My Newsradio Scripts

These are my old radio news scripts on Singapore's current affairs when I worked as a broadcast journalist.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

OTGV #6 - Politics

Broadcast Date: 05/08/02

This year's Singapore International Foundation or S-I-F's Singapore Student Symposium dwells on the hurdles impeding the Republic's future path.

In the panel on social challenges, a professor and a writer posed questions for the students to think about the hurdles Singaporeans must face.

Hi Welcome to On the Grapevine with me Chong Ching Liang.

Singapore's strength is a dominant One Party government that has been able to push all policies through with ruthless speed and efficiency.

Writer and self-proclaimed political commentator Catherine Lim mused on the historical origins of the Singaporean polity and how it has changed.

"And maybe this was the natural result of the historical, geo-political circumstances of Singapore. It was a tiny little nation with no natural resources, here was a government led by Mr Lee Kuan Yew who was very anxious to make everything succeed. So it was a top-down kind of government those past years. Consultations would be totally irrelevant and the views of the people would not have meant anything."

The efficiency of the dominant One Party government has resulted in the GDP reaching developed nation level in a breathtakingly short three decade period.

But there are certain tradeoffs.

National University of Singapore's political scientist, Hussin Mutalib said the Westminster model of government has seen some structural changes.

"There is some degree of civility and respect for the need of an opposition. The opposition is seen as an asset and not a liability to the system to the system. This is not in Singapore. In fact, in Singapore, the opposition is seen as a problem. It's not easy for people to engage in opposition politics. And of course given the nature of the dominant One Party system, you find the members of Parliament are playing roles which are, to put it gently, quite minimal. You can have lots of drama in the parliament but then the results are, as good as predictable. We are not attaching a value to this; we are just describing the system."

Another side-effects is the rise of a politically apathetic electorate said Associate Professor Hussin.

"The impact of such a system and political culture to the citizens, you find what has been described in the political literature as parochial political culture amongst many Singaporeans. It's a situation where the citizens cared very little about what's happened in the country. They may be talking a little bit here and there, in the coffee shops, in homes and some close friends but they do not engage the political elites in matters of substance."

But the government is aware that a politically apathetic population doesn't bode well for the future of the Singaporean civil society.

So it's trying very hard to erase the apathy in the electorate.

Dr Catherine Lim noted that from newspaper fora to public symposia, she had witnessed much greater freedom.

But she said the Singaporean public had not fully appreciated the overtures by the government.

"But what are the people saying? We are still frighten what's the use of saying anything at all, the government never listens. It's fait accompli -- what's the use of getting our views when you have already made your decisions? Now I read about that so often and I can almost sense the exasperation in the government's voice that says 'Hey we are serious, you know. We want to get feedback and why aren't you opening up?"

Dr Lim ventured a guess as to why the public has been rather cynical instead of embracing the new consultative style of governance.

"Each time the government throws forward a controversial issue for which it invites feedback; I can almost predict the stages. Stage One is here is the issue; it could be C-O-E or whatever. And then of course all the mechanism for feedback is activated and you have fora and so on. Then it reaches a certain height of animosity and then a minister or if the issue is big enough, the Prime Minister himself comes in and says, 'Enough! Let's get back to work. Please be aware of the larger purpose, the long term outcome. We are a pragmatic society; we don't want to waste time.' I think this has just happened in connection with the bus fare controversy. [loud applause]"

In the new economy, the government has already spoken of slaughtering any sacred cows within its policies to ensure Singapore survives economically.

But there's not much change politically.

Dr Hussin told the student there's an important question that all Singaporeans need to ask in light of this imbalance between economic and political development.

"Given its pragmatic ideology, what works is more important than some ideological or philosophical inclinations. You find that in the realm of politics, the change the change has been perhaps very gradual if compared with economic change. There's tremendous changes in economic platforms with tremendous liberalisation, restructuring and lots of new changes are coming. But then very little is attempted in terms of the nature of political reform. This is something to think about. The question is can you have a situation on a prolong basis, is it tenable that you encourage economic reform by not attaching political reforms?"

Is an apathetic and weak civil society tenable or sustainable indeed?

This is perhaps what both speakers wanted the students of the SIF student symposium to think about.

After all, they are the physical embodiments of Singapore's future.

This is Chong Ching Liang for Newsradio 938.

Related Websites:
Singapore International Foundation
Catherine Lim
Hussin Mutalib


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