58_G15_InFocus_Singapore

Global Issue 15

In Focus Singapore Smooth operators Singapore’s People’s Action Party has ruled the island state continuously since independence 50 years ago, despite free and fair elections. But the government has had to respond to dissatisfaction from the electorate on several fronts after losing seats in the last election Anver Versi Among the gifts that visiting delegations to Singapore often receive are two national icons: one is a beautifully mounted and gold plated orchid – Singapore’s national fl ower – and the other is a hard-backed copy of Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiography, From Third World to First. It has been described as ‘Singapore’s political bible’ and is essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of this often baffl ing island state. The book, written in a racy, homespun style, recounts how Lee Kuan Yew and his “team of good people” prevented the tiny, impoverished former British settlement at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula from being swallowed by its giant neighbours. Yew converted it, over just half a century, into one of the world’s wealthiest and most dynamic nations. “To survive, let alone to thrive,” he writes in his autobiography, “we knew we had to be the best at whatever we were doing and we had to be different.” He says that while they scoured the world to learn from others, there were no models for them to follow. They had to create their own model. “We are a special case.” This is what baffl es many academics and journalists who try to pigeonhole the state into neat ideological categories, but fi nd it a very slippery customer. Is it a one-party state? No, although the People’s Action Party (PAP) has won every election since independence in 1960. Is it authoritarian? Partially, but not entirely. Is it elitist? Unashamedly so, as it sets great store on meritocracy, but it is also responsive to public sentiment. Is it democratic? Yes – voting is compulsory and there has so far been no instance or even hint of electoral fraud. Is there freedom of speech? By and large there is freedom of expression and criticism of the government, but infl ammatory speech, racial or religious abuse is not tolerated. “Singapore’s political and economic models have evolved as a result of our needs and priorities,” says Ho Meng Kit, the CEO of the Singapore Business Federation (SBF). “They are based on practicality, not ideology and they work for Singapore.” Lee Kuan Yew had little doubt that the government always knew what was best for the state. He concerned himself with getting the right people in the right positions – “good people make good government” and he thought that ‘character’ was far more important than academic qualifi cations. He stepped down in 1990 and was succeeded by Goh Chok Tong, who in turn handed over the baton to the current premier, Lee Kuan Yew’s eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong in 2004. Singapore operates a single chamber parliament with 87 seats, with parliamentary and presidential elections held every fi ve years. The president, whose function is mostly ceremonial, appoints the prime minister from the ruling party and also, in consultation with the PM, the ministers. Most of the members are elected on Group Representation Constituency (GRC) slates of fi ve or six candidates. This is to ensure that minorities among the country’s multiracial composition are represented, but is a disadvantage for the opposition who tend to stand on single member tickets. The dominance of the PAP – which has won by landslides – and its majority in parliament has allowed the country to make long-term plans and to implement policy, without the fear that a new administration 58 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global


Global Issue 15
To see the actual publication please follow the link above