Can we have democracy, please?

September 20, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

If a robber comes into your house and carts away all your possessions, would you quietly go up to him and ask: Sir, can you please give me back my things? But if you don’t want to, its okay. I understand.

Of course you wouldn’t. And yet, this is what we as a society are doing: timidly asking the Government to give us back our rights. And if it doesn’t want to? Well the PAP knows best

Take for example the Feedback Unit. It recently called for the election system in Singapore to be more transparent and fair. But then it added: It is our view that this is a prerogative of the government and it should know how best to follow through.

Wrong. No government or ruling party has the prerogative to decide how fair it wants to make an election system. Citizens are the ones to determine whether an election process is fair or not and if not to make it so.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure how a ruling party would respond if we leave the matter to the government to decide. PAP MP Mr Sin Boon Ann gave us the answer he flatly rejected the suggestion that the system is unfair and that steps should be taken to rectify the problem.

Democracy dangerous and dirty

The Feedback Unit further stressed that the group was not a bunch of bleeding hearts saying lets go for democracy. First of all, even stone-cold conservatives would defend the fundamental principles of democracy. Second of all, what is so wrong with going for democracy?

Democracy, and its principles, is embedded in our constitution, symbolized in our flag, and reaffirmed in our pledge. Even our dear Senior Minister, when he was in opposition in 1956, waxed: If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. Then no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought. Yet, we live as if wanting democracy is taboo and, worse, that those who champion it are not worthy of our society. After years of relentless mental conditioning, we have come to believe that democracy is a dangerous and dirty thing, and that the PAP withholds it from us for our own good.

Democracy simply means the rule of the people. In other words we, the people, are the boss. We entrust this power to a group of citizens (who organize themselves into a political party) after they convince us of their worthiness to be stewards of this power. Even then, this arrangement is for a limited time only after which elections are called and political parties vie for this power all over again.

In Singapore, however, there is no rule of the people, only the rule of the PAP. But even the ruling party needs to pay lip-service to democratic ideals, if only because the countries that Singapore relies on for investments insist that democracy be practiced (regardless of the superficiality).

In this regard, the PAP will continue to tell everyone that there is democracy in Singapore because we have regular elections. And because of these elections it insists that it has the mandate of the people. Such a claim defies logic. Ask yourself: If the people are really the boss and elections are really free and fair, would they really elect for the government to pay its ministers millions of dollars in salaries to live in opulence, while these same ministers cut their CPF and wages, and, when the most painful recession hits the country, up prices for every fee and fare in sight?

Who’s the boss?

This leads us to our next point: How can the government be stopped from ramming indigestible policies down our throats?

Genuine elections is, of course, one obvious solution. And how do we go about making the PAP listen when we say that the election process is unfair and unfree? For starters we do not tell the government that it has the prerogative of deciding whether or not to make elections fair. The other thing is to get it into our heads and hearts that going for democracy (of which genuinely free and fair elections is an inseparable part) is not only all right, but also desirable.

This is, of course, easier said than done. After all the years of fear instilled in the population we have come to be servants of the PAP rather than the other way around. (Someone once quipped that it is only in Singapore that elections are held once every four or five years where the government calls the people to account for their performance.) But we must tell ourselves that no matter how fearful we are and how difficult the going gets, we have to confront the one who has taken away what belongs to us and that we want it back now.

We must never forget: We are the boss!