In a recent interview with renowned CNN anchorwoman, Christine Amanpour, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as categorically stated that Singapore is not a repressive country because in the last election, every seat was contested. I find this reasoning rather one dimensional as whether or not an election is contested is not the complete picture. This is especially the case in Singapore whereby the opposition do face certain challenges before they even get to the contest.
Take the late Joshua Benjamin Jayaretnam for instance. His multiple bankruptcies which were brought about by an onslaught of defamation suits launched at him by the ruling elites in Singapore in effect prevented him from pursuing seats in Parliament. One might argue that JBJ ought not have criticised the government then. But how does an opposition politician contest an election without criticising the incumbent? It would be different if JBJ had criticised them in their personal lives but as far as I remember, he never did so. All he ever did was question them (albeit vociferously and provocatively) on their roles and actions government.
Then, you have the issue of media coverage. Before the advent of the alternative media online, opposition politicians got almost zero air time on the traditional media. They had no opportunity to put forward their agendas and the only times they ever got traditional media coverage was usually when they did something wrong.
I can go on with examples but for the sake of concision, I will stop at these two. But you get my drift. It is well and good to say that seats are contested but without also going into the background of the challenges opposition politicians have to face does not present a full picture of whether or not Singapore is repressive.
Also, repression is not only determined by the contest of elections but also by other factors such as how the press is treated or how peaceful demonstrations are dealt with. Let’s not forget, as PM Lee was giving this interview, 5 Korean women were being unceremoniously bundled out of the country for attempting to remind people that Kim Jong Un is a totalitarian tyrant.
Let’s also not forget that Singapore is ranked 151 on the World Press Freedom List!
Borrowing from Alanis Morissette, “Isn’t that Ironic?”