Singapore style democracy

Dear Mr Shanmugam,

I refer to your speech at the New York state bar association dialogue as reported by the Straits Times on 30th Oct 2009.

In your speech, you referred to American economist Bryan Caplan’s arguments that as a political entity, Singapore should be seen as a city and as far as cities go, America has its share of cities where one party has dominated over long periods of time, which in turn suggests that party dominance doesn’t imply the lack of democracy.

Another example would be Microsoft’s dominance of global computer operating systems. People can choose not to use Microsoft, but they use Microsoft nonetheless. Yet, some of Microsoft’s practices have resulted in anti-trust proceedings by the US Department of Justice as well as the European Commission with the latter succeeding in getting Microsoft to unbundle both Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer from Windows sold in Europe because the practice is deemed anti-competitive and unfair.

Hence, it is not dominance per say but unfair dominance that we should be concerned with. Does the mayor of Chicago go around telling its constituents that unless they vote for the Democrats, they will not get to enjoy nation wide housing retrofitting benefits? Does the mayor of Chicago lump six districts into one mega-district to be voted as one? Are all newspapers distributed in Chicago owned by just one company the shares of which belong largely to state linked companies? You will not find these unfair practices in Chicago, San Francisco or New York. You can only find them in Singapore. Only the issue of tying voting to HDB flat upgrading has been addressed barely months ago. Hence, Bryan Caplan’s assertion that pressure from the dominant party hardly matters is untrue.

While international observers have rated our government as one of the least corrupt, it should not escape their eyes that instead of taking money from under the table, they have resorted to taking money from above the table. No other government in the world takes more money from above the table than our government.


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