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Saturday, February 17, 2007

RH: Government by Referendum

From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
Subject: RH: Government by Referendum
This is the only article in this thread
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Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore
Date: 2004-01-22 07:46:07 PST

From: robert_ho@my-deja.com (robert_ho@my-deja.com)
Subject: Govt By Referendum?
View: Complete Thread (2 articles)
Original Format
Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore
Date: 2000-09-03 05:11:18 PST

When Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister, and he
still is in all but name, he set a national goal
for Singapore and his government: that Singapore
should 'catch up with the Swiss standard of
living (of that year) by 20XX (I forgot which
year exactly)'.

To his government and the people's credit,
Singapore has seemingly made giant strides
towards that goal.

But alas, while we have made large gains towards
the Swiss standard of living of that past year,
we have departed far, far from the Swiss standard
of democracy, which would have been an even
nobler goal.

To use Switzerland as a model and goal for
economic development is laudable; not to use the
Switzerland as a model for democracy and freedom
is execrable.

Both are small nations with little resources
except people. But Switzerland has managed
affluence with democracy and freedoms while we
have sacrificed all freedoms for what we now have.

Switzerland does not get much into the world
news, except for its large and healthy stock
markets and huge banks. And, of course, a country
that runs like (Swiss) clockwork does not get
into the headlines, only the business news. To a
large extent, editors of the media still consider
bad news as good news. And good news is usually

I recalled this long-ago goal of LKY recently
when I read that "the Swiss conduct frequent
Referendums". Now, that is interesting. If it is
so, then it is perhaps a democracy that is closer
to the people than any other democracy in the
world and perhaps close to the original Greek
invention of democracy where all citizens (but
not slaves) can gather at the Forum to speak
their minds on any issue of the day. In
Singapore, we are more like the Greek slaves who
have no part in the democratic process, except
the right, heavily coerced, of casting a slip of
paper once every 5 years.

A pity.

Because, in this day of the Internet and the
miracle of WAP phones, a click is all that it
takes to register a citizen's vote on any issue.
And frequent referendums can easily be managed by
present technology and future development. These
open up great possibilities for democracies to
consult their people on major issues. A truly
Consultative Democracy is possible, if not
immediately, then within less than 5 years of
development if governments put their minds to it.
And Singapore, thanks to its small size, is the
most wired up in the world, with broadband access
into nearly all homes and with almost half of all
households connected to the Internet, a
penetration higher than the US. So a Consultative
Democracy is indeed very possible.

To some extent, this is already so in most
democracies. In the present race for the White
House, for example, George Bush and Al Gore are
rated professionally and frequently in polls so
we have almost daily ratings of their standings
vis-a-vis each other in the race. The 2 men are
in no doubt as to what the voters think of them
and as they court the voters with pronouncements
on policies and visions for their country, the
polls instantly convey what the people think of

In Singapore, there are no Referendums and no
polls. I may be wrong. A government that spends
so much money and has so much expertise in spin
doctoring cannot not know the people's will,
though they may ignore it and suppress the
results. I believe that polls are constantly
conducted, only that the results are not made
public because it would be embarrassing to know
what Singaporeans really think of their leaders
and their policies. Certainly, there is no lack
of money or expertise to conduct polls, only the
imperative to suppress the results, released
probably only to the top leadership.

LKY has clearly stated that the 'duty' of the
people is to return a 'good' government at the
polls, meaning the PAP, and after that, have no
say whatsoever in the running of the country,
until the next General Elections. Even by-
elections are not held, a sore point with the
opposition, when an incumbent PAP MP dies or
resigns in disgrace. That is to prevent a repeat
of the disastrous by-election in Anson which saw
Mr Jeyaretnam become the first opposition MP in
many years of total PAP monopoly.

Thus, while there are publicised poll results of
some minor or non-controversial issues in
Singapore in the newspapers, there aren't a
single one on our leaders' standings with the
electorate. Or the opposition leaders' standings
with the electorate. In one recent posting in
soc.culture.singapore, a PAP lackey who responded
to an anti-LKY posting repeated no less than 4
times that "Lee Kuan Yew is popular because...".
This is a desperate attempt to convey that LKY is
popular. I wonder what the polls would say. Or
have said. LKY boasts constantly that he would
rather be "feared than loved". And that "if
people don't fear me, then I am meaningless.".

Without publicised polls on what Singaporeans
think of their leaders and their policies, there
can be no feedback. No real feedback. We do have
many Feedback Units but these are more Drawback
Units because people who are called upon to say
their say dare not say what is really on their
minds. And the results of these can easily be
skewed by the 10,000 registered PAP members and
their families and friends who have a vested
interest in skewing the results so everything
looks good for the leaders. I suspect that even
LKY's memoirs which sold so well were bought up
by these 10,000 PAP members to give the book a
good reception. Next month, we can expect a
repeat of this phenomenon with the Second Book.

Singaporeans desperately need Referendums and
even polls to consult them on issues and to give
them a sense that their wishes and opinions
count, as in a real democracy. Not to do so is to
breed a generation of apathetic citizens who turn
cynical and begin to distrust everything the govt
says. I think it has already happened. Even the
PAP constantly asks the people to wake up from
their apathy and to take an interest in society
and their collective future. But that is only lip
service. The fundamental cause of the apathy is
the lack of consultation with the people.

Indeed, if a Consultative Govt can be
implemented, it is entirely possible that the PAP
gains more from it than the Opposition. Imagine
if the people have a chance to influence all
major policies. Then it is possible that they
wouldn't need the opposition to articulate for
them because they can articulate their desires
directly through the Referendums, at a click of
the mouse or the press of a telephone button. The
infrastructure is already there, or at least,
easily developed within 5 years.

Until then, apathy rules. This may be convenient
for dictators who only want to exercise power
directly and unfettered by the niceties of
democracy but it cannot be good for the country.
Democracy, as Winston Churchill said, is the
worst form of government -- except for all the

Robert Ho
1 Sep 00

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