What matters is a democracy that works

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the letter by Mr Theodore Yeo dated 25 Sept 2010.

Mr Yeo wrongly accuses Mr Gerald Giam of describing democracy as being an auto-pilot to success. Mr Giam described the fundamental principles of democracy that we should work towards, not cruise towards on auto-pilot.

Mr Yeo also wrongly accuses Mr Gerald Giam of dreaming of a democratic process devoid of partisan interest. Mr Giam speaks of a democratic process where in spite of partisan interest, citizens can still choose wisely in an atmosphere of openness, transparency, freedom of speech, objective and fair mass media and government criticism.

Mr Yeo thinks it is paradoxical that vigorous political competition can yield a strong independent government. But that is exactly what the United States stands for. Their vigorous presidential elections threw up a strong government led by Barrack Obama who successfully steered his country and the world away from the global financial crisis.

Mr Yeo thinks that the United States is being stymied by its own democracy because the president needs approval by both the House and the Senate which are at odds with each other. But those odds didn’t prevent the president from ultimately achieving his aims. The amendment or the abandonment of bills does not mean that the country is therefore worse off. We ourselves have had so many policies implemented without so much as being passed which eventually led to even greater problems, policies such as “growth-at-all-costs” and our previous policy of over-relying on the electronics industry.

Mr Yeo blames the loss of American jobs to China and the accompanying falling of American wages on US politicking. But American jobs are also being lost to India, the world’s foremost IT outsourcing destination. Yet, India has so much more politicking than the US. If jobs are lost from one politicking country to another politicking country, surely politicking is not the reason why those jobs are being lost or gained? Those jobs are being lost because of the huge discrepancy in wage levels between the US on the one hand and third world nations on the other.

The outstanding leader that is Barrack Obama shows that the US democracy works. Despite partisan agendas, healthcare reforms were passed nonetheless. Mr Yeo used this example to ask if Singaporeans would like to wait long, long should MediShield require fixing one day. But in just a few months, the monumental healthcare reforms were passed which goes to prove that Singaporeans don’t have to wait long, long should Singapore ever come under a truly democratic system.

Mr Yeo refers to our government’s swift action in a crisis like the one when manufacturing jobs were lost to China. But that swiftness took a few years during which many Singaporeans who lost their jobs suffered immensely. Contrast this with the swiftness with which the US democracy dealt with the much bigger and more acute global financial crisis. US reaction was no less swift and no less decisive than Singapore’s.

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