Monday, October 27, 2008

A Nation Cheated

In return for buying his latest book, Dr Chee has asked me to build a democratic Singapore with him. I don't really know what to make out of it. It's not likely that he'll be running for the next elections, given his financial health.

Even then, how can I vote for his party if the PAP is most likely going to win a walkover for my constituency, just like in the previous few elections?

The problem with being an opposition party member in Singapore is that no one ever takes you seriously.

Think about it. A behemoth that's so deeply enmeshed with the media and economy of Singapore, versus a smattering of motivated but powerless opposition party members. Guess who will be taken more seriously?

The odds are stacked against them. The government-controlled (and this government we are talking about consists of a whopping 90% from the same party) media would be foolish to publish any ideology or suggestions from the people who might bring itself down.

And I'm not going to delve into the government's penchant to sue their rivals until they bleed. Or the way our Ministry-sanctioned History and Social Studies textbooks are written. This is after all a book review.


The tragedy is that these very people who the press lampoons and the government denounces are Singapore's true patriots.

A patriot wants the best for his country.

A patriot dedicates his life to improving the country.

A patriot would risk his reputation, finances and freedom for the sake of his country.

Sure, sure - many of our PAP leaders are patriots. But I dare you to prove that our opposition leaders are any less patriotic.


Dr Chee Soon Juan is a patriot. He examined democracy in detail and saw how it could work for Singapore.

He fought for it. And paid dearly for it, racking up jail terms and hefty debts from losing various controversial lawsuits.

But he failed.

You see, 'democracy' is a big word. I've recited that word in the national pledge for hundreds of times, but have never exactly been told what it really means. I recall my primary school teachers shying away from the question when being asked to explain what it is.

In summary, Chee was fighting for a concept no one understood.

The PAP, however, used more familiar vocabulary such as 'economy', 'jobs', 'peace' and 'security'.

The thing about politics is, ideology doesn't rake in the votes. Popularity does, and PAP had played that game well. They used vocabulary people understood and sold itself as a safe and comfortable option.

Most importantly, when they talk about vegetable prices and upgrading HDB blocks, they managed to get to the hearts of the everyday voters.

Chee Soon Juan however spoke of issues that the common Singaporean had not even heard of - things like 'transparency', 'freedom of speech' and 'oppression'. The common man didn't understand, and had written him off as an eccentric clown.

So as long as the common man has affordable groceries, a comfortable home and a job, he will be content. He doesn't need the right to free speech (even if he did have it, what did he have to say?), he doesn't need the government to be transparent (the complexities of government and the economy boggles him anyway) and oppression doesn't happen to himself.

What the common man doesn't know is that those very same issues that he ignores are the ones that dictate the health of society and economy as a whole.

Take the California Energy Crisis for example. Something as abstract as a partial deregulation of the energy market led to the common man having to experience blackouts.

That's where A Nation Cheated shines.

Its second part of the book explains how the government's strict policies towards controlling labour unions might not have been a good idea after all, that the way Singapore's economy is heading right now might be great for short-term growth, but detrimental to society and its income disparity in the long term, and how.


A Nation Cheated starts off with Part I - an account of how Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP had gotten into power, from his viewpoint.

It's probably biased - hell, who isn't? - but it casts doubt on the PAP's (probably biased, too) version of events.

Personally, I didn't really care much for this part. History is history. We can learn from it, or draw conclusions from it, but we can't change it anyway.

Part II addresses Singapore's labour and economic policies, looking at how they might have been successful in the short term, but we're finally seeing some of their shortcomings in the form of a widening income gap, a lack of entrepreunership and the poorly-hidden fact that many of the government's foreign investments have failed.

While Chee clearly outlines the problems, the possible solutions he offers aren't convincing, considering that he had managed to squeeze all of that into a mere 5.5 page-long chapter titled 'The alternative'.

"What can be done to improve Singapore?" is the question that he had answered in that chapter. However, what we really want to know is, "What are our opposition leaders going to do to improve Singapore?". The book, and possibly Chee's strategy, fails in this aspect.


A Nation Cheated ends off with a speech, and an appendix of questions and answers.

It's an informative read, provided you understand that books by political leaders - opposition or otherwise - are inherently biased.

A pity it doesn't tell us what they can do to improve Singapore.

Or for that matter, what I can do to build a democratic Singapore with Chee.


A Nation Cheated is available online at SDP's website (email them) or from Kinokuniya or Select Books in Tanglin.


Anonymous said...

"What can be done to improve Singapore?" is the question that he had answered in that chapter. However, what we really want to know is, "What are our opposition leaders going to do to improve Singapore?". The book, and possibly Chee's strategy, fails in this aspect.

Isn't this a rhetorical question?

Instead, what do you want Singapore to be is the question to ask.

Here are the current symptoms:
1. Lack of transparency, independent checks and controls.
2. Rising social tension, infrastructure stretched to the max due to indiscriminate import of foreigners and workers.
3. Incessant and unjustified price and fare hikes to fill the pockets of govt-linked corporations leading to unprecedented rise in cost of living and declining standard of living.
4. A judiciary that is not independent meting out injustice to "marked" Singaporeans.
5. Suppression of your basic civil rights with legal threats. This also translate to your lack of economic rights.

The next question that must necessary follow is how then do you get rid of a dictatorship?

Anonymous said...

The answer for Singaporeans to get rid of a dictatorship is in his earlier book, "The Power of Courage".