2. Is there democracy in Singapore?
What is Democracy?
Singapore has been recognized as a representative democratic state since August 1965. However, to examine if Singapore is in fact democratic, we need to first define the word “democracy” and its parameters. The word originated from M.Fr democratis in the 1570s, with ‘demo’ referring to common people and ‘cratie’ to rule of strength. Therefore, by definition, Singapore can be classified as a democratic country due to the fair elections which enable her people to choose their government.
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”, Churchill words immortalize democracy as the way to go, but there is not one universal, agreeable definition that encompasses the concept of democracy in its entirety. There are, however, two proven opposite types of democracy-liberal and illiberal- and it is the purpose of this paper to argue that Singapore, considering all factors, is a liberal democratic society.
Political landscape in Singapore
One perennial issue that will always emerge in any debate on Singapore politic is that of whether the country is actually a free and fair democracy. The fact that Singapore is a dominant one party state with hardly any feasible opposition has been attributed to the sound governance and policies of the ruling party, the ineptitude of the opposition candidates and the tendency of Singaporeans keen to maintain what has been “tried and tested” with the general unwillingness to rock the boat. However, there are always accusations that the PAP government has had a huge role to play in this due to the fact that they have not always played fair during the elections and have used a myriad of unsavory tactics to ensure they maintain power. Ultimately, one must ask how effective such strategies are- does employing such hard line scare tactics really cause the increasing politically mature, practical minded Singaporeans to give up their pretensions of idealism which might sway them to vote opposition, and is it worthwhile in the long run considering the recrimination it causes?
The political structure of Singapore is a unique by-product tailored to its local context, which evolved from the Westminster structure. Over the course of history, the PAP government introduced political reforms and policies such as the NMPs, NCMPs and GRCs schemes to adapt to the changing political climate in Singapore. These policies have been introduced under the context of providing the opposition a place in the parliament to be heard, and to raise the quality of debate. However, the GRC system has been repeatedly criticized by the opposition as being a disservice to the citizens because of the introduction of members who have not been directly voted by the people. The implementation of these new policies appear to be for the purpose of increasing democracy in Singapore, but as one delve deeper into these changes, they seem to suggest actions taken by the PAP to further its political agenda.
As mentioned, by definition, Singapore appears to be a democratic society, with fair elections in the sense that it allows equal opportunities for both the PAP and its oppositions to engage the general public with their policies. Yet there are several tactics employed by the PAP that seem to marginalize its oppositions. From instances of gerrymandering; where sudden redrawing of electoral boundaries, often within a month or two of elections, in order to impede the opposition preparation, to instances of threats to the public such as those over upgrading of flats, and finally the cases of legal action and other harassment brought to bear against opposition members, for instance defamation suits against Dr. Chee Soon Juan for accusing the PAP of controlling the constitution; there are significant doubts as to how fair the PAP have and are willing to play. Although adjusting policies at the very last minute...
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