Why would Taiwan try to emulate Singapore?

Tseng Wei-chen
Taipei Times
27 Jan 08

To alleviate concern that the legislative majority held by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) indicates a step backward for Taiwan’s democracy, KMT vice presidential candidate Vincent Siew has cited Singapore, ruled by a party with an absolute majority.

Siew said Singapore is a worthwhile model. KMT presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou also praises its capabilities, efficiency and social order. But do Ma and Siew realize the price that Singaporeans pay?

Singapore is not a democracy. The People’s Action Party (PAP) has been the ruling party since 1957, before Singapore became independent. The PAP holds 91 of 94 seats in the Singaporean parliament, despite winning only 66.6 percent of the vote.

The government controls public discourse, partly through two major media groups, while the Internal Security Department can detain dissidents indefinitely.

The day after elections in 2006, for example, people who opposed the PAP were arrested.

The situation is much like that in Taiwan during the Martial Law era, when the government relied on emergency measures to stifle all forms of dissent.

The unity of party and state in Singapore is reflected in the business world. The PAP, through Temasek Holdings, which did not publish financial statements until 2004, controls key sectors: phone company SingTel, Singapore Airlines, the mass rapid transit system, the port, global shipping company Neptune Orient Lines, Singapore Power, the Keppel Group and Raffles Hotel.

Temasek Holdings owns nearly half the market’s value on the Singapore stock exchange.

The Singaporean government also invests in foreign firms through the mysterious Government of Singapore Investment Corp, which never publishes financial statements and manages property worth more than US$100 billion.

The enormous benefits are exclusively for those at the top of the party and government tree.

It is also because of this unfair system that Singapore has the largest gap between rich and poor among developed nations.

The income ratio between the highest and lowest one-fifth of the population is 31.9, with a Gini coefficient of 0.522 in 2005, compared with Taiwan’s ratio of about 6 with a Gini coefficient of 0.339 in 2006. The gap is therefore much larger in Singapore.

Human rights, freedom, democracy and equality are basic, universal human values — yet these values are being suppressed in Singapore. Do Taiwanese need to make such a sacrifice?

The authoritarian regimes of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong share too many features with those of dictators Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo for Singapore to be worthy of such uncritical praise.

Tseng Wei-chen is a researcher in the Department of History at National Taiwan Normal University.

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