Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"Frogs in wells"

I had saved these two articles from The Providence Journal quite sometime ago but never got around to blog about it. Till I was reminded of them when i read the Singapore Democratic Party’s response on its website today. First thing’s first.

It all began with an article Repression curbs Singapore’s potential written by Arthur Waldron, a Professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania and a regular visitor to Singapore, and published in the Journal on March 26, 2006. A rebuttal Is Singapore really repressed? by two Singaporean chaps was published in the Journal on June 20, 2006. The latter are students at the U.S. Naval War College.

I’m guessing these two students are sponsored by the Singapore government to study at the college. And of course, the ruling Peoples Action Party is the Singapore government.

Government-sponsored or not, I nearly choked at the brainwashed baloney these two guys wrote in their efforts to defend the PAP! It looks almost as if they did a cut & paste job from the government mouthpiece masquerading as a newspaper, The Straits Times. As they say “there are no journalists in Singapore. Only propagandists”.

It just goes to show how much people have bought into the propaganda crap being dished out by the ruling party over the years. Maybe they have been away for too long. Probably in some remote parts of the planet refusing to acknowledge reality. Most likely, they are contented with the system here which probably is going to make them rich or something. Suck-up to the PAP, work for the system and let the money roll-in. Man, makes me wanna vomit blood!

So here is Waldron’s article followed by the rebuttal by Laurel & Hardy, and finally SDP’s response.

Arthur Waldron: Repression curbs Singapore's potential
Providence Journal
March 26, 2006


THE GOVERNMENT of Singapore, it appears, is intent on burning the bridges that should lead to their country's future. What other conclusion can one draw from the trial of Dr. Chee Soon Juan, a leader of the island's determined but absolutely peaceful and law-abiding democratic movement?

Singapore is one of my favorite countries, and as an American, I do not take sides about its internal affairs. But I did happen to hear Dr. Chee speak last year, at a democracy conference in Taiwan, and to meet him. The talent scout in me was deeply impressed.

Hearing him, I could not help thinking that this man would be the first prime minister of a politically mature Singapore to be chosen in a fully democratic election.

Dr. Chee speaks brilliantly, with great clarity and simplicity, and formidable intellectual and moral power. He is certainly up to the high standard set by the great founding fathers of today's Singapore, including David Marshall and Lee Kwan-yew, whom ordinary people packed the parliamentary galleries to hear, back when debate was more common in that country.

No doubt exists in my mind that in an open televised discussion Dr. Chee would verbally dice and mince any member of the current Singapore government. They were once razor sharp and quick on their feet, but decades of power and privilege have dulled them.

Now Dr. Chee is caught in the coils of the sadly familiar Singaporean political repression by means of the courts. Found guilty of various technical violations and saddled with fines he cannot pay, he is now bankrupt -- and thus, conveniently, ineligible to run for office. This time he may be imprisoned.

But at age 42, he can afford some time. Dr. Chee is as fully prepared for imprisonment as was Jawaharlal Nehru in British India 70 years ago. He will make good use of the time.

At some point he will be released and, sooner or later, Singapore will begin to change. Ideas will be needed about how to make those changes.

A generation ago, the People's Action Party led change and dealt with setbacks brilliantly, making a territory that had seemed doomed -- poor, ethnically divided, without employment, and viewed with hostility by its neighbors -- into one of the most prosperous and well-administered of countries.

Sadly, that momentum now seems to have been lost. The man who did so much to rescue the territory and transform it, Lee Kwan-yew, is now in his 80s, but still dominating the island's politics and showing no sign of genuine retirement. Once a powerful advocate of democracy, he has more recently tended to take the side of authoritarian rule.

Thirty years ago, Lee looked set for real greatness. He could have achieved it if he had used his time in the power he had earned to create an institutional system for Singapore that would survive him. This he never did. Today his vision for the future seems to be limited to turning over politics to his son and management of the island's vast government assets to his daughter-in-law.

The task of creating a Singapore run by laws and institutions, rather than by a family and its associates, Mr. Lee has bequeathed to his successors.

That is why Dr. Chee is so important. Lee Kwan-yew's generation is exhausted; having realized one vision, it is not capable of producing another.

Dr. Chee's trial testifies to this. If those leaders still had the vigor and intellect of their early years, they would be debating Dr. Chee in public or parliament -- trading argument for argument fearlessly in front of their fellow citizens, confident that their ideas would prevail. Instead, these once formidable parliamentarians are seeking to disqualify and silence Dr. Chee without ever facing what he has to say.

This will not work. Singapore has transformed itself economically, socially and intellectually since the days when the People's Action Party pulled it back from the brink of the abyss of wretched poverty and ethnic conflict. The challenge now is almost the opposite: to create political institutions and politics appropriate to one of the wealthiest, best-educated and most sophisticated populations in the world.

Doing this will mean involving the population directly in ruling itself, far more than is the case today. The state media monopolies will have to be dismantled, the gerrymandered electoral system rectified, political speech encouraged, and parliamentary debate revived from its decades-long slumber.

The People's Action Party of Mr. Lee may surprise us all by rising to these challenges, as it did to face comparably complex difficulties early in its career. But even should it do so, one doubts that a future of unbroken domination by that party would be either feasible or good for Singapore.

Changes have to be made, and will be. The only question is when and by whom? Debating with Dr. Chee Soon Juan, instead of dragging him through the courts, would be a good, not to mention a wise, initial change.

Arthur Waldron is the Lauder Professor of International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania and a regular visitor to Singapore.
Alan Goh and Lew Chuen Hong: Is Singapore really repressed?
Providence Journal
June 20, 2006

AS SINGAPOREANS, we are bewildered by University of Pennsylvania Prof. Arthur Waldron's March 26 Commentary column, "Repression curbs Singapore's potential." We wish to highlight erroneous statements and critical missing facts that make his article highly misleading.

Chee Soon Juan is the "leader of the island's democratic movement":

On the contrary, it is Chiam See Tong, secretary general of the Singapore People's Party (SPP), who is widely viewed as the de-facto opposition leader. He is a member of Parliament, having won five consecutive elections since 1984.

The other main opposition parties are the Workers Party (WP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Chee is secretary general of the SDP, and during his tenure the party lost all its parliamentary seats in 1997 and 2001.

Of these three parties, only the SPP and WP have members elected to Parliament.

The ruling party is "seeking to disqualify and silence Dr. Chee without ever facing what he has to say" and that Chee could be the "first prime minister of a politically mature Singapore to be chosen in fully democratic elections":

These statements imply that Chee has been denied participation in the democratic process. In fact, Chee has taken part in three elections: In 1992, he led an SDP team and lost, garnering only 24.5 percent of the vote. In 1997, consenting to Chee's request, a constituency was carved out for him to take on PAP member Mathias Yao in a one-on-one contest. Chee did not "dice and mince any member of the current Singapore government." He lost, gaining only 34.8 percent of the vote. And in 2001, Chee again lost, gaining only 20.2 percent of vote.

He has, therefore, had ample opportunity, and the electorate has rejected him.

Dr. Chee has been "found guilty of various technical violations and saddled with fines he cannot pay," in order to make him bankrupt and thus "conveniently ineligible to run for office":

We wish to clarify what these "various technical violations" are. In 2001, Chee was sued for defamation, for having falsely accused Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew of misleading Parliament over an alleged loan, equivalent to about $10.5 billion, to former Indonesian President Suharto. He was ordered to pay damages equivalent to about $125,000 to Lee and $186,000 to Goh. Last February, he was declared bankrupt, for having failed to pay, and as a result will not be allowed to stand for election.

It is important to remember that before 2001 Chee had already been sued by an opposition member of Parliament, Chiam See Tong; Chee had insinuated that Chiam was acting on behalf of the PAP. Chee lost and was ordered to pay Chiam the equivalent of about $93,000 in damages.

Chee "may be imprisoned [and] is as fully prepared for imprisonment, as was Jawaharlal Nehru in British India 70 years ago":

Chee was sentenced to one day in prison and fined the equivalent of $3,750 for contempt of court; he was jailed a further seven days for refusing to pay the fine. To compare this to Nehru's imprisonment is simply bewildering, and belittles the latter's vast, enduring contributions to India. The same cannot be said for Chee's contributions to Singapore.

In fact, many consider Chee more concerned with foreign support than domestic support. For example, in a recent incident over the capital punishment of an Australian drug smuggler convicted in Singapore, Chee went so far as to encourage an Australian boycott of Singapore products, and supported calls for trade sanctions against Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew's vision for Singapore's future "seems to be limited to turning over politics to his son," instead of building a system of "laws and institutions":

It is suggested that Lee Kuan Yew is guilty of nepotism. We wish to point out that the younger Lee won his own election, as a member of Parliament. It was Goh Chok Tong who succeeded Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister, in 1990; the gap between the tenures of Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong is 15 years. This is seven years longer than the gap between the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

In 2005, Transparency International ranked Singapore the least corrupt country in Asia, and the fifth-least corrupt in the world -- higher than most developed countries. In addition, the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy called Singapore's judicial system the best in Asia. And in the group's survey of key political and economic institutions in Asia, Singapore remains on top.

No system is perfect, but to imply that Singapore is lacking laws and institutions would be an extremely misleading stretch.

Professor Waldron suggests changes in Singapore's "state media monopolies," "gerrymandered electoral system," lack of "parliamentary debate," and "unbroken dominance" of the ruling PAP before Singapore can realize its potential:

These sweeping statements suggest a political identity for Singapore that looks a lot like America's. Singapore, however, is not America; the challenges we face are completely different. We have utmost respect for the U.S. system, but a replication of it would serve neither country.

We hope that these facts provide a more balanced context in which to understand Singapore. Ultimately, as Singaporeans, we bear responsibility for the economic, social, and political processes shaping our future, and we are proud of it.

Alan Goh and Lew Chuen Hong, of Singapore, are students at the U.S. Naval War College.
Sad that US Naval War College students missing out on education
Singapore Democratic Party
July 5, 2006

You would be forgiven if you thought students Alan Goh’s and Lew Chuen Hong’s reply to Professor Arthur Waldron's article came from the PAP itself. Indeed the letter, filled with disingenuousness and twisted logic, bears the imprint of the master propagandists at the ruling party. SDP highlights the areas:

On the SDP losing its seats under Chee

It is a fact that the SDP under Dr Chee Soon Juan lost its parliamentary seats in 1997 and 2001. What the Messrs goh and Lew don’t say is the kind of political system that we have in Singapore. In case Professor Waldron wasn’t explicit enough, Professor Garry Rodan at Murdoch University and authority on Singapore's political economy makes it crystal clear:

"Although the PAP generally has little tolerance of opposition, it reserves special disdain for the variety championed by Chee Soon Juan and the SDP. Like the WP when it was led by J.B. Jeyaretnam, the SDP has been the party that has most substantively questioned and challenged PAP ideology and governance systems…attacks on Mr Chee continue unabated in the state-controlled media. Yet instead of retreating politically, Mr Chee has increasingly steered the SDP toward extraelectoral strategies to try to expose curbs to effective political competition."

Now that two professors have tried to explain things, do the students still find it hard to see how the SDP has been leading the democratic movement in Singapore?

On the electorate rejecting Chee

Mr Goh and Mr Lew took umbrage at Professor Waldron’s statement that Dr Chee could be politically successful in “fully democratic elections” and proceeded to cite the elections that Dr Chee had lost. The two were not paying attention. The professor had chosen his words carefully: "fully", "democratic", "elections".

They then added that Dr Chee has had "ample opportunity" to reach out to the electorate.

Somehow this line would be just a little more convincing if our media did not rank just above Laos’ in the world press freedom index.

The men also cited Dr Chee’s conviction for defaming Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong in 2001 to counter Professor Waldron’s statement that Dr Chee was made ineligible for elections through fines. Again, the gentlemen were economical with the truth by not citing that the case did not go to a trial and ended in summary judgment being awarded to the former prime ministers – a decision widely criticized by the international legal community.

On Chee being a traitor

Messrs Alan Goh and Lew Chuen Hong then threw all caution to the wind and said that Dr Chee had encouraged Australia to boycott Singapore products and called for trade sanctions against Singapore. It would be good if the two could produce Dr Chee’s quotes to substantiate their claims without which they would be accused of lying. Would the men respond?

On Singapore being a replica of the US

The students then accuse Professor Waldron of making sweeping statements when the don suggested reforms to Singapore’s media, election system, lack of parliamentary debate, etc.

They added that Singapore is not America and should not be a replica of the US.

Little do they know that under the PAP, Singapore is already replicating the US, sometimes in excruciatingly embarrassing ways: Can you believe we have Kim Keat Ville and Toa Payoh Palm Springs? Our road signs look strangely similar to those on US Freeways down to the "Ped Xing” signs (Pedestrian Crossing for those Singaporeans who haven’t figured it out yet). Even the news presenters, while looking Singaporean, speak American (probably because they are Americans). It may also surprise Messrs Goh and Lew that the we have our very own Singapore Idol, a copycat of American Idol. And now an “integrated” resort a la Las Vegas is on the way.

In an op-ed piece All Good, No Bad written by American Thomas Frank for his US readers, the journalist reported:

“[Singapore] has become a country whose culture, superficially at least, looks a lot like our own [the US’]. I did not find Singapore strange; I found it familiar. My objections to what I saw there almost all arose from the official media's energetic recapitulation of bland American originals: management theory, fast food, pop music, Hollywood movies. Depoliticized but intensely successorized…Christmas, for example, is celebrated with far more enthusiasm than it is at home--and entirely as a secular holiday. The displays of lights and dioramas on Orchard Road--including a two-story outdoor tableau of skiers complete with gusts of fake snow--are so elaborate they put one more in mind of downtown Vegas than Marshall Field's windows. Their celebration of the holiday puts our own in the shade.”

The problem with Singapore is that we copy the worst of everything that consumerist and materialist America has to offer and reject the best of everything that democratic America - including a rigorous intellectual public life, a high regard for freedom of thought and speech, strong institutions of higher learning which jealously guard academic freedom (and which Mr Goh and Mr Lew have obviously failed to take advantage of), and a political system that ensures the separation of powers – demonstrates.

It is truly tragic that some of our students go to the US and having experienced all that there is on offer, continue to live like frogs in wells. They may get the training that the PAP seeks but, alas, they will return without the education they so badly need.

No comments: