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This article is written by Preeti Pallavi Jena, a penultimate year student pursuing a bachelor of laws from school of law, KIIT University, Odisha. This article talks about the struggle of democracy in Singapore, its policies, criticism, opposition, etc.

Introduction

Technically Singapore is a democratic country but when we go to the roots of it we realize that it is not a democracy. The election department here is not an independent body. It depends upon the Prime Minister Office which is controlled by the Cabinet and Prime Minister. This allows the PAP (People Action Party) to set the elections at such time which will suit the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It will be entirely favorable to them. All the rules, regulations are set up by the Government or PAP here. No consideration of people’s point of view or opinion is considered or preferred. Here the government makes huge profits, it’s totally not like India. In the whole of Southeast Asia, Singapore is the only country that practiced uninterrupted elections. In 1959, after World War II, Singapore became an independent government but it was still a part of Malaysia. In 1965, it became fully self-independent. This self government means that governance everywhere only not in the matters of foreign policy and defense. Singapore got its independence from British ruling in 1963 as a federation of Malaysia. The Singapore government takes concern regarding the laws and hence punishes them as the place value more towards the ideology.

Democracy

It means that people can make their own rules. The people elect their leaders for their benefit. This is done to make sure our government functions properly. Singapore is a liberal democracy. Liberal democracy includes fair and free elections between the political parties. After the UK Westminster, the Singapore parliament was set up. Singapore does not follow Western Liberal Democracy. A better aspect of democracy is called illiberal democracy and this is what Singapore follows. It means governance. here the citizens are not aware of the real power and without knowing that they took part in the election every time.

Singapore: leading to a good life

Singapore has achieved a lot. This country is very clean. Here all the multinational companies can approach and you can buy the brands that you have only heard previously. This country is very developed and has wonderful cars. Before 40 years, Singapore was not at all a developed country and was known for the wars of Britishers. This country struggled a lot till 1959 but after that this country became an independent country and Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has the control over it. In the last 20 years, Singapore started improving rapidly. The percentage of people in poverty decreased to 0.3%. Now not a single person is homeless here. Everyone has jobs and has a stable life of living. 

Prime minister Lee has a goal of achieving the per capita GNP of Switzerland. This will increase the economic status. This country’s citizens feel that 2 children are the right number a family must consist of. The birth rate has hugely decreased. Anti-social behavior is prohibited in Singapore. Here no one fears the government, they think the rules that are made are quite relevant and necessary for the betterment of their country and also people.

Criticism associated with Singapore

Singapore is a ‘illiberal’ democracy that creates a balance between western-style liberal democracy and Singapore. But Singapore has a good record in the world bank’s measures. It has good safety and security by law. Singapore is criticized as a one-party government because it has always been owned by PAP.

There are many other criticisms: 

  1. Freedom of expression;
  2. Public order;
  3. Morality, religious harmony;
  4. For defamation laws;
  5. Offences regarding scandalizing judiciary;
  6. Human rights like the death penalty, harassment, etc.

PAP

From 1959, PAP (People’s Action Party) was in power. They hold around 90% of seats in the parliament of Singapore. The majority of the rest seats are filled up by the unelected ‘non constituency’ MPs and also MPs who are nominated by people as MPs.

The members of PAP create opposition. This PAP brings suits against the oppositions made by the members. By doing this, these opposition members will be out of the election. Oppositions are sued for creating defamation by criticizing the PAP. PAP exercises the politics against the constituencies. PAP has the ability to create and shape these constituencies. It also creates the GRC (Governance, risk and compliance) which gives provisions of six candidates per party.

PAP has contributed a lot in developing Singapore after its independence from Myanmar. PAP pursued an excellent approach to its economic development by using a mixed economy which is a joint venture by the private sectors and the government. The primary focus of the government was to show direction to the economy and intervene only when the private sector doesn’t hold up their end of the deal and pursues selfish interests. This socialist solution made Singapore a successful nation and was called “democratic socialism”. These steps made a huge impact on the militants and communists. They were tempted by PAP’s strategies and rooted for them instead of going on the course of riots and disrupting the law and order of the nation.

Policies of PAP

The research has been done regarding this to build a fair and just society, where there will be progress in society.

  • Honest: It should be clean, incorrupt, transparent in nature.
  • Meritocratic: A person will be recognized as per his merit and equal opportunities will be given for progressing more.
  • Multiracial: In Singapore, all the citizens should be treated equally, no discrimination on the basics of the language, the race will be there.
  • Self-reliant: No one can make us live according to them.

Attributes and values of Singapore

  • Reliable: Since the party fulfills the promises that they made, the public gains trust on them. This makes them more powerful and confident enough to formulate more policies. They say that ‘they do what they say’.
  • Pragmatic: They have a flexible approach to solving problems. This tells that approach of making things happen successfully.
  • United: They are always united, have discipline among them and are loyal to their party. Working together makes the work easier.
  • Farsighted: They try to think about the future so that they can help and guide their people further. They think for the long term run.
  • Decisive: Even though there is no complete information, still they have the approach and capability of making decisions. The decision may not be in favor of people as of now, but in case of long term, it will definitely be fruitful.
  • Compassionate: They see and take care of the people’s concerns, their worries, hopes and dreams, and accordingly make things work.
  • Resilient: Even in the tough times when there will be a possibility of failure, there also they will be there for the people.

Why has the PAP been ruling for so long

This is because they are not giving any opportunities to other parties to stand in the election. They basically file lawsuits against the person who is opposing them or trying to oppose them. These parties get disqualified even to stand for election as in charge of criticizing the PAP. Even if any editor, newspaper writer, blog authors want to write or publish something on behalf of PAP, legal actions are taken against them. PAP makes them unemployed for years.

This is the interior reason why no other party is taking the place of PAP. If any individual is trying to oppose he is targeted legally. He also makes sure that no one votes against him. The majority of votes should be on him or else consequences are always there for those people. He makes sure that if any MP votes against him then they will be at the last of the list for public programs. There is no lack of opposition here but those parties start opposing they are charged by PAP to bankrupt political parties. Such a person was J.B. Jeyaretnam who was the leader of the working party. He was bankrupted. This creates a fear among people to oppose them and due to this reason PAP is ruling for such a long time.

What did PAP promise to people

PAP promised that,

  1. They will help every person of Singapore to get jobs and have a good state of living;
  2. To build affordable public houses for the people living;
  3. Providing healthcare facility for everyone;
  4. Giving transport support;
  5. Trying to make the place a cleaner and safest one.

Opposition

Opposition parties face huge trouble in Singapore. This is because there is one ruling party for 50 years and whoever is trying to oppose that party makes huge trouble and creates many obstacles for those opposition parties that they no more try to even stand in the election anymore. Since PAP has been ruling for a long time they are not allowing any other party to take their place.

From 2011 May, the elections that took place were opposed by the opposition parties and these parties won six seats. This is the only party named working party (wp) that has five from GRC (Group representative constituency). But this party needs to struggle a lot and overcome it in the next 2 years.

The worker’s party is one of the opposition parties who won seats in 2020 and also another party is the PSP (Progress Singapore Party) in 2020 only. These opposition parties are trying to raise their voice through social media, online blogs, and many other news platforms and have always been unsuccessful and suppressed at last.

Why does Singapore reject the western style of democracy

There were effective and efficient reasons for rejecting the western style of democracy by Singapore. Singapore adopts a realistic approach and it protects the government from all the negative consequences regarding the western-style democracy.

The main reasons for rejecting are as follows:

  • Multiculturalism 

Singapore consists of all religions and cultures of people but it has a majority which is 70% of Chinese there. The Indians & Malay are minorities in this country. This creates conflicts and racial discrimination. That’s Singapore government takes steps regarding racial discrimination. But in the case of western-style liberal democracy, it is different and this gives a reason to reject this concept.

  • Economic management and development

Economic growth has rapidly increased in Singapore in recent years. This happened due to stability in the economy as compared to its nearby countries. Countries like Malaysia and Thailand had hampered their economic growth hugely. Singapore depends upon trade and foreign investment for its livelihood. If any investors try then they can make Singapore lose its stability and growth, if they don’t take care of it. This is a threat to the country. The Singapore government is more concerned about the economic growth and stability of companies as compared to the western liberal democracy.

  • Safety and security

Singapore is a small state. It contains Chinese as its majority. This country has good relationships with its neighbor countries. It respects their religions, cultures, and traditions. But, here restrictions need to be made in respect to the freedom of press and freedom of expression for preventing the social media networks from posting any irrelevant details which can affect such relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia. These 2 countries are the most trading companies for Singapore. This is the main reason why Singapore maintains good relationships with them. The population is a huge concern of Singapore since it is a very small country. This is why countries want women to give birth to children not more than three. 

Conclusion

From the above article, we can conclude that Singapore could be called democracy as it allows religious freedom and for the fact that elections are held periodically for the re-election of the government. Singapore still doesn’t fit the definition of liberal democracy as the electoral process favors the ruling party, PAP, and there exist several restrictions imposed against the freedom of speech and press. Although Singapore’s founding father along with PAP did a great job in stabilizing the nation at its worst. This doesn’t give them the right to impose unavoidable constraints against potential opposition parties. The PAP has twisted the laws in its favor and doesn’t allow anybody to speak ill about the party. It leaves no stone unturned to bankrupt the opposition candidate and finally disqualifies the candidature. It has also limited the freedom of press bypassing the Public Order Act. So, no author can write an article without running it by the government authorities. In this way, the national issues are suppressed and they seldom reach the public. 

PAP still has its dominance over the politics in Singapore. But the days aren’t far when the people start to realize the plot that PAP plays to stay in power. With such dirty politics, PAP will not only lose its dominance someday, but it will also have to face the truth that the government that they are offering is not a Democracy. As the economic growth slows and internal tension increases, they not only have to allow other parties to stand in the elections but they have to fight to transform their image from the only available party to the best party and hope to win a free and fair election. The People’s Action Party needs to realize this and stop its notorious practices to win elections before it’s too late.

References


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