Free The Singapore Media

The Wall Street Journal dated Nov. 28-30 published an article titled “A New Vision For Singapore” by Opposition politician Dr. Chee Soon Juan. Read the article here: After a series of reactions in Singapore, Dr. Chee writes the following article in The Huffington Post (HuffPo), a US online news aggregator and blog offering original content. HuffPo won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and was ranked The Most Popular Political Site by eBizMBA Rank.

The Huffington Post
Free the Singapore Media and Let the People Go
Chee Soon Juan
11 December 2014

My op-ed in the Wall Street Journal “A New Vision for Singapore,” or rather what happened following its publication, is an example of what has to change in Singapore.

I had first offered the piece to the main daily newspaper, the Straits Times. It was not accepted for publication. This is not surprising as in the nearly a quarter-of-a-century of my involvement in opposition politics in Singapore, I have not had any opinion piece published in the Singapore press even though I have contributed articles in many international newspapers in the past.

My piece in the Wall Street Journal elicited a predictably heavy-handed response from the government. The Straits Times and other pro-government news sites ran identical reports titled Singapore responds to ‘dishonest’ commentary by Chee Soon Juan in WSJ. My piece was nowhere in sight.

The ‘dishonest’ label is one assiduously cultivated by the riling People’s Action Party (PAP); it is the favored tactic of the ruling party to character assassinate its opponents.

In this instance, the charge is already an improvement compared to earlier criticisms. In a courtroom hearing in 2008, Mr Lee Kuan Yew testified — after consulting his doctors — that I was a “near-psychopath.” A Straits Times columnist even penned an editorial confirming the diagnosis after looking up a medical website. Mr. Lee’s successor, Mr. Goh Chok Tong, declared that my integrity was suspect, vowing that the government “would try and annihilate” me. The third and current prime minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, said in 2006 that I was a liar and added for good measure that “he’s a cheat, he’s deceitful, he’s confrontational, it’s a destructive form of politics.”

The condemnations were not just in word. I was sued for defamation by the three prime ministers and made bankrupt (for which I recently managed to annul after paying off a reduced amount of the damages), imprisoned and fined on more than a dozen occasions, and banned from running for office for nearly 15 years.

I am not the only one so targeted by the government. Many before me have suffered greater abject fate, some imprisoned without trial for decades, all branded societal menace by the state media.

If all this sounds archaic, that’s because it is. PAP is clinging to a past that has long since finished.

When the party came to power in 1959, it, with considerable help from the country’s British overlords, locked up its political opponents, including journalists whom it deemed unhelpful to its agenda.

Through the decades, the party’s grip on the media tightened, resulting in the present situation where every Singaporean TV channel, every radio station and every newspaper is owned and run by the state. The World Press Freedom Index 2014 ranks Singapore 150th out of 180 countries. Even Myanmar does better at 145th.

The control of the media and the heavily financed propaganda has held Singaporeans in utter thrall, enabling the PAP to rule uninterrupted for more than half-a-century. Even today, albeit with less of a swagger due to push-back from the online community, the party continues to dictate to Singaporeans what they should read, watch and hear.

The state-controlled media shield the ruling class from being responsive to the needs and aspirations of the common people. They have put reason and intellectualism to sleep and, as a result, stymied development.

Such kind of politics cannot continue, not if Singapore is going to graduate into the next phase of development. The ruling party must stop attempting to conquer people and, instead, move to contest policies. It must end the political solipsism from which the PAP arrogates unto itself sole ideological legitimacy and turn to a contemporary pluralism where differences in opinion are debated, indeed celebrated.

If the country is going to survive the next phase of technological advancement in an increasingly competitive global environment, politics in Singapore must evolve in tandem. Starting with the media.

Singaporeans have a lot to offer to the world. We built this island-nation to what it is today and we can build an even better country for tomorrow. The only thing that is holding us back is the anachronistic political system and the received opinion among the public that democracy threatens progress.

To this end, Singapore must free the media. The government must let the people go.

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Free The Singapore Media

A New Vision For Singapore

The following Wall Street Journal article has been written by Opposition politician Dr. Chee Soon Juan.

The Wall Street Journal
A New Vision For Singapore
28-30 November 2014

Singapore has made great economic strides over the 50 years since independence. With a GDP per capita of $55,000, the island state is, by this measure at least, the most prosperous country in the world. Yet rather than being proud of their country’s achievement, measures of social harmony and happiness indicate that Singaporeans are far from pleased with the status quo.

Looking behind the numbers, it seems that Singapore’s economic success has wrought havoc on less measurable, but no less important, aspects of life: Freedom, compassion and equality. It is the degradation of these values that has contributed significantly to Singaporeans’ disenchantment with the current system.

Even before the Reagan-Thatcher era of neoliberal economics, Singapore adopted a market-driven approach in which even value systems and social life were commodified. When the government wanted fewer births in the 1970s, it paid women to undergo tubal ligation. When it changed its mind and wanted more births, it gave tax incentives to couples to have more babies. When it wanted the children to demonstrate strong character, it rewarded their desirable traits with cash.

Monetizing things that we shouldn’t—especially under circumstances where societal values are involved—leads to harmful outcomes. It causes citizens to abrogate moral responsibility and devolve decision-making to market norms set by the elite few.

We need to fundamentally rethink how we pursue wealth and, more importantly, to what end. We need to ask that all-important question that Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel so trenchantly posed: What price do we pay when we cede our values to market mechanisms?

Unfortunately, without democracy Singaporeans cannot have a national debate on the future direction of our country. Talk about political freedom and the rights of the people is eclipsed by government threats that democracy undermines GDP growth.

And yet Singapore is in danger of being left behind. A survey of countries around the world reveals a distinct shift towards more democratic forms of governance. Many such political transitions have yielded greater, not less, prosperity. Adaptation to change is necessary for societies to keep themselves relevant in the global community. Singapore is no exception.

The island republic needs an alternative vision, one that will confidently usher Singapore into the next phase of development: Privately owned small and medium-sized enterprises, instead of state-owned conglomerates, need to be the prime drivers of growth; the wage structure should ensure that the working poor don’t see their real incomes shrink even as the number of billionaires rise; the elderly should not have to work menial jobs just to feed themselves; the media must be free from state control; and, most importantly, the political system needs to change to allow truly free and fair elections, where the political freedoms of Singaporeans are respected.

Singapore is at a crossroads. How the country moves forward will depend on the choices that the people and their leaders make today. The incentives that those in power build into the system will determine whether the country progresses or stagnates. To that end, the ability of Singaporeans to question authority and to build a capacity for collective reasoning and debate is essential.

It is shameful that we live in a state where market values guided by an authoritarian system trump moral ones guided by a democratic process. The danger is that we become blinded by the things we want and ignore the things we really need. Ultimately a nation’s success is not measured by the size of its GDP but by the number of minds it unfetters, the number of young lives it gives hope to and the number of poor it empowers. It is this kind of wealth, the kind that really matters, that Singapore must accumulate.

Now more than ever, we need a genuine conversation about Singapore’s future. Indeed, we need a bold new vision for the country.

Mr. Chee is secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party.

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A New Vision For Singapore