It's all about Amelioration

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Singapore for Singaporeans

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I was reading the “Chronicle of Singapore” the other day and was charting the progress that our country was making since independence. People like my parents who are in their 50’s and 60s, witnessed how our little island have transformed from a third world country to a well lubricated economic engine. And with economic progress comes a higher standard of living, paving the way for more private residential enclaves as well as world class amenities, recreation and entertainment. They believe that our success story is the result of  the incumbent ruling party, thus either you are with the ruling party, or a rebel without a cause. And who’s to say otherwise? We have managed to come through numerous stumbling blocks like the racial riots of the 60’s, Asian Financial crisis, and Sars pandemic, to rise as a stronger, more cohesive Singapore. To sum it all up; ” There was a time, when people said that Singapore won’t make it, but we did. There was a time when troubles seemed too much for us to take, but we did.”

It’s after speaking to my parents do I attempt to understand their source of contentment. It was never a culture to question the ruling party. Amusingly, this generation do share our same complaints of the high cost of living, but they never seem to link that to our government. Really odd I thought. They feel it is a fact of life that prices keep rising, while hours of work keep increasing. (cheaper, faster, better anybody?) They believe that the ruling party know the recipe for success and they will continue to deliver. This was a nation that was lost in the midst of decolonization and sudden independence after it was forced out by its neighbours. The pieces were then being picked up  by a dedicated and powerful dictator that displayed no weakness to his opposition in being the catalyst to spur the country to develop and being recognized internationally as a state.  Think of it akin to an abandoned, directionless crying little child, being dragged to his feet by his nanny.

How things have changed. Some call him a dictator, a tyrant even, but would Singapore  progress to where we are today if the ruling party adopted a democratic approach since independence when we were still a developing nation? Just taking a look at our neighbours, it is easy to argue that democracy, in the hands of the corrupted and irresponsible can be a double-edged sword. A country will find it very difficult to ameliorate and grow if  corrupted leaders use democracy and egalitarian notions to create resentment among the poor and low educated citizens towards the elites and rich. The concept of meritocracy and taking personal accountability in shaping one’s life in such cases, is almost non-existent. Therefore, I think that a dictatorial approach worked for Singapore back then. However, today we are definitely not  a third world country anymore, hence we should strive to achieve democracy where citizens play an active part in shaping it’s society.

I am no political science expert, but through my readings, I agree that for democracy to work, the nation has 1) to be prosperous 2) majority of educated middle or middle upper class residents 3) a history of social involvement in shaping its society, citizens who take personal responsibility of their nation’s well-being.

Now, Singapore is a definitely prosperous country, judging from its stellar economic figures. We have a rising middle upper class as we steer away from a labour centric economy to a knowledge based one. Education is also not a problem with 1 in 10 having attained university qualifications. That, coupled with a high immigration of overseas graduates to our shores to fill many management and professional jobs, creates a highly educated society.

It is true that people who are struggling to make ends meet to support their family have simply no spare time to acquaint themselves with politics. They sway with the majority most of the time when it comes to political views and opinions. However,  the same can be said for an educated middle class residents of Singapore, most of whom  who are either too busy chasing materialism and the new permanent residents tending to favour the existing ruling party which gave them personal growth opportunities in our little island. Hence, you get a nation of people where the notion of democracy is merely an abstract ideology.

Then we move on to the culture and history of individual involvement and responsibility in social order. Do the majority of us actually think we can shape our society on a personal capacity? I highly doubt so. Of course we have altruistic Singaporeans who take responsibility in organizing fund-raiser activities for respective charitable organizations. I salute them for that. However, when it comes to any activity with slight inclinations to a political agenda, “big brother” will intervene. Even if they do not intervene, petitions and voices will fall to deaf ears. If such agenda make it to an international platform or foreign publication, they will be starring at a defamation lawsuit. Just take movements like the “Free Burma Campaign” or the “Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign” for example.

So, with a political apathetic population and a bleak history of social involvement, will democracy be cast into oblivion?

I certainly feel that we are nation undergoing a transition from a third world to first world country. And with that comes greater political awareness. I take myself as an example of being “alternatively educated.” It was only 4 months ago where I was oblivious to the name Lim Chin Siong, the exorbitant salaries of our leaders, and of course the questionable policies of immigration and housing. And to that I must take my hats of to web portals like “The Online Citizen” and “Temasek Review”. The recent spike in the cost of living might just be a catalyst to push people to question and probe more leading to comparisons to other prosperous nations like Switzerland or South Korea.

I detest it when people use the same old arguments of how safe and clean Singapore is, in support of the ruling party. Such arguments usually surface when we complain about the high cost of living and the freedom of speech.   I do not take our cleanliness and low crime rate for granted. I also acknowledge the fact that our ruling party has been instrumental in steering Singapore to the heights of today. But we are not a third world country any longer, we must look forward. If we want to grow as a country we must aspire to the other more developed countries, to achieve their levels of economic success and civilization.

If the government can push Singapore’s resources to the max, when it comes to building a prosperous first class economy, surely then, we as Singaporeans can push the government for a first class society. They can continue to use political power to shun or avoid flawed policies and ignore the rising trend in political awareness among it’s citizens at their own peril. As citizens we must understand that politics is part of our lives. Don’t go complaining about the endless rise in cost of living, the lack of job opportunities, the overcrowding of roads and then stop there. We must read more, analyze more and understand that contrary to what our ruling party believes in, we have a role in molding our nation, which indirectly affects our lives.


Written by Nabs

April 30, 2010 at 10:43 am

Posted in MIND, Politics, Ramblings

9 Responses

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  1. […] Discourse – It’s all about Amelioration: Singapore for Singaporeans [Thanks Nabs] – Trapper’s Swamp: A simple majority is enough – Singapore is […]

  2. Hmmm i think i have heard these before. Heh. But a good one nonetheless, expressing ur desire for more to be politically aware. I support.

    Ur No. 1

    April 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm

  3. “would Singapore progress to where we are today if the ruling party adopted a democratic approach since independence when we were still a developing nation?”

    People who think the answer is obviously “no” seem to have a much more robust counterfactual intuitions than I do. I mean, really? Politics and national development is a complex process; there was no shortage of “highly educated” candidates in non-PAP political parties. How is it so obvious that if those people were given a share in governing the country, that we would not have progressed? In fact, how are people so sure that we could not have done better? I’m trying to replay alternative histories in my head, but the possible outcomes are determined by such a complex interplay of factors that I don’t see any obviously correct answer.

    The comparisons to Malaysia and Indonesia are laughable since they are not city-states and could not have been governed the same way that the PAP did Singapore. You just cannot do the same thing they did to Singapore when you have thousands of islands, tribes in remote jungles that are at best ambivalent towards your rule, a minority race that is economically dominant, etc. Furthermore, despite the existence of slums and things like that, per capita income in Singapore was already higher than that in Malaysia and Indonesia simply because of the existence of large rural populations in those countries. Not to mention the fact that Malaysia and Indonesia were also, like Singapore, effectively dictatorships for a few decade. Yet a surprising number of people just accept that ridiculously naive comparison as an argument for the benefits of dictatorship.

    Ponder Stibbons

    April 30, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    • Couldn’t agree more. That’s our ruling party’s agenda. Using fear of our country’s vulnerability to warn us of changing leadership. I think that there are a rising breed of credible opposition candidates that can do an equally if not a better job. A lot of policies and systems like the CPF and HDB are unique to Singapore because of our land scarcity. Thus, it’s difficult to compare to other countries and have a benchmark of such systems. But it does not imply that policies should be shoved down our throats.

      Seriously, now that cost of living is so high, many of us have began to wonder what’s the point of having stellar GDP figures when the majority of us feel poorer by the day?

      Thanks for reading!


      May 14, 2010 at 11:23 am

  4. […] Be moderate can??? – ST Forum: Have Singaporeans arrived? – It’s all about Amelioration: Singapore for Singaporeans [Thanks Nabs] – Trapper’s Swamp: A simple majority is enough – Singapore is […]

  5. Good stuff you are writing. Likewise I was oblivious in the past where everything I read, receive and hear from the top I take as the gospel truth. Now I prefer to read wider and hear an alternative view. And I feel that should be how Singapore need to progress. NCMP, NMP? Another PAP ploy to hear but not listen.



    May 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    • Right on Kaffein! It’s all about amelioration aight. We need to take a more active role in shaping our society and we should start with being aware. Cheers.


      May 14, 2010 at 11:04 am

  6. Nabs,

    Can not agree more with the points you mentioned above, however, with due respect, I need to add another point: An Independence Judiciary system (I mean independence — like UK) is vital to any society like Singapore!

    SG in UK

    June 2, 2010 at 5:40 am

    • Yup!You mean the “executive power” that can influence the judiciary system to suit the incumbent’s political agenda? Defamation is the name of the game.

      To them, it’s to protect their integrity, but to me it’s more of insecurity.

      Even in the recent mandatory death penalty debate involving Yong Vui Kong, it is apparent that our judiciary system is greatly influenced by our Parliament. The judges are mere puppets at times, no discretion is given at all.

      Here’s a interesting blog post that tracks the numerous examples of authoritarian rule in Singapore, with the help of the judiciary system of course.

      Good to hear form you again! Hope all is well in Birmingham.


      June 3, 2010 at 9:17 am

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