Friday, September 17, 2010

No say? It's simply not true, she says

Sep 17, 2010

BACK in Singapore with my husband and 11-year-old son last week, I was struck by how the city has changed since we left in 2007, after living in the Republic for 16 years.

The range of new attractions is simply astounding. Along Sentosa's beachfront alone, I counted at least a dozen adrenaline-pumping activities and leisure zones boasting swimming pools, restaurants and overstuffed couches to lounge on. In short, Singapore is hard to beat.

However, strolling around Holland Village, what did I encounter? A middle-aged couple handing out pro- democracy brochures and shouting, 'Support democracy'.

My husband, an American citizen, said to the pair: 'I'm American and you don't want what we have. Democracy isn't about choice. It's just a fancy word for partisan bickering and gridlocked government.'

[I'm generally in agreement with the tone and position of this letter and I understand what the American mean about partisan bickering and gridlocked govt. But Democracy is about choice, but what happens when the choices you are given are "bad" and "worse"? Or "well-intentioned but incompetent" and "competent but corrupt"? The solution isn't "no democracy", but good government, responsible govt. Responsible govt isn't about responding to every whim of the voters. Govt is elected to govern in the best interest of the electorate, even when sometimes the electorate doesn't know what is in their best interests. Good govt makes good decisions even when those decisions are tough or hard to sell. Poor govt or bad govt pander to the electorate.]

Singapore has spent decades crafting a cohesive and remarkably prosperous society.

In a report on Monday about an interview given by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew ('View among young that S'pore can be put on auto-pilot still concerns MM'), he warned that turning Singapore into an open political marketplace could pit racial groups against each other in the battle to get votes.

He said: 'If you do not have a cohesive society, you cannot make progress.'

Pick up any history book and you will find that Mr Lee's words are true. But, although Singaporeans are the lucky recipients of so much, sometimes they take it for granted and bray about 'democracy'.

As a citizen of Canada, a 'democracy', I would add that Singaporeans have far more say in what their government does than I do in mine. For example, before the goods and services tax came in years ago, Singaporeans were consulted first. Meanwhile, Canada's government has just pushed through a punishing 'harmony tax' and Canadians weren't consulted at all.

Likewise, in Singapore, important issues - such as whether to have integrated resorts or not - are discussed and debated before a decision is made.

So why do Singaporeans complain that they have no say when they do?

[Again, I hate to stop someone when they are on a roll complimenting Singapore, but as a complaining Singaporean, I have to have my complaints. The feeling that Singaporeans have is that the discussion is just a show. The decision has been made and the discussion is just an opportunity for the powers that be to explain their decision. The problem with American Democracy is that the politicking never stops. Decisions cannot be made because everyone wants to have their say. Gay marriage? Fight for recognition. Then those opposed will rally and get the decision overturned. Then the pendulum swings back. Ad nauseum.]

Singapore, you've got so much to lose. Do you really want that couple in Holland Village jeopardising it all by shouting about democracy?

Margo McCutcheon (Ms) Kuala Lumpur

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