Why I am cynical about Singapore’s political process

May 6, 2003
Singapore Democrats

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Teng Qian Xi

I live in a country where the state believes they have the right to decide whether people should be digits, creative or entrepreneurial. I live in a country where the ministers claim that the ruling party’s majority votes means “the people want to be led.” (Dr Wang Kai Yuen, ST, April 4, 2002) I live in a country where before the general elections, the ruling party redraws constituency boundaries to have more walkovers, bankrupts opposition politicians and castrates the national press while its ministers tell everyone to speak up, not to fear being “hit by a big stick” (Raymond Lim, ST, April 4, 2002). This is safe because the people who spoke before MPs encouraged them to are either overseas, silenced or dead.

I live in a country where no minister has campaigned publicly for the abolition of the Internal Security Act even if they believed that it was a violation of human rights. Even if they knew that the Communist threat is demonised by the authorised history, and that most of the population heads down to Orchard Road on Sundays.

I live in a country where the ministers who determine the political process are paid private-sector salaries. There are few other reasons to join the ruling party, so certified talents are worth their price.

I live in a country where the state announces that we must have a vibrant arts scene. So they build the Esplanade which is too big for most local performance groups. On National Day they say that promoting the arts is another way to attract more tourists.

I live in a country where the front shelves of bookshops are crowded with one man’s words. Until recently, anything that disagrees these words could only be found in Select Books (Tanglin Shopping Centre, call 67321515) or overseas.

I live in a country where my parents have friends who were tortured by the Internal Security Department. So for them and others, an 18-year-old girl talking to the press about politics will never be seen as invulnerable. An 18-year-old girl who comments on a minister in a newspaper interview will be told she could cause someone in MOE to lose their job. When she wants to use the word “tortured”, she will be advised to write instead “indirect pressure was applied” in case she is charged with defamation.

I live in a country where the national paper will announce that a poem has won a foreign prize, but they will not willingly add (until much later) that it is written from a lesbian perspective. What the paper’s employees think of homosexuality and its criminalisation has nothing to do with this.

I live in a country where the state makes its arguments too simple. Such as: the PAP = the country. Such as: democracy = protests = violence = disorder = national disaster. Such as: human rights = confusing Western concept that our people don’t need to learn very much about. Such as: history = one man’s story. Such as: Chia Thye Poh = opposition = Marxist = dangerous = 32 years of imprisonment = non-existence in the authorised history.

I live in a country with a population that is constantly hit by men in white with invisible and visible sticks. I live in a country where it is hard to expect people to value anything more than protecting themselves from these big sticks, or getting their own stick and white uniform.