Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An opposition that does itself no favours

Nov 10, 2010

By Liang Tung-ping

EVEN though the Republic of Singapore was founded only 45 years ago, it stands proud in the region and even in the world at large, due to its political stability and economic prosperity.

Strange as it may seem, such a nation, once described by the late Harvard University political scientist Samuel Huntington as a 'near-perfect society', is also often the target of criticism of some political commentators. Their criticisms usually centre around the issues of authoritarian rule and suppression of the opposition parties, and so on.

The truth is that most of these criticisms are superficial, blind, self-opinionated and come with ulterior motives.

The fact remains that in the foreseeable future, there is hardly any opportunity for the opposition parties in Singapore to grow in strength - due to the great work the ruling People's Action Party has done in governing the country, plus the fact that most opposition politicians in Singapore lack the necessary qualities and are often fighting among themselves.

In Singapore, there is a Speakers' Corner within Hong Lim Park, modelled after the Speakers' Corner in Britain's Hyde Park, which the Government established in 2000 in response to criticism that Singapore lacks free speech. This park is a real-life example of what politics is like in Singapore.

When it was first launched, it managed to attract crowds for quite a while, but enthusiasm for it soon died down. The main reason for this is because most of the speakers just could not manage to piece together any serious or meaningful criticism of the Singapore Government. Eventually, most of the issues raised tended to be trivial, and this turned off many in the audience.

All that remains of the Speakers' Corner today is a signboard indicating its location.

In September 2008, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a ground-breaking measure allowing individuals and organisations to gather at Speakers' Corner to stage demonstrations and protests, by simply registering online. For a few days after the measure was announced, the Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao did a series of stories, hoping to report large-scale public gatherings and demonstrations at the park, events that were previously unheard of in the island state.

In the end, the reporters saw only 'a few tiny birds flying around the park'. It seemed that nobody had bothered to register with the authorities to protest.

The Singapore Parliament comprises 84 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), one Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) and nine Nominated MPs.

Among the elected MPs, there are two opposition members: one of them, the 75-year-old Mr Chiam See Tong, is a six-term MP from the Singapore People's Party who has served for 26 years; the other is Mr Low Thia Khiang from the Workers' Party (WP), who has also been around for quite a few terms. The NCMP is the WP's Ms Sylvia Lim.

The NCMP seats are automatically given to the 'best losers' among the opposition candidates. Indeed, to make the number of opposition MPs in Parliament look better, the Singapore Government has also amended the law to allow more opposition NCMPs in Parliament in the next elections.

Why is this so? Precisely because the opposition has hardly any chance of winning.

A small nation such as Singapore, with all its worthy talents roped in by the ruling party, leaving the opposition with the likes of politicians such as Dr Chee Soon Juan - how can the opposition ever grow in strength and earn the people's trust?

Dr Chee of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) is actually the worst example that one can cite among the island's opposition camp. Introduced into politics by Mr Chiam when the latter was the party's secretary-general, he got Mr Chiam kicked out of the SDP and took control of the party. In the end, not only did the SDP fail to grow stronger, but it also went into decline. Dr Chee's capabilities are evident for all to see.

The biggest problem with him is that he likes to resort to rumour-mongering in order to achieve his political agenda. Abandoned by his own comrades and the people of Singapore, Dr Chee is now politically bankrupt.

What is funny is that some Western media and ignorant political commentators still like to treat Dr Chee as some kind of a model figure for the opposition in Singapore.

This commentary appeared in Taiwan's Chinese-language China Times on Nov 6. Translated by Terence Tan.

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