Singapore a “pseudo-democracy”: Electionworld

December 17, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Some may argue that Singapore is a democracy. The PAP certainly thinks that its system is democratic. Our national flag (designed by the PAP) embraces democracy as one of the five stars represents.

So obviously, it is important that the PAP wishes to be thought of as a democratic regime. Even Mr Lee Kuan Yews memoirs, in soliciting reviews, had approached leaders around the world who believed in and practiced democracy (it wouldnt be good for sales having someone like Fidel Castro endorsing your book).

Whatever the PAP thinks, neutral observers and a vast majority of Singaporeans see things very differently. The Singapore Democrats have repeatedly pointed out that democracy is not a state where elections are conducted once every so often with everything else, including the mechanisms that control the election process being controlled by the ruling party.

This state of affairs is captured by an international organization Electionworld (www.electionworld.org) which compiles and compares election systems in countries around the world. Singapore, according to Electionworld is a pseudo-democracy (along with countries such as Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Cuba, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Libya, Rwanda, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zimbabwe).

The word pseudo means false or pretended. In other words Singapore, under the PAP, is a false democracy. That is, we all pretend to go to the polls and cast our votes once every four of five years and go home, thinking that we have discharged our democratic responsibilities and hoping that our votes will mean something.

Time for a reality check. Electionworld tells us that a pseudo-democratic state is one in which there are democratic structures but without a real chance for an alternance of power. Meaning that no matter how hard the opposition tries and no matter how the people vote, the PAP always wins.

This is not surprising. Every time the opposition makes gains, the PAP amends the constitution and/or changes the rules governing elections to ensure that the system remains firmly tilted in its favour.

Anyone having doubts about this should take a long, hard look at the recent matter concerning the Singapore Airlines pilots’ union. Members of the union had, through a democratic, fair, and transparent election process, decided that they wanted to have a change of leaders. What did the PAP do? It read the riot act to the union and all but decreed that the members will not be able to elect who should lead them.

Then came the knockout punch. The Government announced that it would amend the Trades Union Act, declaring that henceforth union leaders need not seek approval from their members when negotiating with management on collective agreements. That being the case, why have elections for members to elect their representatives to negotiate on their behalf?

Now extend this to the national level. Does anyone seriously believe that the PAP will allow Singaporeans the freedom to choose their own leaders in a general election where its own interests are directly at stake?

Of course, the PAP is willing to sacrifice a few seats in Parliament for the sake of appearing democratic (as we described in the opening two paragraphs), but at the end of the day, it will not allow the opposition to even get one-third of the seats in the House, let alone win elections and depose the PAP as government. It will continue to conduct elections because it has to show to the world that it is democratic, but it will reconstruct the system in such a manner that, as Electionworld has observed, deprives the opposition the means to make any real and meaningful gains.

It is time for the opposition to get wise and focus on getting the fundamentals right before we start thinking and working for electoral success. Fundamentals such as a free and pluralistic media and an independent electoral commission are a must without which the opposition will forever be chasing our own tails and, more importantly, the people will remain stuck in a system that keeps stuffing indigestible policies down their throats.