PM Lee: SG political scene is what Singaporeans have voted for

Yesterday (11 Jun), CNN interviewed PM Lee asking for his views on the Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore.

"He (Kim) is a confident, young leader... I think he wants to go on to a new path. What he is prepared to deal, and how the agreement can be worked out – well that is a complicated matter. I think he has an intention to do something, and that is why he is meeting Donald Trump," PM Lee told CNN.

Turning to Singapore, CNN asked if Singapore will "open up more".

Responding, PM Lee said, "What you really mean is: why are we so repressive? The answer is we are not. Why is the political scene like that? Because that is the way Singaporeans have voted and it is an outcome of the elections."

In other words, the present political scene of Singapore is what the 70% of Singaporeans overwhelmingly voted for in the last GE in 2015.

"When does it change? It changes when the Singaporean electorate decides that this Government is not serving their interests, ceases to support this PAP (People's Action Party) team, and perhaps hopefully supports another team which will serve them better. And then it will be a different scene."

PM Lee added that Singaporeans can say or publish what they want, subject to the laws of sedition, libel and contempt.

He corrected CNN when the interviewer mentioned an "American who was very heavily penalised for chewing gum".

"Michael Fay was not (caned) for chewing gum. Michael Fay went around vandalising vehicles, scratching vehicles and causing a lot of damage. And he was caned for that. You do not get caned for chewing gum," PM Lee said.

Singapore has "flawed democracy"

Despite PM Lee's assurance to CNN that the Singapore government is not repressive, Singapore was ranked 69th last year out of 167 countries by the UK-based company the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in the Democracy Index. Singapore was ranked the same as Tunisia, also in the 69th position.

The Democracy Index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories measuring pluralism, civil liberties and political culture. In addition to a numeric score and a ranking, the index categorizes countries as one of four regime types:

  1. Full democracies
  2. Flawed democracies
  3. Hybrid regimes
  4. Authoritarian regimes

Singapore was classified as having a "flawed democracy". That is to say we are in the category where elections are deemed fair and free, and basic civil liberties are honored, but may have issues like infringement in media freedom.

The nations in this category also have significant faults in other democratic aspects, including underdeveloped political culture, low levels of participation in politics, and issues in the functioning of governance.

So, for example, in the case of Singapore, unlike Norway, nobody knows the status of our Sovereign Wealth Funds controlled by Temasek and GIC. Only the PAP government knows.

As for freedom of speech, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) listed PM Lee as one of the 35 predators of press freedom in 2016, citing that his strategies in stifling media is to use SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Which consists of bringing defamation suits or other legal actions against isolated journalists and bloggers who cannot easily defend themselves against politically powerful or wealthy plaintiffs, with the aim of deterring them and their colleagues from contributing to the public debate.

Going no higher than 135th, Singapore currently ranks 151st in RSF's World Press Freedom Index.

Perhaps the interviewer could have asked for PM Lee's comment about the contempt of court charges placed upon his nephew for posting a private Facebook comment when he said that Singaporeans can say or publish what they want, subject to the laws of sedition, libel and contempt. And also asked PM Lee if it was of any concern to the Singapore government, that his former lawyer is now the Attorney General who decides on who to be charged for sedition, libel and contempt up to his prosecutorial discretion.

In any case, going by PM Lee's argument, this was what Singaporeans have voted for.