You would be forgiven if you thought students Alan Goh’s and Lew Chuen Hong’s reply (see below) to Professor Arthur Waldron’s article came from the PAP itself. Indeed the letter, filled with disingenuousness and twisted logic, bears the imprint of the master propagandists at the ruling party. SDP highlights the areas:
On the SDP losing its seats under Chee
It is a fact that the SDP under Dr Chee Soon Juan lost its parliamentary seats in 1997 and 2001. What the Messrs goh and Lew don’t say is the kind of political system that we have in Singapore. In case Professor Waldron wasn’t explicit enough, Professor Garry Rodan at Murdoch University and authority on Singapore’s political economy makes it crystal clear:
“Although the PAP generally has little tolerance of opposition, it reserves special disdain for the variety championed by Chee Soon Juan and the SDP. Like the WP when it was led by J.B. Jeyaretnam, the SDP has been the party that has most substantively questioned and challenged PAP ideology and governance systems…attacks on Mr Chee continue unabated in the state-controlled media. Yet instead of retreating politically, Mr Chee has increasingly steered the SDP toward extraelectoral strategies to try to expose curbs to effective political competition.”l (emphasis added)
Now that two professors have tried to explain things, do the students still find it hard to see how the SDP has been leading the democratic movement in Singapore?
On the electorate rejecting Chee
Mr Goh and Mr Lew took umbrage at Professor Waldron’s statement that Dr Chee could be politically successful in “fully democratic elections” and proceeded to cite the elections that Dr Chee had lost. The two were not paying attention. The professor had chosen his words carefully: “fully”, “democratic”, “elections”.
They then added that Dr Chee has had “ample opportunity” to reach out to the electorate. Somehow this line would be just a little more convincing if our media did not rank just above Laos’ in the world press freedom index.
The men also cited Dr Chee’s conviction for defaming Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong in 2001 to counter Professor Waldron’s statement that Dr Chee was made ineligible for elections through fines. Again, the gentlemen were economical with the truth by not citing that the case did not go to a trial and ended in summary judgment being awarded to the former prime ministers – a decision widely criticized by the international legal community.
On Chee being a traitor
Messrs Alan Goh and Lew Chuen Hong then threw all caution to the wind and said that Dr Chee had encouraged Australia to boycott Singapore products and called for trade sanctions against Singapore. It would be good if the two could produce Dr Chee’s quotes to substantiate their claims without which they would be accused of lying. Would the men respond?
On Singapore being a replica of the US
The students then accuse Professor Waldron of making sweeping statements when the don suggested reforms to Singapore’s media, election system, lack of parliamentary debate, etc. They added that Singapore is not America and should not be a replica of the US.
Little do they know that under the PAP Singapore is already replicating the US, sometimes in excruciatingly embarrassing ways: Can you believe we have Kim Keat Ville and Toa Payoh Palm Springs? Our road signs look strangely similar to those on US Freeways down to the “Ped Xing” signs (Pedestrian Crossing for those Singaporeans who haven’t figured it out yet). Even the news presenters, while looking Singaporean, speak American (probably because they are Americans). It may also surprise Messrs Goh and Lew that the we have our very own Singapore Idol, a copycat of American Idol. And now an “integrated” resort a la Las Vegas is on the way.
In an op-ed piece All Good, No Bad written by American Thomas Frank for his US readers, the journalist reported:
“[Singapore] has become a country whose culture, superficially at least, looks a lot like our own [the US’]. I did not find Singapore strange; I found it familiar. My objections to what I saw there almost all arose from the official media’s energetic recapitulation of bland American originals: management theory, fast food, pop music, Hollywood movies. Depoliticized but intensely successorized…Christmas, for example, is celebrated with far more enthusiasm than it is at home–and entirely as a secular holiday. The displays of lights and dioramas on Orchard Road–including a two-story outdoor tableau of skiers complete with gusts of fake snow–are so elaborate they put one more in mind of downtown Vegas than Marshall Field’s windows. Their celebration of the holiday puts our own in the shade.”
The problem with Singapore is that we copy the worst of everything that consumerist and materialist America has to offer and reject the best of everything that democratic America – including a rigorous intellectual public life, a high regard for freedom of thought and speech, strong institutions of higher learning which jealously guard academic freedom (and which Mr Goh and Mr Lew have obviously failed to take advantage of), entrepreneurial flair, and a political system that ensures the separation of powers – demonstrates.
It is truly tragic that some of our students go to the US and having experienced all that there is on offer, continue to live like frogs in wells. They may get the training that the PAP seeks but, alas, they will return without the education they so badly need.
Is Singapore really repressed?
Alan Goh and Lew Chuen Hong
20 Jun 06
AS SINGAPOREANS, we are bewildered by University of Pennsylvania Prof. Arthur Waldron’s March 26 Commentary column, “Repression curbs Singapore’s potential.” We wish to highlight erroneous statements and critical missing facts that make his article highly misleading.
Chee Soon Juan is the “leader of the island’s democratic movement”:
On the contrary, it is Chiam See Tong, secretary general of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), who is widely viewed as the de-facto opposition leader. He is a member of Parliament, having won five consecutive elections since 1984.
The other main opposition parties are the Workers Party (WP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). Chee is secretary general of the SDP, and during his tenure the party lost all its parliamentary seats in 1997 and 2001.
Of these three parties, only the SPP and WP have members elected to Parliament.
The ruling party is “seeking to disqualify and silence Dr. Chee without ever facing what he has to say” and that Chee could be the “first prime minister of a politically mature Singapore to be chosen in fully democratic elections”:
These statements imply that Chee has been denied participation in the democratic process. In fact, Chee has taken part in three elections: In 1992, he led an SDP team and lost, garnering only 24.5 percent of the vote. In 1997, consenting to Chee’s request, a constituency was carved out for him to take on PAP member Mathias Yao in a one-on-one contest. Chee did not “dice and mince any member of the current Singapore government.” He lost, gaining only 34.8 percent of the vote. And in 2001, Chee again lost, gaining only 20.2 percent of vote.
He has, therefore, had ample opportunity, and the electorate has rejected him.
Dr. Chee has been “found guilty of various technical violations and saddled with fines he cannot pay,” in order to make him bankrupt and thus “conveniently ineligible to run for office”:
We wish to clarify what these “various technical violations” are. In 2001, Chee was sued for defamation, for having falsely accused Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew of misleading Parliament over an alleged loan, equivalent to about $10.5 billion, to former Indonesian President Suharto. He was ordered to pay damages equivalent to about $125,000 to Lee and $186,000 to Goh. Last February, he was declared bankrupt, for having failed to pay, and as a result will not be allowed to stand for election.
It is important to remember that before 2001 Chee had already been sued by an opposition member of Parliament, Chiam See Tong; Chee had insinuated that Chiam was acting on behalf of the PAP. Chee lost and was ordered to pay Chiam the equivalent of about $93,000 in damages.
Chee “may be imprisoned [and] is as fully prepared for imprisonment, as was Jawaharlal Nehru in British India 70 years ago”:
Chee was sentenced to one day in prison and fined the equivalent of $3,750 for contempt of court; he was jailed a further seven days for refusing to pay the fine. To compare this to Nehru’s imprisonment is simply bewildering, and belittles the latter’s vast, enduring contributions to India. The same cannot be said for Chee’s contributions to Singapore.
In fact, many consider Chee more concerned with foreign support than domestic support. For example, in a recent incident over the capital punishment of an Australian drug smuggler convicted in Singapore, Chee went so far as to encourage an Australian boycott of Singapore products, and supported calls for trade sanctions against Singapore.
Lee Kuan Yew’s vision for Singapore’s future “seems to be limited to turning over politics to his son,” instead of building a system of “laws and institutions”:
It is suggested that Lee Kuan Yew is guilty of nepotism. We wish to point out that the younger Lee won his own election, as a member of Parliament. It was Goh Chok Tong who succeeded Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister, in 1990; the gap between the tenures of Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong is 15 years. This is seven years longer than the gap between the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
In 2005, Transparency International ranked Singapore the least corrupt country in Asia, and the fifth-least corrupt in the world — higher than most developed countries. In addition, the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy called Singapore’s judicial system the best in Asia. And in the group’s survey of key political and economic institutions in Asia, Singapore remains on top.
No system is perfect, but to imply that Singapore is lacking laws and institutions would be an extremely misleading stretch.
Professor Waldron suggests changes in Singapore’s “state media monopolies,” “gerrymandered electoral system,” lack of “parliamentary debate,” and “unbroken dominance” of the ruling PAP before Singapore can realize its potential:
These sweeping statements suggest a political identity for Singapore that looks a lot like America’s. Singapore, however, is not America; the challenges we face are completely different. We have utmost respect for the U.S. system, but a replication of it would serve neither country.
We hope that these facts provide a more balanced context in which to understand Singapore. Ultimately, as Singaporeans, we bear responsibility for the economic, social, and political processes shaping our future,and we are proud of it.
Alan Goh and Lew Chuen Hong, of Singapore, are students at the U.S. Naval War College.