History is behind Singapore becoming a democracy

Singapore Democrats

Chee Soon Juan (centre), moderator, with the four speakers

It is a matter of when, not if, Singapore will become a democracy. This was the view of some of the speakers at a discussion that was held a couple of weeks ago at the Orchard Hotel.

Dr Larry Diamond, a political science professor at Stanford University, made this point when he spoke at length about the political situation in Singapore. Malaysian opposition MP, Mr Tian Chua echoed this view, pointing out that Singapore could even democratise before Malaysia.

The seminar came on the heels of the 6th Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy (WMD) that was held in Jakarta, Indonesia from 10-14 Apr 10. Following the conference, some of the organisers and participants came to Singapore to conduct a seminar to talk about the importance of networking with pro-democracy around the world.

Marc Plattner

Dr Marc Plattner, editor of the Journal of Democracy, briefed the seminar’s participants about some of the developments of the WMD assembly in Jakarta. He spoke about the impassioned address that the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave about the need for Asia to democratise.

Another speaker, Dr Larry Diamond talked about the global trends in the development of democracy and predicted that Singapore will graduate into a democracy sooner or later.

“History is behind Singapore becoming a democracy,” Dr Diamond pointed out. This is not to say that it is inevitable that democracy will come, he quickly added,  people still need to take responsibility to make change a reality.

Larry Diamond

Dr Diamond, who had interviewed Mr Lee Kuan Yew a couple of years ago for one of his books, also listed out some of factors that were important for political change to occur which includes:

  • a united and coordinated strategy among pro-democracy groups
  • international monitoring to ensure a free and fair election system
  • use of liberation technology such as the Internet
  • educating the people and helping society its fear

Tian Chua

Malaysian opposition MP, Mr Tian Chua, was one of the speakers. He noted that Singapore and Malaysia were like political twins. Even though the two are separated today, they still contain the same political DNA. He, too, expressed confidence that Singapore will one day make the transition to democracy.

“More and more people are beginning to realise that it is not Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘brilliant’ ideas that has caused this miracle,” the Malaysian politician said, they will realise that it is the civil service and the other institutions that are helping to move the economy ahead.

And when people can feel that they don’t have to sacrfice that pension funds or that the stock market will crash because of political change, they will make the switch to supporting the opposition, he told the audience.

Ryota Jonen

Mr Chua said that even though ruling regimes change rules or pile rule upon rule just to stifle change, these rules will eventually collapse under their own weight and become deadly for the rulers. 

Mr Ryota Jonen, a native of Japan, was the fourth and final speaker. He encouraged young Singaporeans to become part of the global network of youths promoting democracy. A coordinator for the World Movement for Democracy which is based in Washington, DC, Mr Jonen helps run the World Youth Movement for Democracy.

In this regard Mr Jonen said that there was much that youths could learn form the seniors in terms of the experience. Being a native of Hiroshima that went through the horrors of a nuclear bomb in WWII, he had the opportunity to learn in school from those who lived through that grim period.

Youth today, he said, would benefit from listening to what their elders said and not repeat the same mistakes that were made in the past.

Dr Chee Soon Juan, who chaired the session, closed by saying that after all the theories have been advanced and all the ideas scrutinised, change will only come when people come forward to actively participate in the change process instead of just commenting from the sidelines.

Videos of the seminar will be posted at a later time.

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