Latest electoral changes only treat the symptoms

It’s all very well to tinker with the number of NCMPs and NMPs, but what ails democracy here is a much deeper malaise: A climate of fear or culture of political timidity, however one wants to call it. The structures, formal and informal, that maintain authoritarianism must be dismantled. Full essay.

11 Responses to “Latest electoral changes only treat the symptoms”


  1. 1 j 30 May 2009 at 17:32

    a minor point: i still don’t see why we have to clear our trays in food courts. the food court already charges a service charge in the food we buy, and with that money, they hire cleaners to do the clearing. if we have to clear our trays, then foodcourt operators should be reducing their prices!

    do you clear your plates in a restaurant? isn’t it the same principle as not clearing your trays in a foodcourt?

    • 2 Singaporean overseas 31 May 2009 at 00:33

      Omigod, that is called civic-mindedness.

      I do confess I don’t do it in the food court but I do clear my trays in the fast food restaurants.

      • 3 j 31 May 2009 at 14:07

        so do you also clear your plates in a high end restaurant, since you say that is called civic mindedness?

      • 4 Singaporean Overseas 1 June 2009 at 19:29

        I don’t mean any malice, just stating my opinion. I hereby apologise if I have offended you because I didn’t phrase myself in a polite and civil manner.

        To answer your question, I do not clear the dining table in a HIGH-END restaurant because normally there are ample waiting staffs to do it (and of course having paid a premium for the service in a restaurant). And there are no trays to clear, so to speak.

        Maybe you have misunderstood my context of civic-mindedness.

        The reason why I do it in fast food restaurants is because sometimes it’s too busy and I don’t find it a big hassle to just empty the trays. In mandarin, it’s 举手之劳. And I always think that I would appreciate it too if someone does it. It’s not a high-end dining place and we would all benefit if we are considerate towards each other.

      • 5 j 6 June 2009 at 11:38

        to rephrase what you replied:

        I do not clear the dining table in a food court because normally there are ample cleaning staff to do it (and of course having paid a fee for the service in a food court, which is a slight percentage of the food – not a premium, of course, since a food court is meant to be cheap).

        why should there be a difference in expectations of civic-mindedness in eateries of different standards?

        the cleaning up in a food court is the responsibility of the food court operator, not the diner – just as the cleaning up in a restaurant is the responsibility of the restaurant, not the diner. plain and simple.

  2. 6 Singaporean overseas 31 May 2009 at 01:48

    Regarding independent bodies to serve as checks to our system, I have a feeling that many do not even trust ourselves to select a competent body without the help of PAPa telling us who is good enough. Product of our “paternalistic upbringing”?

    Thanks to you Mr. Au, I have been a loyal reader and have grown interested in the affairs of my home country. It is ironic that this happens after I live overseas. When I try to ask my friends back home for their opinions, most of the time, I found myself filling them in on what’s happening. I don’t know why they do not read beyond the headlines. Maybe it’s the demands of their careers and family lives that prevent them from having time for anything else…

    I totally agree with you on the timidity culture. But I find the level of apathy even more alarming. Mind you, my friends are not struggling to make ends meet. In fact many are successful executives and bankers. Ask them anything about branded goods/schools and they can talk for hours. Everything that they do must benefit them. And no, they will not clear the trays if they eat at fast food restaurants.

  3. 7 Shin 1 June 2009 at 02:23

    I disagree with you on the “culture of timidity”. I think there’s more to it. Allow me to share my thoughts here.

    The main reason why we hardly tell people off is that as a society we don’t even have a standard set of social rules.

    Instead we live by our own in public. On a train of thousands, there could be thousands of rules. Ironically, the only common understanding is to allow others the right to behave as they like, even if it’s socially unacceptable. You can call it “diversity and tolerance the Singapore way”.

    So people mind their own business. If others broke the law, let the law take care of them.

    How did this happen? Well, I blame it on our history! You see, our forefathers didn’t come here to create a new culture. They came to make money. Like us, they had their own set of rules.

    The problem was, Singapore became a success story. We were told to be proud of ourselves! Everyone thought they did it their own way. So we became a nation of self-righteous people. No one can say we are wrong.

    Except those who make the rules.

    I hope this make sense.

  4. 8 Geoff 1 June 2009 at 08:53

    You put it well Alex.
    Keep it up

  5. 9 chainsawieldinun 1 June 2009 at 09:09

    Perhaps it is not timidity, but a lack of responsibility, of ownership, or whatever it is that points to self-respect. After all, units of production should not be responsible for themselves and others, no?

  6. 10 Robert L 1 June 2009 at 20:47

    A well-written article, YB. Thank you. I can add a couple of important points.

    “It’s easy for us as citizens to bash opposition parties for not having impressive candidates and not having well-thought-out programs, …”

    In the past, without internet, and with the PAP’s stranglehold on public media, they managed to get away with this sort of criticism.

    Now, I believe netizens can mount an effective challenge to this statement and prove how baseless it is.

    “Not having impressive candidates” is directly caused by the PAP. One party rule, GLCs and govt running 99% of the business of the economy – this creates a condition when only the very, very brave would dare to join opposition. Or those with little to lose. Or those with backup plans to escape the country. To top it all – it’s not just one party rule, it’s a never-ending one party rule – get it?

    “Not having well-thought-out-programs” – hello? Do opposition candidates draw a salary from taxpayers? Are opposition parties served by civil servants? Or, gosh, is it the exact opposite? Are opposition candidates given as little jobs as possible in their business entreprises? And are civil servants directly thwarting the opposition parties in withholding facts and figures? Withholding permits to cycle in the park? Sounds more real-life, no?

    You don’t pay them, you don’t provide the country’s data; you in fact do the reverse, starve them of jobs, obstruct their activities – and then ask them to provide programs – [I vomit blood]. Can we imagine what kind of monstrous minds came out with this strategy?

    With the spread of the internet, this kind of deceit cannot remain unchallenged anymore and I believe netizens will be able to expose the lies in the criticisms.

  7. 11 Russel 6 June 2009 at 14:00

    It has been said that democracy aims to produce a land of the brave and free . As one analyst puts it, America is one of the free and brave. Hong Kong is one of the free but not brave. And Singapore is neither of these.
    When SM Goh made a speech years ago on the three important traits that distinguish Singaporeans from the rest of the world, namely kiasu (afraid to lose), kiasi(afraid to die) and kiabo(afraid of one’s wife), the audience just laughs with it, in accepting that these are their traits and in acknowledging that these traits are alright. If the same description were to be placed upon an American audience, they would have protested loudly.


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