Gerald Giam

I find it hard to believe that all the brilliant minds in the Cabinet haven’t figured out that Singaporeans are crying out for change.

Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek, recently gave an interview with the Straits Times, which was published on Saturday. I applaud ST writer Cheong Suk-Wai and the paper for publishing these frank viewpoints. Here are some gems from the interview:

Singapore is the only rich country in the world without a fully functioning multi-party democracy. That will hobble its advance in the long run, he believes, because people “want not only economic rights, but also freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of thought”.

“You may get lucky with a particular autocrat, but what happens after him?…If you could guarantee me in advance that you’ll get Lee Kuan Yew, that’s a whole different thing. But there’s no way beforehand to know that you’re going to get a leader like Lee Kuan Yew,” he said.

He added wryly, wondering whether this would get into print: “I think that the political system is rigged in favour of the People’s Action Party (PAP). Some of it is formal…Some of it is informal. But all of it is largely unnecessary.”

Singapore is already “a very open society in many ways”, he pointed out. “I often say this to people because they have an image of Singapore which is essentially incorrect…It is a place where you would certainly feel as if you had many, many freedoms and liberties…It has been lucky in having very wise leadership,” he said.

But it has to widen its political outlook much more, he insisted.

“Singapore’s leaders have succeeded more than they realise. They created a modern society, and in creating that modern society, they must now also trust it more than they do,” he said.

He added: “That, in some ways, is the genius of democracy. It turns the relationship between governed and governors into a two-way street, and that will make for a much greater degree of sense of loyalty and pride in Singapore for the next generation.”

He mused: “It’s funny: Whenever I meet senior Singapore government officials, I will sometimes mention this. And they’ll go: ‘Oh, no, no, it’s not a real problem, don’t worry.’ And I’ll say: ‘You know, younger Singaporeans do feel frustrated.’ And they’ll say: ‘Oh, I don’t know if you are right about that.”

“And then, as I’m escorted out by one of the young aides to the senior government officials, they will tell me: ‘By the way, Dr Zakaria, you are 100 per cent right. We are very frustrated’.”

“And these,” he noted, “are people in the heart of the political structure.”

Dr Zakaria is quite sure that if the PAP held what he calls “open competitive elections”, it would do “quite well”.

I found the paragraphs in bold incredibly amusing and so true! Having worked in the foreign service, I would say that almost all officers at my level want to see greater political openness in Singapore. Apart from discussing politics with my civil servant friends (which I often do), another barometer is their Facebook profiles — almost all politically-aware friends of mine list down their political views as “liberal” or “very liberal”. I was the only one who used to put “conservative”. (I’ve since refined it to “political liberal, social conservative”.)

In fact, even some of the ambassadors that I worked with acknowledged that the Government needs to open up.

I have journalist friends who say they long to have a more active opposition to report on, and conservative church friends whom I have been surprised to learn supported the opposition in the last elections simply because they presented an alternative to the hegemonic PAP.

And it’s not just young people who are swayed by these “liberal” ideals of democracy. Several of my older relatives are avid readers of political blogs like The Online Citizen because of the alternative views they offer. I recall even being “chided” during family gatherings for failing to critique certain government policies in my blog.

I find it hard to believe that all the brilliant minds in the Cabinet haven’t figured out that Singaporeans are crying out for change. They probably know it but don’t want to admit it, like what Zakaria found out. In any case, they still have much to be complacent about, given the feebleness of our opposition and the pragmatism of Singaporeans not to vote in a riff raff party to power.

But all it’ll take would be for the Old Guard leaders (or should I say, leader) to depart from the scene, and for some members of the elite (e.g., senior civil servants, journalists, academics or business leaders) to break ranks and cross over to the opposition, and the PAP could be faced with a tsunami of a scale similar to that seen in Malaysia this past March.

Good luck to the PAP if they want to continue their authoritarian and arrogant ways. I think it serves the opposition’s interest for the PAP to continue their current heavy-handed ways. But if they genuinely liberalize politically and demonstrate a little bit more humility, they might even better their winning margin in the next elections.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like

“预告调消费税避免被炒作” 王瑞杰称明年财案透露援助配套细节

在昨日(10日)举行的在行动党65周年党大会上,副总理兼财政部长王瑞杰,以行动党第一助理秘书长身份发表演说,声称政府将在明年财政预算案,公布消费税援助配套细节,提早减缓人们对日后消费税率调高的担忧。 他强调上述配套“不是大选红包”,因为只会在下一任政府任期,消费税调高后才会发放。而他表示尽管调高消费税不受欢迎,“但如果我不提,反对党会提,因此直接从我这边听到比较好”。 他认为等大选过了才宣布调高消费税是“不诚实做法”,提早宣布能让企业和人民都有所准备,不隐瞒艰难的事实,才是诚信。 总理在致词时也指出即便政策不讨好,也要和选民诚实交代,“就拿消费税来说,很少政府会在大选前告诉你要调高税率,我大可推迟决策,或留给未来总理来解决,但我们必须做正确和负责任的事。” 王瑞杰在去年2月宣布,未来消费税将从目前的7巴仙,调高到9巴仙。他当时表示,许多领域的开支都会增加,尤其是医疗保健、基础设施和安保。 他自称调高消费税是“艰难决定”,为了应付需求,必须及早规划,未雨绸缪。“我们必须在开支上保持谨慎,尽可能节省开支,并增加收入,但需要以公平、累进的方式进行。” 他也在不同场合捍卫调高消费税的决定,其中在今年6月的一项对话会上,更声称如果我国没有这些年来累积的稳健储备,消费税调涨就不只增加两巴仙而已,可能还要调至至少15巴仙。 政府驳斥2015年大选后调高消费税流言 回顾2015年临近大选前,曾有流言指政府将在大选后增加税收。时任副总理兼财政部长尚达曼曾就此抨击反对党“危言耸听”,反驳政府已采取增加财政收入措施,保证未来五年,每年有40亿元可应付各种社会开支。 在政府网站的一篇誌期2015年8月6日的文章,也反驳坊间指政府打算在1015年大选后调高消费税的流言。文章指政府采取有效措施,包括把淡马锡控股所赚取的回报,也纳入国家储备净投资回报(Net Investment Returns,简称NIR)中;调高个人所得税上限等。…

Sarawak imposes self-imposed 14-day home quarantine for those who arrives from Singapore with effect on Monday

Effective from Monday (10 Feb), anyone arriving in Sarawak from Singapore will…

TOC CASSETTED: Invitations to cease by 3 p.m today

Dear Readers, We are reaching the maximum number of people we can…

【冠状病毒19】6月24日新增191例确诊 社区病例七例

根据卫生部文告,截至本月24日中午12时,本地新增 191 例冠状病毒19确诊。 新增病患大多为住宿舍工作准证持有者。今增七起社区病例,有两人是本地公民或永久居民。 本地累计确诊病例已增至4万2623例。当局仍在搜集病例详情并将在晚些时候公布。