Don’t ask the Government, ask Lee Kuan Yew

November 15, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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A curious thing happened in 2000.

The world’s democratic governments came together to establish a body called the Community of Democracies (CD) to promote and strengthen the practice of democracy worldwide.

No, the formation of the organization was not what was curious. It was the Singapore Government’s reaction that was interesting.

The SDP understands that when she found out that Singapore was not invited to the inaugural meeting in Warsaw, Poland, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee approached the US State Department in Washington DC, concerned as to why Singapore was left out.

The CD was the initiative of then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

It was explained to Ambassador Chan that Singapore did not fit the bill of a democratic state. The good ambassador protested, however, that Singapore could in fact be classified as one or, at least, had the potential to be one.

The State Department official replied that there were criteria that had to be met before a country could be considered for admission. Was Singapore willing to fulfill these?

The ambassador’s response was that she would feed this back to the Singapore Government and come back with an answer.

When she returned the answer was affirmative, Singapore could indeed fulfill its obligations in order to meet the requirements for entry in to the CD.

No, no, the official said, don’t ask the Government – ask Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

And so the ambassador apparently ran back to consult Mr Lee and eventually came back with the reply that Mr Lee felt that it was not possible to meet the CD’s criteria.

Since then Singapore has not been involved in the organization. Following the Warsaw meeting, two more conferences were held in Seoul, South Korea (2002) and Santiago, Chile (2005).

Singapore was subsequently upgraded to “observer” status and invited to attend the meetings in Seoul and Santiago. But in 2007, Singapore was downgraded again and not invited to the conference currently taking place in Bamako, Mali.

Part of the CD group comprises also of a non-government arm which is coordinated by an International Steering Committee (ISC). The ISC is made up of 20 civil society representatives from around the world and an Executive Secretariat.

Dr Chee Soon Juan is a member of the ISC. But because his application to attend the conference in Mali was rejected by the Official Assignee, Ms Chee Siok Chin is attending in his place. Ms Chee is presently in the African state to participate in the conference’s proceedings.

CD member states are in the process of forming a Democracy Caucus within the United Nations and has pushed for the UN to support democracy building efforts through the UN Democracy Fund.