having the army rule". Back in 1995 the result was 1 in 15, now it’s 1 in 6. Another striking diffference was generational, where citizens born before world war two valued living in a democracy whereas those born since the 1980s didn't. It appeared that people were less supportive of democracy than there once were.
Yet in the recent GE2015 campaigns, some opposition parties were pushing for more liberal western styled democracies and ideals, saying that Singapore for all her accomplishments ranked low on civil rights and freedom of expression. Thank God pragmatism and common sense prevailed and the majority voted to endorse our Singapore brand of democracy.
But what is this democracy, a democracy that works? It is curious as even the foreigners study us and come to observe our elections, as this recent article in the straits time showed: GE2015 through HK eyes
. Mr. Chan, a HK Pro-democracy legislator was in Singapore to observe its 17th GE, and he attended rallies by the WP and SDP as well as the PAP. He made an interesting comment in the article saying that they feel Singapore "is not democratic and the PAP is like a nanny" and yet his friends who are like him would vote for PAP if they are Singaporeans.
Why? Because the PAP delivers good Government.
It is good to look at what our founding father, the late LKY said about our Singaporean brand of democracy, and I quote him here:
“With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries…What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural background, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient.”
– Lee Kuan Yew in speech entitled ‘Democracy, Human Rights and the Realities’, Tokyo, Nov 10, 1992
He also understood the pragmatic needs of the people versus the ideals of freedom and civil rights:
“You’re talking about Rwanda or Bangladesh, or Cambodia, or the Philippines. They’ve got democracy, according to Freedom House. But have you got a civilised life to lead? People want economic development first and foremost. The leaders may talk something else. You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools.”
– Lee Kuan Yew, The Man and His Ideas, 1997
It is this pragmatism to put food on the table that works. In the end, it’s the main concern of every citizen, their basic needs are met and that there is economical growth where they progress, regardless of their starting point and not be stagnant or trapped due to a lack of opportunities.
This pragmatic approach to government is apparent where the PAP is neither ideologically left nor right leaning, but constantly adapts to roll out policies that work as evident in the recent left-leaning policies.
So I'd like to say that our democracy is one that works, that is honest, effective, and efficient. To the naysayers that decry our freedoms at the expense of the Singaporean brand of democracy I have this to say:
I live with the freedoms that I want, that is, the freedom to be able to let my children grow up without the fear of drugs or being shot by some crazies and the freedom to walk about as a lady without fear of rape or molest regardless of the time of day. I do not need the kinds of freedoms espoused by freedom/civil liberties groups, as they are merely a means to an end that we in Singapore already have.
We should nurture and protect this brand of democracy, because democracy if you think about it is really flawed and inherently an ideal that fails. Consider it in its simplest form; it really is just a popularity contest where the majority wins. There is no guarantee that voters would select based on a candidate's ability. The candidate that wins is the one that is best able to connect with the voters (kiss babies, speak dialect, make stirring speeches etc.).
This is not the best HR practice and probably not the best way to choose our leaders, where the job goes to the most popular candidate, and not the one with the best skill set and abilities. Instead, we should be basing our choice on ability and favour a meritocratic system.
In a pure democracy where majority rules, and if you were unfortunate to be the minority, your interests would not be covered and in all likelihood you would be opressed. Or imagine a representative democracy where you elect MPs to represent you; this too could fail as these elected MPs may pander to their constituents and interest groups or risk being voted out in the next election.
LKY summed this up nicely when he said: “One-man-one-vote is a most difficult form of government.. Results can be erratic.” – Lee Kuan Yew, Dec 19 1984
This is perhaps why the purported gerrymandering GRC system is in place. Where minority representation is possible, and risks of the one-man-one-vote mitigated.
Again quoting LKY (emphasis mine):
“I think in Singapore, we stand a chance of making the one-man-one-vote system work. With amendments as we have done, you know, like GRCs.. We need to make it work. And I believe with pragmatic adjustments, given these favourable conditions, we can have more open debate.” – Lee Kuan Yew, 1990 National Day Rall
Whatever the case is, we are blessed and fortunate that the Singapore brand of meritocratic democracy is working. As LKY said, we need to make it work, and we should continue to make pragmatic adjustments as our country progresses. The threats are real and the challenges obvious, and we need not look far to see how fortunate we have been. Let us continue to strive as one people to uphold Singapore as the democracy that works and develop on the foundation that our founding fathers have bequeathed us.