Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Singapore is ‘normalising as a democracy’: Analysts


December 24 2013

SINGAPORE — Observers said navigating Singapore’s future political landscape will be much more of a challenge as they looked back at major events which shaped the country in 2013.

As one political watcher puts it, Singapore is “normalising as a democracy”, and with it comes a new way of governance.

2013 marked the end of the year-long Our Singapore Conversation, an exercise to get Singaporeans thinking about the kind of future they want.

It set the stage for the prime minister to announce a “significant shift” in the government’s approach towards nation building during the National Day Rally.

It was described as a “new way forward”, as the country grapples with new challenges externally, and domestically.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “Singaporeans sense correctly that the country is at a turning point.”

Mr Lee announced sweeping reviews on healthcare financing, education, and a bolder focus on social policies.

Observers said one issue that is likely to preoccupy political leaders in Singapore is how best to mitigate the effects of the growing income divide.

Leaders have turned to what they call “compassionate meritocracy” — that is, maximising opportunity, and moderating inequality.

Observers said more of Singapore’s policies will be tilted in that direction.

In December, further priorities were laid out during the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) Convention, reinforcing the government’s agenda.

Political watchers said one of the main challenges for the government is to get the buy-in from an increasingly diverse, and some would say fragmented population.

Associate Professor Reuben Wong from the National University of Singapore’s Political Science Department said: “When government communicates, government has to persuade. Government can’t always legislate and government should not legislate against an overwhelming majority of public opinion. That’s a sure recipe for disaster.”

Mr Devadas Krishnadas, a risk consultant at Future-Moves, said: “We are just normalising as a democracy. We are at perennial participatory politics where every issue has to be debated, whether officially or informally on the online space.

“And more and more people feel that they have a voice that they can use, and technology has actually created a platform where this can happen, and happens with very low barriers of entry.”

The release of the Population White Paper in January — a roadmap to address the country’s demographic challenges — sparked heated debate offline and online.

New internet rules announced in May to license online news sites sparked off another round of robust debate among Singaporeans.

The rules affected only 10 online news sites, all of them from mainstream media.

But that was little comfort to some bloggers.

Blogger and social media commentator Bertha Henson said: “I think it’s a bit unfortunate because the image that comes across is that it’s the ‘wild wild west’ — the bad stuff and all troublemakers who are online — and that cannot be the way it is naturally. There are plenty of moderate people online as well.”

The Broadcasting Act will be amended in 2014, with the view of applying the new licensing regime on overseas news sites reporting on Singapore as well.

And as the PAP reaches its electoral mid-term, all eyes will also be on the likely fourth generation team of leaders that will lead the country forward and strengthen the party’s appeal to voters ahead of the next elections due in 2016.


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