Many Wong claims

I refer to the 3 Jun 2014 Straits Times column “Towards a ‘problem-solving democracy’” by Minister Lawrence Wong.

Wong claim 1: Western democracy = ineffective government

Mr Wong claimed that many Western liberal democracies have failed to deliver stable, legitimate and effective governments.

The following are the top scorers for Government Effectiveness in the latest (2012) Worldwide Governance Indicators. 18 of 21 top scorers are Western liberal democracies. Thus, an overwhelming majority of the most effective governments in this world are Western liberal democracies. Mr Wong’s descriptions of dysfunctional governments in mature democracies is thus far off the mark given that most Western democracies achieved above 90 percentile rank for government effectiveness.

Country/Territory Culture 2012 WGI Government Effectiveness score 2012 WGI Government Effectiveness percentile rank
FINLAND Western Liberal 2.21 100
SINGAPORE East Asian 2.15 100
DENMARK Western Liberal 1.97 99
SWEDEN Western Liberal 1.94 99
NORWAY Western Liberal 1.89 98
SWITZERLAND Western Liberal 1.88 98
HONG KONG East Asian 1.82 97
NETHERLANDS Western Liberal 1.8 97
NEW ZEALAND Western Liberal 1.79 96
LIECHTENSTEIN Western Liberal 1.76 96
CANADA Western Liberal 1.75 95
LUXEMBOURG Western Liberal 1.66 95
AUSTRALIA Western Liberal 1.61 94
BELGIUM Western Liberal 1.59 94
GERMANY Western Liberal 1.57 93
AUSTRIA Western Liberal 1.56 93
IRELAND Western Liberal 1.53 92
UNITED KINGDOM Western Liberal 1.53 92
ANDORRA Western Liberal 1.52 91
ANGUILLA 1.52 91
UNITED STATES Western Liberal 1.51 90

Mr Wong’s claim that Mr S Rajaratnam had anticipated Western liberal democracy’s failure to bring about effective long-term governance forty years ago is thus wrong because Western liberal democracies continue to dominate the top rankings for Government Effectiveness in the Worldwide Governance Indicator.

Wong claim 2: Western voters losing faith with democracy

Mr Wong claimed that Western voters are losing faith in their democratic systems so much so that a recent US visitor who used to preach Western liberal democracy has stopped doing so.

The following table lists West European democracies (formerly communist nations excluded) by their satisfaction with how democracy works in 2013. Contrary to Mr Wong’s claim, most West European democracies continue to enjoy relatively high levels of faith and support for their democratic systems, except France, UK and the PIGS nations.

Country Total satisfaction with how democracy works in country (Euromonitor Spring 2013)
Denmark 86%
Sweden 81%
Luxembourg 80%
The Netherlands 75%
Austria 74%
Finland 74%
Germany 72%
Malta 71%
Belgium 69%
France 55%
United Kingdom 55%
Ireland 50%
Italy 30%
Spain 23%
Greece 15%
Portugal 14%

The following chart from Euromonitor also shows that satisfaction with democracy in Northern Europe remains high over 10 years. Only in Southern Europe has satisfaction with democracy dipped over the years. Mr Wong could have said that Southern Europeans are losing faith in democracy but not Northern Europeans.


Even in the UK, the majority of British adults (63%) agreed that ‘for all its faults, Britain’s democratic system is one of the finest in the world’.

Mr Wong’s constant harping on Washington’s gridlock and paralysis, which by the way only occurred for non-essential services for 16 days in 2013, should not dissuade us from recognizing the continued healthy functioning of the great majority of democracies in Northern and Central Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Wong claim 3: Young western voters are disengaged from public life

Mr Wong claimed that young people in Western democracies have become disillusioned and disengaged from public life. Far from it, according to a report by Democratic Audit UK (, the youth in Britain, France and Germany are more likely to engage in more visible forms of democracy like demonstrations.

Political engagement

Wong claim 4: Falling voter turnout means declining trust in government

Mr Wong claimed that falling voter turnouts shows declining trust in governments in Western democracies.
But according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, government trust has always been low in Western democracies (2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, page 8). Low trust in government is the hallmark of democracy versus high trust in government which is the hallmark of communist or absolutist countries. Westerners understand that the price of democracy is eternal vigilance.


Wong claim 5: Democracies spend more than they collect

Mr Wong quoted the late James M. Buchanan as saying that democracies would spend more than they collect in taxes. But according to the table below, full democracies have higher percentage of countries registering a surplus on average between 2002 and 2012 compared to flawed democracies and hybrid regimes. We also know that many authoritarian regimes are rich in oil, natural gas or minerals.

Types of democracy Number of countries with deficit on average 2002 – 2012 Number of countries with surplus on average 2002 – 2012 Total countries Percentage of countries
Full democracy 16 9 25 36%
Flawed democracy 37 10 47 21%
Hybrid regimes 27 5 32 16%
Authoritarian regimes 19 12 31 39%

If we adjust for receipts from oil, natural gas and minerals, full democracies have the highest percentage of countries registering a surplus on average between 2002 and 2012. Thus, full democracies have the least tendency to spend more than they collect compared to lesser democracies.

Types of democracy Number of countries with deficit on average 2002 – 2012 Number of countries with surplus on average 2002 – 2012 Total countries Percentage of countries
Full democracy 20 5 25 20%
Flawed democracy 47 4 51 8%
Hybrid regimes 33 3 36 8%
Authoritarian regimes 46 0 46 0%

Other claims

Mr Wong wrongly claimed that Singapore’s history is young. Modern Singapore’s history stretches back exactly to 1819, we are nearly 200 years old already, not young as has been alleged all these years.

Mr Wong reasoned that unthinkingly importing institutions from other countries can do more harm than good. Similarly, unthinkingly restricting the import of institutions from other countries, when the situation calls for it can also do more harm than good.

Mr Wong exhorted that we should evolve our own system of democracy. But democracy at its simplest is just the people calling the shots. Any evolution that deviates from this basic principle is devolution from democracy.

Mr Wong wrongly referred to Mr S Rajaratnam as our founding father. He should understand that a founding father is not someone who merely received independence but someone who put his life on the line to fight for his people’s independence.

Problem solving democracy

Mr Wong urged Singaporeans to follow Mr S Rajaratnam’s kind of democracy – a problem-solving democracy involving citizens actively engaged in working together for the public good of the community. Details of Mr Rajaratnam’s calling can be found below:

• The Straits Times, 29 Jul 1982, page 10
Giving to society is real democracy says Raja
SINGAPORE will have real democracy when every adult who can think and who has opinions contributes towards society, Mr S. Rajaratnam said last night.
You get real democracy when all the adult Singaporeans – anymore from 15 onwards who can think, who has opinions – when they do something for SIngapore,” he said
So democracy simply means everybody learning to do things for other people.

• The Straits Times, 29 Apr 1983, page 13
Democracy in action
RCs allow people to solve their own problems, says Raja
The residents’ committee is a testimony to democracy in Singapore because it allows people to deal with the problems of the areas where they live. The Second Deputy Prime Minister (Foreign Affairs), Mr S Rajaratnam, who called this system “problem-solving democracy,” said it gave the people their rights and responsibilities as citizens to ensure that their living conditions were improved.

• The Straits Times, 29 Apr 1988, page 21
Be more involved, Raja urges S’poreans
SINGAPOREANS must take on more responsibility in running their own affairs … Mr Rajaratnam, said that this and the fact that it is compulsory for every citizen to vote in elections for MPs who really represent them is what democracy really means … this kind of democracy is put into practice when people help out in community organisations such as RCs.

We all know what the RC represents today, an extension of the reach of the People’s Association whose core business is to connect the government of the day – PAP, to the people. If that is democracy, then what is hypocrisy?


2 Responses to “Many Wong claims”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Another excellent piece from you. In Brisbane there is a place called Toowong, near the University of Queensland campus. Two brothers set up a Chinese food stall at the shopping complex and named it Two Wongs. Looks like our own Wong was cooking up something you now expose.

  2. Singapore General Election 2015 – Your Votes Matters | Yours Truly Singapore Says:

    […] In that case, Lawrence shouldn’t have made the cut because he is so fond of writing factually incorrect essays that read more like fiction ( […]

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