Chee Siok Chin writes to Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou

An open letter to Mr Ma Ying-jeou

8 June 2007

Mr Ma Ying-jeou
Former Chairman
Presidential Candidate
Kuomintang Party
2nd Section Ba De Road
232-234, 10492, Taipei City

Dear Mr Ma,

Warm greetings to you from Singapore. I understand that you are visiting Singapore and would like to welcome you. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your candidacy in Taiwan’s presidential elections next year.

However, I read with great dismay in Singapore’s Straits Times dated 2 June 2007, that “Ma cites Singapore as an example for Taiwan “. In the report, you were quoted as saying that “Singapore is different from us (Taiwan) as its emphasis is not on democratization. Nevertheless, it is professional, corruption-free and efficient, which is worth our learning” and that “The Singapore Government is very efficient. They can reach consensus easily and there is no squabbling or fighting.”

The newspaper also said that you had cited the high pay of Singapore s ministers as one example of the country’s pragmatism.

Perhaps what you have read or been informed about Singapore is the official line. There is much misinformation and propaganda that the government puts out. Please allow me to reveal some truths:

The “corrupt-free” impression that the People’s Action Party (PAP) government gives to the world stems from the fact that the state’s leaders have used draconian laws to silence its critics. Opposition politicians have been bankrupted, imprisoned and run out of the country for trying to hold the government responsible to Singaporeans.

In the numerous civil lawsuits and criminal trials which the country’s leaders and the government have brought against their dissenters, the courts have always ruled against the defendants.

All forms of media here are controlled by the authorities. Newspapers, magazines, television and radio networks are owned by the state. Even internet service providers (ISPs) are government-owned.

Singapore has been dominated by the PAP since the 1960s. The party has always had more than 95 per cent of the seats in parliament even though it might have less than 70 per cent of popular support. Elections in Singapore are far from free and fair. The Elections Department is answerable to the Prime Minister’s Office. The Group Constituency Representation (GRC) was established in the 1988 to with deal with the rising unpopularity of the ruling party. The government hands out money in the form of shares that can be encashed during the elections. This, in the view of many in Singapore, is vote-buying. Mr Lee Kuan Yew and other PAP leaders have been suing opposition candidates over the years, and they have never lost a case.

These are but just some tactics that the PAP government uses to ensure that it wins with a overwhelming majority in each election.

As you have noted, Singapore’s ministers are highly paid. The prime minister of Singapore is paid 12 times that of Taiwan’s president. Even the salary of a junior minister here is more than seven times that of Mr. Chen Shui-bian’s. There is a difference between pragmatism and avarice. I am afraid you have mixed the two up. Perhaps this explains why consensus is reached easily in the government. When money talks, consciences keep silent.

There are other countries that are looking at Singapore as a role-model for economic success. Thailand (under ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra), Hong Kong (under former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa), China, Cambodia, Russia, and Venezuela, amongst others, look to Singapore as a model for economic development.

However, economic progress and political development are not mutually exclusive. In trying to follow the Singapore model, political and social landscapes will be severely and negatively affected. The type of “affluence” achieved in Singapore, cannot be made without the suppression of rights and basic freedoms.

While you say that Singapore’s emphasis is not on democracy, you also say that the government is corruption-free. Yet I am certain that you are aware that a democracy is the most effective way to hold a government accountable and ensure a corrupt-free system.

I am sure that the people of Taiwan cherish their hard-won political freedom and are proud to live in a democratic society, a society that they contribute towards and continue to shape. In fact, in many ways democracy advocates in Singapore draw inspiration from Taiwan in its transformation from martial law to a bona fide democracy.

I am perturbed that a leader from one of Asia’s most vibrant and proud democracies should cite the PAP as a model-of-sorts. I sincerely hope that during your visit to Singapore you will express support Singapore’s struggle for democracy.

Most respectfully yours,

CHEE Siok Chin (Ms)
Central Executive Member
Singapore Democratic Party

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