Straits Times questions Ministry’s stand on LUP

Straits Times article was reflective of the overwhelming sense of indignation felt by Singaporeans that the PAP’s antics in those two wards had crossed the line of common decency.

Straits Times political desk journalist Sue-Ann Chia expressed in today’s papers what any rational-minded Singaporean knew to be right: That the elected opposition MPs should be the ones managing the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) in their ward, not the PAP candidates who lost in the last election.

In her article headlined “‘Adviser over MP’ raises many questions”, Ms Chia questioned the flawed reasoning of the press secretary to the National Development minister, who said last week that town councils should not be considered a local government. She deftly pointed out that over the past 12 years, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Hsien Loong had all stated in one way or another that the town council were designed for voters to choose their local representative, not just MPs to the national Parliament.

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Don’t turn my country into an administrative state

I strongly reject PAP MP Hri Kumar’s suggestion in Parliament that the Prime Minister should be given the option to appoint individuals from outside the rank of elected MPs to his cabinet. He had argued that the pool of talent available to the PM will “increase substantially” and he can draw on the experience of many “capable individuals”.

This is a dangerous line of thinking which is not just undemocratic, but foolish as well.

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China’s “Charter 08”

A few weeks ago, 303 prominent Chinese citizens put their signature to Charter 08 (零八宪章), which was a well-crafted statement of how they wished to see China develop into a free and democratic nation, which contributes to peace for humankind and progress toward human rights. Some of them are already paying the price for speaking out — several have been interrogated by the authorities and one remains under police custody.

Below is section II of the Charter, which spells out the fundamental principles that frame what they are asking for. The English translation by Perry Link follows it. The full Chinese version can be found here and the full English translation can be found here.

I salute these brave Chinese heroes. In fact, much of what they have written in their Charter is directly applicable to Singapore.

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零八宪章


二、我们的基本理念

当此决定中国未来命运的历史关头,有必要反思百年来的现代化历程,重申如下基本理念:

自由:自由是普世价值的核心之所在。言论、出版、信仰、集会、结社、迁徙、罢工和游行示威等权利都是自由的具体体现。自由不昌,则无现代文明可言。

人权:人权不是国家的赐予,而是每个人与生俱来就享有的权利。保障人权,既是政府的首要目标和公共权力合法性的基础,也是“以人为本”的内在要求。中国的历次政治灾难都与执政当局对人权的无视密切相关。人是国家的主体,国家服务于人民,政府为人民而存在。

平等:每一个个体的人,不论社会地位、职业、性别、经济状况、种族、肤色、宗教或政治信仰,其人格、尊严、自由都是平等的。必须落实法律面前人人平等的原则,落实公民的社会、经济、文化、政治权利平等的原则。

共和:共和就是“大家共治,和平共生”,就是分权制衡与利益平衡,就是多种利益成分、不同社会集团、多元文化与信仰追求的群体,在平等参与、公平竞争、共同议政的基础上,以和平的方式处理公共事务。

民主:最 基本的涵义是主权在民和民选政府。民主具有如下基本特点:(1)政权的合法性来自人民,政治权力来源于人民;(2)政治统治经过人民选择,(3)公民享有 真正的选举权,各级政府的主要政务官员必须通过定期的竞选产生。(4)尊重多数人的决定,同时保护少数人的基本人权。一句话,民主使政府成为”民有,民 治,民享”的现代公器。

宪政:宪政是通过法律规定和法治来保障宪法确定的公民基本自由和权利的原则,限制并划定政府权力和行为的边界,并提供相应的制度设施。

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Charter 08

II. Our Fundamental Principles

This is a historic moment for China, and our future hangs in the balance. In reviewing the political modernization process of the past hundred years or more, we reiterate and endorse basic universal values as follows:

Freedom.
Freedom is at the core of universal human values. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom in where to live, and the freedoms to strike, to demonstrate, and to protest, among others, are the forms that freedom takes. Without freedom, China will always remain far from civilized ideals.

Human rights.
Human rights are not bestowed by a state. Every person is born with inherent rights to dignity and freedom. The government exists for the protection of the human rights of its citizens. The exercise of state power must be authorized by the people. The succession of political disasters in China’s recent history is a direct consequence of the ruling regime’s disregard for human rights.

Equality. The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every person — regardless of social station, occupation, sex, economic condition, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief — are the same as those of any other. Principles of equality before the law and equality of social, economic, cultural, civil, and political rights must be upheld.

Republicanism.
Republicanism, which holds that power should be balanced among different branches of government and competing interests should be served, resembles the traditional Chinese political ideal of “fairness in all under heaven.” It allows different interest groups and social assemblies, and people with a variety of cultures and beliefs, to exercise democratic self-government and to deliberate in order to reach peaceful resolution of public questions on a basis of equal access to government and free and fair competition.

Democracy. The most fundamental principles of democracy are that the people are sovereign and the people select their government. Democracy has these characteristics: (1) Political power begins with the people and the legitimacy of a regime derives from the people. (2) Political power is exercised through choices that the people make. (3) The holders of major official posts in government at all levels are determined through periodic competitive elections. (4) While honoring the will of the majority, the fundamental dignity, freedom, and human rights of minorities are protected. In short, democracy is a modern means for achieving government truly “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutional rule.
Constitutional rule is rule through a legal system and legal regulations to implement principles that are spelled out in a constitution. It means protecting the freedom and the rights of citizens, limiting and defining the scope of legitimate government power, and providing the administrative apparatus necessary to serve these ends.

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Economist edition banned in Thailand

This is the article in The Economist that got it banned in Thailand. (Technically, the distributor voluntarily self-imposed the ban. But we all know better.)

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12724832

Exerpts from The King and them:

Much of the story of how the king’s actions have hurt his country’s politics is unfamiliar because Thais have not been allowed to hear it. Some may find our criticisms upsetting, but we do not make them gratuitously. Thailand needs open debate if it is to prepare for the time when a less revered monarch ascends the throne. It cannot be good for a country to subscribe to a fairy-tale version of its own history in which the king never does wrong, stays above politics and only ever intervenes on the side of democracy. None of that is true.

In reality, with public anger at the queen’s support for the thuggish PAD and the unsuitability of Bhumibol’s heir simmering, Thailand risks the recent fate of Nepal, which has suffered a bitter civil war and whose meddling king is now a commoner in a republic. The PAD was nurtured by the palace and now threatens to engulf it. An enduring image of the past few days is that of PAD toughs shooting at government supporters while holding up the king’s portrait. The monarchy is now, more clearly than ever, part of the problem. It sits at the apex of a horrendously hierarchical and unequal society. You do not have to be a republican to agree that this needs to be discussed.

While I think the article was a little harsh on the king — it’s not just the monarchy, but large sections of the Thai elite who support this vile anti-government movement called the PAD — it does seem to have an element of truth.

Now it appears the opposition Democrat party is trying to seize power without a democratic mandate. It’s really preposterous.

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Olympic protests not an attempt to embarrass Chinese people

A PRC Chinese friend of mine recently asked me over dinner what I thought about the Tibet situation — the Tibet independence movement, Western protests, Chinese reaction, and so on.

He pointed out to me and our other Singaporean friends present how the Western press had been lying about the situation in Tibet. For example, German newspapers featured scenes of police suppressing protestors. But those policemen were revealed to be Nepalese police, not Chinese. (I presume websites like anti-cnn.com which point out these untruths have been circulating endlessly among Chinese both in China and overseas.)

I have noticed that Chinese nationals all seem to have a strikingly similar perspective on the issue: That Westerners are jealous of a rising China and are trying to prevent the 1.4 billion people of China from taking their rightful place in this world.

Perhaps this is because most of them get their news from Chinese government mouthpieces like Xinhua, or from friends who read Xinhua or anti-cnn.com.

Knowing how sensitive this issue is with Chinese nationals, and not wanting to offend, I told him that I felt this whole situation was a misunderstanding between the Chinese and the West.

I told my friend that I feel that the majority of the Western “free Tibet” protesters are not out to embarrass the people of China or insult China (as in the country). Their protests are an attempt to embarrass the totalitarian Communist government of the People’s Republic of China, whom they believe need to open up and move towards a more representative government, rule of law and justice for all its people. Sure, there might be a few bigots among them, but we in China and Singapore do not realise that there are many European and American civil society activists who are genuinely seeking a more just world, even outside their own borders.

As for the misrepresentation of China in the Western press, I explained that in the West, unlike China and Singapore, there are no political controls on the press. Countries like Germany have countless newspapers which are all competing for readership.

One of the easiest (albeit least ethical) ways to increase readership is to sensationalise issues. Scenes of peaceful streets in Lhasa will not sell. So sometimes journalists in these papers will scrounge for random pictures to back their story of a harsh crackdown by the Chinese authorities. And since to many cloistered Westerners, all Asian people look the same, scenes of Kathmandu and Lhasa are indistinguishable.

However unethical (or ignorant) this might be, Chinese people should not see this as an attempt by Western governments to put down China. Since none of these papers take orders from their governments (unlike in China and Singapore), it is a mistake to attribute the newspapers’ stand on issues to that of their government.

I personally find this raucous Chinese nationalism very distasteful. The majority of Han Chinese have no idea what goes on in Tibet or Xinjiang. Whatever they hear from their national media is — like the Gold 90.5 FM advertisement — only the good stuff. How can they be in a position to judge that the Tibetan protesters (in Tibet) have no justification for wanting autonomy or independence?

I find it even more irritating when some chauvinist Chinese Singaporeans, who themselves have no link to China, automatically take sides with China without an understanding of the kind of government that rules that country. They too see the Chinese government through the lens of what our national media paints it to be.

I think it is important that all of us, whether Singaporean, Chinese or European, is that we all need to be more discerning when reading the news. Not everything the media churns out is the truth. Every story has two sides to it. We will do well to study both sides before forming our opinions.

Fortunately the Internet has opened up the media scene tremendously and enabled many of us to seek out these different perspectives easily with a click of a button. But how many of us make the effort to do this?

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