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Friday, February 16, 2007

You can't eat Democracy, but...

You Can’t Eat Democracy, But…

The American system never ceases to amaze. For 8 years, they had Clinton, who adopted a conciliatory posture towards China, then, with the assumption of Bush, the US practically overnight turned almost confrontational towards that country.

It does not matter who is righter, Clinton or Bush. The great lesson is that, in a true democracy, the country can turn 180 degrees overnight, adjust its foreign and domestic policies on an almost revolutionary scale, and thereby offer its people dynamic change that cumulatively makes the country the greatest on earth.

Singapore's leaders have for long, been studying this great country and tried to, what else? copy it. They have encouraged large-scale immigration of foreign talent and even non-talent, thinking that that is one of the keys to America's success. In the process, creating for us vast problems that are becoming evident now and will be even more so in the future.

They have tried to copy some of America's creativity through, what else? teaching it in schools, as if creativity can be taught. Of course, they don't want original political and social thinkers, just people who can write creative computer programs, start dot.coms and generally find better ways of doing business and doing things.

They have tried to globalise and regionalise and liberalise. Adopting every catchy catchword and the latest intellectual fad and the most modern economisms.

Everything except democratise.

Which is why they will fail and fail miserably.

They are copying the form and not the substance of America.

Going back to the Clinton versus Bush differences, and to the larger systems of which they are but representatives -- the Democrats versus the Republicans, it does not matter if wrenching change comes with a new President and/or Congress. The important thing is that dramatic change is possible. With a simple change in President mandated every 4 years, the country can switch its friends and enemies overnight -- if that is in the best interests of the country.

With such sudden change possible, it is more likely that the interests of America and Americans are best served. Even more so in domestic social and economic policies from education to health care to social security.

Compare that with our little State.

Lee Kuan Yew ruled from 1959 to 1990, or 31 years unbroken, undisturbed by any strong minister challengers or any argumentative parliament, giving him absolute power that no US President can even dream of. Then, he continued as Senior Minister with absolute authority until today, another 11 years at the helm. Worse still, he is overseeing and orchestrating the assumption of his son to Prime Minister, thereby ensuring a continuance of his policies even long after his death or incapacity. Talk about reaching out even from beyond the grave.

Thus, no real change is possible for Singapore and Singaporeans.

Thus, we can expect more of the same under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, just as we saw much the same things under Goh Chok Tong.

Thus, we will continue to enmify Malaysia and placate Indonesia.

Thus, we will continue to spend a whopping 6% of our GDP on buying toys for our generals and admirals, waste 2 or 2 1/2 years of the prime years of our youths in army camps preparing for a war that will never come and which can be avoided with more intelligent foreign policies.

Thus, our CPF will continue to be spent on money-losing showy projects while giving us little or even negative returns, and there will be hardly any left for us to withdraw at 55 with the recent, and mandated future increases in the Minimum Sum.

Thus, there will be no transparency and accountability in the government's doings and in the government-linked companies.

Thus, every social and political problem will be solved through money methods and much money will be exacted from the people through all kinds of taxes and charges. The people will have little real money and even less discretionary spending (example, more than 800,000 customers of DBS have less than $50 in their accounts, STI 27 June 2001).

With no real change possible, the entire country is stuck in a concrete cast, frozen in a time warp as the faster changing parts of the world revolutionise rather than evolutionise their economic, political and social life. Today, more countries are truly democratic than just a decade ago. How long can Lee and his goons hold out?

Lee and his clones can copy the workings of the Internet but not control this Fifth Estate like they did the Fourth. The Fifth Estate is even more powerful and liberating than the Fourth, the media.

Perhaps there is a law of human leadership. That the first leader, (in this case, Lee) comes along, grabs power, and thereby bends or creates institutions to run the country (his way). Then, the institutions, so created or bent, are enough to control the country for a time, but not indefinitely, because until there comes along a strong leader or challenger to remould and rededicate these institutions, they become outdated and obsolete and are totally wrong for the new times of the future.

In our case, Lee has bent or created every institution in the country, and a new generation has grown up into its well-defined grooves and slots, very comfortably. But unless all these are destroyed or remoulded drastically, the PAP will be continuing to use yesterday's solutions for today's problems and yesterday's dictates for tomorrow's uncertainties. That is why Lee has outlived his usefulness. Worse still, some of his crony ministers parrot all his dictates without thinking about their relevance.

In the US, such a scenario is impossible. Every 4 years, the country goes through a heartsearching debate on where it wants to go and who should take it there. Leaders have to constantly anticipate the future and remake the present and offer choices and solutions. In Singapore, all we are told is "More of the same". If Singapore is rapidly becoming what it was not, will more of the same be good for us?

Even in the known process of biological evolution, species do not evolve by tiny, accumulated changes. In the evidence of the fossils, changes are often made in giant leaps, practically revolutionary. In geological terms, new species spring up practically overnight, with amazing new features. Thus a policy of keeping everything to the status quo does not even have a parallel in science, let alone in politics.

Do we have a new leader who can offer this quantum leap in perspectives? Fortunately, we have, in Dr Chee Soon Juan. I have studied his books and other writings and followed his career. In his books, Dr Chee has shown that he can think out of the box and has the ability to question 'axioms' that are no longer true. Compare Dr Chee with the unthinking, unquestioning men in white whose minds are as bland as their uniforms. Has any PAP leader or even rank and file follower even written one slim book on his visions for Singapore? The silence is deafening.

In other words, two conclusions can be drawn -- either everyone in the PAP, leaders and followers, has nothing to offer on the future of Singapore and how they can make it a better place for us; or, they are all so afraid of their own opinions that they would rather not say anything.

Either way, it is a sad indictment of our political process and our leaders. Not only bland uniforms but bland minds. Interestingly, Dr Chee holds a doctorate whereas practically all our ministers hold only a basic degree. If the PAP's own meritocracy criterion is observed, wouldn't Dr Chee be better qualified to lead the country? This writer thinks so. If only the rest of the electorate were so circumspect.

With the PAP now busily going round campaigning, the voter can rightly feel important. And he has a very important decision to make. Either vote for the past or vote for the future. The PAP and Lee represent the past, or what worked quite well then. Dr Chee and the opposition represent the future. He is younger than all the PAP ministers and his books prove he has the visions and thinking for the future. No PAP minister has even bothered to pen a book, even with the unlimited financial and academic resources available to PAP people (Lee Kuan Yew's Memoirs are mere propagandistic historical accounts -- a pathetic attempt to falsify history).

In any other country, the choice would be obvious. In ours, well...