Respecting the democratic process

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Editorial
Tags: , , ,

Singapore’s General Elections 2011 has ended, and all Singaporeans should respect the results of the democratic election process.

Chiam See Tong, stalwart of the Singapore People’s Party, has lost his place in Parliament after 27 years of service to the country. His wife, who was given the task of defending the seat of Potong Pasir that Chiam has held for the past 27 years, lost by merely 114 votes. Chiam’s upset supporters tried to organize a petition, which ultimately landed them into trouble with Singapore’s highly restrictive illegal assembly laws.

The People’s Action Party has lost the group representative constituency of Aljunied, losing Singapore’s foreign minister George Yeo, a much beloved politician in Singapore, as a result. The subject of much social media heckling, Tin Pei Ling, who has been criticised as immature, incapable and riding on the coattails of Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in Marine Parade GRC, has been elected into Parliament. Many has called for Tin’s resignation on Facebook and for Yeo to replace Tin instead.

Such actions are highly regrettable outcomes of a free, fair and democratic process. The nature of a democratic process is such that when a person loses by even one vote, that person has lost. When a person has been elected, he or she has lawfully become a representative of the people who chose to elect this person, no matter how revolting this person might be to others.

Emotions run high during elections, but Singaporeans should respect the democratic process and accept the results of the elections with grace.

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Comments
  1. Xmen says:

    What were you thinking when you claimed that the election was “a free, fair and democratic process”?

    Singapore is a “hybrid regime,” one rank below “flawed democracy,” according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. It is in the same class as Bangladesh, Malawi, Zambia, Russia, Nepal, and Cambodia. Note that Singapore is the only developed country on the list of hybrid regimes. Isn’t it Special?

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index.

  2. Soojenn says:

    Fair and democratic process? Are you kidding… 60% of the votes represented by 81 seats? and 40% of the votes by only 6 seats?

  3. auwan says:

    I think in TPL’s case it’s arguable that the democratic process has been compromised. People may have felt forced to vote for her just because they prefer the other PAP candidates like GCT.

  4. Aaron Ng says:

    Xmen,

    All rankings should be accepted after critical inspection. The Economist has its own definition of democracy, and by their standards, we are not a democracy, but who says their standards of democracy is the ONLY standard? What makes you think that American democracy, UK democracy, Swedish democracy, Taiwan democracy are all the same? Just because someone said Singapore is ranked alongside Bangladesh, Malawi and Russia doesn’t mean we accept that as gospel truth. That is one of the big problems I have with PAP haters.

    It is fair to say that Singapore is not as democratic as others, and in the past, the PAP government has been very authoritarian in many respects. However, in this elections, I do not think that the electoral process has been compromised. Were our elections anywhere near the standards of say, the recent Burmese elections? And, no matter which ‘democratic’ country you go to, you will have mud slinging and all kinds of other tactics to win votes. Singapore is no exception.

  5. Aaron Ng says:

    Soojenn,

    We inherited the British first past the post system. The flaw with the system of political representation has nothing to do with whether the elections process was, in general, fairly conducted. Please do not conflate the two.

  6. Aaron Ng says:

    Auwan,

    Your point is the same issue that I clarified in my reply to Soojenn. The problem with TPL is the system of political representation, not with the election process. The issue of political representation has to be solved in Parliament, and that is up to the Workers’ Party to push this issue now that they have more clout in parliament.

  7. Xmen says:

    Aaron,

    What are your objections to the Economist’s definition of democracy? Here is a definition from Wikipedia –

    “Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.”

    Singaporeans do not enjoy freedom of speech, and cannot gather and protest publicly. Do you seriously think that a mere nine-day of “Glasnost” in the campaign period can produce a democratic result? Further, the playing field is so unleveled that it produces only 6 seats (7%) out of a total of 87 seats for the 40% population who voted against the incumbent ruling party. (If there were only one humongous GRC, PAP would have won 100% of the seats with 50.1% votes. Do you see the scandal yet?) How did the result get so out of whack? Didn’t PAP manipulate the electoral system to entrench its dominance?

    That said, now we can discuss whether the process is democratic!

  8. Aaron Ng says:

    Xmen,

    The Economist’s definition stated an ideal. So, how much tolerance is there for deviance from this ideal for a country to be democratic? I don’t think there’s agreement for the level of tolerance. Also, the definition stated that democracy CAN encompass social, economic and cultural conditions, not MUST encompass. I’m sorry, but I don’t think you can find any place on this planet that has all the characteristics of a democracy based on the Economist’s definition.

    That said, I will agree that Singapore can do much more to become more democratic. However, to say that Singapore is undemocratic is to mock the fact that the Workers’ Party managed to win six seats. Try winning six seats in DPRK.

    Ok, if you contend that Singaporeans do not enjoy freedom of speech, I won’t be writing here. I should be sharing a cell with Mas Selamat. The length of the campaign is a moot point. Does it a longer campaign means more democracy? Then let’s campaign for 5 years!

    As for the popular vote versus number of parliamentary seats debate, this is not a problem with the democratic process; this is a problem with the system of representation. Al Gore won the popular vote but George Bush won the presidency because their electoral college system has similar flaws to ours. But, does that mean that the United States isn’t a democracy?

    My final point quite simply is this: there are flaws, and there is much room for improvement. But to have improvement, we need to first see things rationally and not be blindsided by emotions. I am no fan of the PAP, but I am no fan of emotional PAP bashing either.

  9. Xmen says:

    I noted that you used “PAP haters” and “emotional PAP bashing” in both your replies. There is nothing hateful or emotional about my critique, and the Economist is not out there to bash PAP either.

    I do note that you have some degree of freedom to express yourself online, albeit to a small audience. But are you able to do the same in MSM and to discuss the very opinion you express here on the street? The answer is NO so don’t kid yourself about the state of speech in Singapore. The Freedom House places Singapore 151st out of 196 countries in its 2010 Global Press Freedom report and gives it a “Not Free” designation. Of course this is just another “random” ranking. But I challenge you to find a survey to back up your claim on free speech.

    To compare the mockery of Singapore electoral system to that of the US Presidential Election is to sidestep the current discussion. The original Singapore electoral system is nothing like what it is today, having been repeatedly manipulated for the sole purpose of perpetuating the PAP rule.

    You know what happened to JBJ, Francis Seow, and CSJ when they spoke out. They have been effectively banned from public speech. World publications including TIME and IHT have been previously fined and banned over articles critical of PAP and its leaders. WSJ was fined by a Singapore court as recent as 2 years ago. This has a chilling effect on international press.

    I did not advocate for a five year campaign. But I do hope to see the rights to free speech and free press as enshrined in the constitution restored. That alone will move Singapore into the league of democratic countries.

  10. Aaron Ng says:

    Xmen,

    Your points are well-noted about fundamental rights to expression. However, I think you are painting a picture of Singapore with an overly broad brush. Insofar as these oppressive laws are in place, they are very selectively used these days, with illegal assembly laws being an exception. The presence of these laws are undesirable in a truly democratic country, but unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned earlier, there is no truly democratic country on this planet. The countries ranked as democratic in whatever rankings that exist probably also have undemocratic practices.

    I also find it troubling that you are taking an all or nothing approach. It’s either you have freedom of speech or you don’t. This is a very troubling line of thought that fails to consider the in-betweens as well as changes across time. I do not, and never claimed that Singapore has free speech. What I object to is your implicit assertion that Singapore has no free speech at all, which I think is extreme. However, if I misunderstood you, I apologise. Perhaps it would help if you define what is free speech.

    Also, I think you are the one side-stepping the issue about Singapore’s electoral system and the US presidential elections. My point to you was that there are few electoral systems in which representation correlates with popular vote. I mounted a defense of the GRC system on the basis that no system is perfect, but that does not extend to a defense of the abuse of the GRC system. Did I say that I support how the PAP uses the GRC system to its advantage?

    Besides, the original reply served to mark a distinction between the electoral process, which is overseen by civil servants, from the system of political representation, which Singaporeans are conflating. How you ended up linking the discussion to the PAP manipulating the GRC system is beyond my comprehension because that wasn’t even in the scope of discussion.

    In short, I believe that you are right in that the PAP has instituted a chilling effect on free speech in Singapore, and that is not healthy in the long term. I am a proponent of enshrining in our constitution a clause that has the same weight as the First Amendment of the United States. I have absolutely no disagreement with the points you’ve made, which I think are already pretty well-known and agreeable. My general bone of contention is your implicit assertion that either there’s free speech or there isn’t, or there’s democracy, or there isn’t, whatever free speech or democracy really means.

  11. Xmen says:

    Aaron,

    I will keep my reply short and to the point. The law against free speech is very draconian and has severely suppressed speech and reporting in Singapore, as demonstrated in the recent Shadrake arrest and WSJ lawsuit. A nine-day of less restrictive speech does not make up for the lack of free speech, especially in the MSM, throughout the years. You cannot have a democratic election outcome when speech is severely suppressed.

    The Electoral College used to select the US President is part of its constitution. However, the GRC system is designed by the ruling party to perpetuate its dominance. I hope you see the distinction here. A heavily manipulated GRC system by the incumbents cannot produce a democratic outcome (6 out of 87!)

    Thank you for the discussion.

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