Mr Lee Kuan Yew once boasted that East Asia was successful because of its Asian values which placed discipline over democracy, communities over individuals. It was code for continuing authoritarian control over democratic accountability.$CUT$
Of course, that was 30 years ago. Then, the so-called Asian tigers of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, all under one-party rule, were sprinting ahead economically, unimpeded by (Western) democratic values that were alien to the Asian mind, or so Mr Lee claimed.
But in a space of one’s lifetime, dramatic changes have taken place throughout the Asian political topography. South Korea transitioned from a brutal dictatorship to a vibrant democracy, Taiwan evolved from Chiang Kai-shek’s rule to a robust two-party system, the Philippines’ People Power toppled strongman Ferdinand Marcos, and Indonesia overcame Suharto.
Ironically, it is Indonesia and the Philippines which, together with Turkey, have become the so-called breakout nations of TIP (Turkey, Indonesia and Philippines) by registering impressive economic gains in recent years.
Even countries like Burma, Cambodia amd Malaysia are making great strides towrds democratic reform. The military rulers of Myanmar have released Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and other dissidents, instituting deep political reforms in the process.
Malaysia went to the polls earlier this year and the majority of her people voted for the opposition. Only gerrymanderig by the Barisan Nasional kept it in power.
In Cambodia, the people voted to give the opposition an unprecedented 55 parliamentary seats (compared to 68 seats to prime minister Hun Sen’s party) amidst allegations of vote cheating by ruling party officials.
Indeed, Asia has altered beyond recognition politically, making Mr Lee’s Asian-values argument distinctly unintelligent. One of the factors for the transformation has been due to the steadfast and perseverance of democrats in the region many of whom are members of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, or CALD.
CALD, of which the SDP is a member, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in Manila, Philippines. It is the mutual support extended to each other that has given liberals and democrats in the region encouragement to soldier on and win democracy for their peoples.
As SDP looks on at the achievements of our counterparts in CALD, we take heart that one day in the near future, we will also be successful in our endeavour to bring democracy to Singapore. Our turn is coming.
We will do this by continuing to stand up for the political rights and civil lberties of our fellow Singaporeans and also by drawing up a blueprint for an alternative vision to better provide for the healthcare, housing, and economic needs of our people.
The SDP has never been afraid of taking the path less trodden and doing the right, instead of merely the popular, thing. Today, we are seeing increased levels of support for our ideas and alternative policies.
But change will not be automatic. It wll take hard work, sacrifice and leadership from the SDP, and together with our people’s active support, democratic change is inevitable.