In his speech to the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Students’ Union Ministerial Forum on 22 October, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said that some people—probably referring to young Singaporeans—“may not fully appreciate the purpose and importance of general elections”.
According to the Straits Times, he said that these people “simply yearn for liberal Western-style democracies without considering whether these will produce a good and effective government”.
Mr Goh cited an exchange of letters in the ST Forum last month on the topic of democracy. This led him to ask his audience: “Is a democratic system an end to be pursued in its own right, or is it a means to select a government to look after our lives like a guardian or a trustee?”
I am not sure where Mr Goh got the idea that Singaporeans are yearning for Western-style democracy and that they think democracy is an end in itself. If was because of the “exchange of letters” in the ST Forum, then I’m afraid Mr Goh is mistaken.
I’m familiar with this exchange of letters, because I wrote the second letter, which sparked off a chain of responses, not all of which were published by the paper (like this one, by Ravi Philemon).
In my 22 September letter, What makes a democracy (read here), I pointed out that while there is no need for us to adopt democracy’s negative aspects, we also should not cling blindly to the status quo.
I am all for adapting democracy to suit our circumstances. However, the PAP’s interpretation of “adapting democracy” is in fact more about justifying their authoritarian ways, than our cultural uniqueness.
Liberal democracy may be messy but authoritarian governments have destroyed far more countries and ruined many more lives. There are shades of grey between no-holds barred democracy and authoritarianism (including the brand of authoritarianism practiced in Singapore). The Senior Minister appears to have employed the tired old PAP tactic of citing extreme examples to distract from the main issue.
In my next article related to this one, I will discuss the need for political competition in Singapore.