The Obama-Romney race: A crucial pointer for Singapore

October 17, 2012
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

As the US presidential elections enters its final stretch, the race between President Barack Obama and former governor Mitt Romney is tight with pundits predicting the contest going down to the wire.$CUT$

But it was not always this close. Prior to the televised debate between the two candidates, the incumbent from the Democratic Party seemed headed for a comfortable victory for a second term in office.

Some observers say that the attraction to the President is not so much because of what he has done in the past four years (tepid US economic data continue to haunt Mr Obama) as that Americans do not see a viable alternative in Mr Romney.

At the first presidential debate on 3 October 2012, however, the Republican candidate delivered a commanding performance and outshone his opponent whom voters felt did not do a good job.

Almost immediately, polls showed Governor Romney catching up with President Obama. Many of those polled indicated that they had not seen Mr Romney as presidential material and that he had not hitherto done a good enough job of explaining his policies.

Whatever one may feel about the policies of the candidates and the process of the US presidential elections, it cannot be denied that the American people are given every opportunity to scrutinise the candidates before they decide on who they want as their president.

To this end, the media – cable and traditional free-to-air channels – provide the people with uncensored information on the contestants and what they stand for. All the debates are televised live during prime time.   

Seldom do you see one channel completely dominated by one party and its partisans. Of course, there are channels and individual political commentators who openly take sides and argue for one candidate or the other. For example, Fox News leans heavily to Republicans while MSNBC is partial to the Democrats (with the rest straddling both camps depending on the issues and events).

Even then, both Republican and Democratic politicians and their activists are called by the stations to argue and debate on a host of policy matters – from taxes to women’s health to foreign policy.

Such a process gives US voters clarity on the issues that confront their nation and how their politicians are dealing (or not dealing, as the case may be) with these issues. It is often messy and even unwieldy (Americans themselves often disparage their own system) but, nevertheless, continues to allow the country, over the long run, to right its wrongs, reinvigorate itself and find a new direction if need be.

Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledges this strength when he said: “The US is an enormously resilient and creative society…We should never underestimate the US capacity to reinvigorate and reinvent itself.”

But this is what is so lacking in Singapore. The closed and undemocratic system that we have is slowly but surely choking the lifeblood out of our country. Even as we reach saturation point where our workers are squeezed of that last drop of sweat to nudge up that one more percent in our GDP, we have no means of changing direction, of reinvigorating our community and our economy.

The PAP, despite its demonstrably lack of vision and foresight, refuses to allow the Singaporean people to see what the opposition has to offer.

The broadcast and print media continue to be firmly in the hands of its supporters, and they dictate what the Singaporeans read, watch and hear.

The alternatives that the SDP has drawn up, for example, are blocked from the electorate’s attention,  leading Singaporeans to think that the current system, while not perfect, is good and the only choice. They have no idea what the alternative looks like.

In a world where political parties vie for the vote through a media that present and reflect all points of views, Singaporeans continue to be forced to listen to the voice of one ruler.

This is what will cause the downfall of modern Singapore. Knowledge is power, and the less powerful the Singaporean people are, the less we are able to compete in a knowledge-driven global community.

For all the criticisms of the political system in the US – and there are many – one thing stands out: While inept and greedy politicians may be elected from time to time and wrong policies enacted, the American people, richly informed through the media, will, in the long course of history, steer their country in the right direction.

In there lies a crucial lesson for Singapore.