The Reform Party Welcomes the New US Ambassador’s CommentsPublished: 5th February 2010
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate on 2nd February 2010 the new US ambassador-designate to Singapore, Daniel Adelman, was asked by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jim Webb:
“The Economist Democracy Index ranks Singapore as 82nd in the world in terms of democratic development, below neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Reporters Without Borders ranks the country 133rd out of 175 for press freedoms. What is your view in terms of whether and how the United States should engage Singapore on these other issues?”
His response was as follows:
“My view is the United States must engage Singapore on these issues. You identified the area where, quite candidly, Singapore needs the most improvement if it were to live up to the ambitions Americans have for democracy. Make no mistake, currently Singapore is not a multi-party democracy, and I intend, if confirmed, to use public diplomacy to work towards greater press freedoms, greater freedom of assembly and ultimately, more political space for opposition parties in Singapore to strengthen Singapore into a multi-party democracy.”
Not surprisingly this was not reported in the ST online today which reproduced only the ambassador’s speech which focused primarily on the closeness of ties between Singapore and the US.
The Reform Party welcomes the ambassador’s statement that he will use public diplomacy to work towards a genuine multi-party democracy in Singapore. As measured by several independent and objective indices such as the Economist Democracy Index as well as the Freedom House report, Singapore does not qualify as a democracy in the generally accepted sense of the term. At the last election nearly 50% of the electorate did not get a chance to vote because, due to the government’s efforts to raise barriers to entry, there were no opposition candidates in those constituencies. In the remainder of the constituencies over 33% of the electorate voted for the opposition but the result was only two opposition MPs out of 84, or only 2.4% of elected representatives.
The Reform Party has effectively changed the mindset of Singaporeans and demonstrated that the opposition can attract high-calibre individuals, that the opposition can put forward credible policies (so credible that the government has now adopted many of them), and that the opposition can one day be entrusted with the government of Singapore without adverse economic repercussions. As a result Singaporeans can perceive the current one-party dominance giving way in the not too distant future to a genuine two-party system with both parties alternating in power. This has happened in much of the rest of Asia, in particular in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Indonesia.
We urge the government not to be half-hearted or timid about embracing the need for reform in Singapore and not to swim against the tide of change in Asia. Just as they appear to have incorporated many of our economic proposals in their new economic strategy, the Reform Party calls upon the government to follow up by adopting the political reforms we have been advocating. We detail below some of the important ones:
1. Abolish the GRC system and return to SMCs (after all if the government can quietly admit that their economic policies of the last ten years have been wrong they can admit that the GRC system is a failure)
2. Remove the restrictions on freedom of expression and repeal the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act allowing a genuine independent media to flourish.Remove the restrictions on the activities of political parties and reform the Political Donations Act.
3. Make the Elections Department independent of the Prime Minister’s Office.
4. Reduce the absurdly high level of deposits required to be an election candidate which undoubtedly contributes to the high number of walkovers.
5. Remove the draconian restrictions on freedom of assembly and peaceful non-obstructive protest.
6. Reform the laws of libel and slander to allow much greater latitude to “fair comment” or place a cap on damages and costs that can be awarded.
Released by Kenneth Jeyaretnam on behalf of the Reform Party, February 5th 2010