by Brad Bowyer
Many academics have attempted to define what constitutes a democratic country and while some details differ, they essentially have three core elements.
These are free and fair elections, free speech and association for healthy public discourse, and an evenly applied rule of law with no exemptions.
When these three are in place and maintained diligently then we see the best outcomes for nations, the more they are curtailed or corrupted the worse it is for the general population and the country as a whole.
By these and the other minor elements that the various scholars use they have found there is no truly democratic country or model system in the world, as in the end, they all come down to the human element and how they are administered, but some fare much better than others.
We can see these three principles being curtailed in practice when we look at North Korea that has elections but only One candidate is allowed on the ballot.
Myanmar has national media, but it is only allowed to disseminate what the Military Junta wishes even though they claim they are no longer a military dictatorship.
And most recently Turkey where the law was inappropriately used to nullify a democratic election that the leader did not like.
What has however been seen as a universal antidote to limited or no democracy also has a combination of three elements.
These are an awakened and active citizenry watching the actions of the officials, the officials within the system having a commitment to democratic practices and even and just application of the laws, and the Politicians/Elite Class maintaining and refining a system complete with a legal structure to support and not curtail the democratic environment for all.
I think given the passing of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA) law, which has the potential to impact all three core elements, it is a good time for us to review how Singapore stacks up on the democratic front.
We technically have free and fair elections, but everything has been done to dissuade any other names ever appearing on a ballot using psychological, economic and bureaucratic methods (the fear your future will be affected, the costs to participate, the hurdles to qualify, maintain and run an alternative party etc)
We all know we have limited rights to association and free expression (now down to a few hundred square meters of park with a licence for a public protest, we can be arrested for an illegal gathering of 1, are 151 in press freedom, critics are regularly sued or fined and now we have the new POFMA law to contend with)
We also see the government placing themselves above the law with POFMA and in the past have used a whole range of our laws to attack, imprison and drive out their political opponent’s many times for actions they helped to manufacture (recent press revelation and AIM for example) or are equally guilty of but was overlooked (they have no compunction at slandering and belittling anyone who disagrees with them but reaches for an excuse to sue for the same reasons).
As the prime minister himself has said, they must “fix” opponents instead of respecting the peoples choice and working with them. And now we see new election-related laws that appear to set the scene for the nullification of elections by loss or damage to a ballot box or votes, something that has never happened before but with the introduction of an electronic vote, counting may become a possibility.
And that is all aside from how the system itself is run and maintained with appointments coming from a very limited range of candidates rather than the population at large with many being related or from a planned military background.
And your success and longevity within the system often being very dependent on how useful you are to those above you with rings of influence emanating from an exclusive inner core that oversees all aspects and removes you if you displease them. (we have lost many good academics, businesspeople and legal professionals who no longer live and work in Singapore to this amongst others).
So, by all these measures, we do not rank very highly on the scale however much those in charge may try and claim to be democratic. Look at the results and actions, not the words.
When countries reach this stage and the hardships grow to an unbearable point for the people, as we are seeing happen for a very large and increasing section of our population today then with little democratic recourse revolution inevitably happens. You only have to look at Romania in 1989 for a recent example, and somewhat disturbing parallel to how Singapore is operating if you read the history, of how this all ends.
This is something we NEVER wish to happen here however our saving grace may be that this is driven primarily from the core of the Political Class that rules and indoctrinates us but extremities and the other two parts of the antidote, an active and aware citizenry and officials in the system committed to democratic processes still have personal free will to resist and influence the core political class to change.
A lot will come down to how awake we all are to what happens when democracy fails and also how much effort we want to put in to generating a peaceful fix instead of putting our heads in the sand until breaking point and the terrible inevitability occurs.
Thousands of years of human history and numerous examples of systems gone bad show exactly how it all ends up when all three core principles are not followed and all three elements of the antidote are not aligned and aware.
I hope we all take the time to study history, look at our country with a critical and open mind and awaken and influence our fellow citizens, officials and politicians to get back on to a truly democratic path before the tipping point is reached.
The destination may be a distance away but from where I am sitting the road has been paved and it is now up to us all to not let our country be driven down it.
This was first published on Brad Bowyer’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.