The following is an excerpt of an article posted on MARUAH.org.

One week after the General Elections of 2011, Singapore human rights NGO MARUAH (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore) and socio-political community blog The Online Citizen (TOC) jointly presented a post-elections forum at the Post-Museum on 15 May 2011.

The sudden announcement a day earlier that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong were resigning from the Cabinet only added to the expectant atmosphere at the event.

Mr Choo Zheng Xi, co-founder of TOC, moderated the discussion and kicked things off by introducing the four speakers.

Towards a Democratic Society?

Associate Professor Cherian George (from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University) offered attendees some perspectives on what GE2011 would mean for democratisation in Singapore.

(Note: fulltext of A/Prof George’s talk can be found here:http://www.airconditionednation.com/home/GE_2011/Entries/2011/5/15_TOWARDS_A_DEMOCRATIC_SOCIETY.html)

He highlighted that “the mathematical results are less important than how the numbers are interpreted”, and cited the shock announcement of MM Lee and SM Goh from the Cabinet. This showed that the People’s Action Party (PAP) had interpreted the election results as a signal that it had to change.

A/Prof George argued that “although the political culture has evolved to be less amenable to top-down government, Singapore remains inhospitable to progressive causes and has yet to develop spaces for mature debate”.

On political culture, he felt that voters are now increasingly more likely to reject rules which are unfair, e.g. the GRC system. He noted: “To the extent that the public sees unfairness, it will apply a kind of electoral affirmative action: it will give the opposition a discount and judge the PAP more harshly. Thus, people crucified PAP candidates for saying silly things, but politely pretended not to notice when opposition candidates did the same.”

A/Prof George observed that the results for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) showed that the majority of Singaporeans still rejected progressive positions. He noted the anti-foreign worker rhetoric used by the opposition during the elections, and praised organisations like MARUAH and TOC for standing up for issues like migrant worker rights despite the disinterest from the government and most Singaporeans.

He also commented on the relative lack of mature, reasoned debate online, with the Internet being a mirror image of the mainstream media where pro-Opposition viewpoints dominated and drowned out pro-PAP voices.

A/Prof George concluded by highlighting the continued importance of civil society, in encouraging positive change in Singapore.

Read the rest of the report here.

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