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    Minister of Foreign Affairs, Singapore. Guest Columnist of BeyondSG. He is on Facebook. Readers are welcome to join his Facebook network at http://www.facebook.com/georgeyeopage
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March 26, 2008

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Dear Minister

The "long marathon" of the US elections may appear incredible to outsiders, but this gruesome test is also what sets apart the boys from the men, so to speak. If the ultimate winner can withstand and successfully manage all the scrutiny, the media hype, the public criticism (and ridicule), the time, the effort etc..to get elected, then either he wants the job that badly or he has indeed proven his worth, and he is entitled to the ultimate prize of being the "most powerful person on Earth".

So, i do admire and respect the system, despite its flaws.

Your question: But will such a system throw up the best leaders? is a question that could be asked of ANY system in the world, including Singapore's - for eg. does the GRC system throw up the best leaders?

To each his own, I suppose.

Edwin

Dear Sir,

The American system may not be the best - but what makes you think that ours is any better ?

Indeed the fact that the PAP has problems recruiting future leaders even at astronomical salaries - speaks volumes regarding the so-called "Singapore System"".

Our GRC system skews election results and allows for personalities to enter Parliament even without the blessings of the common people.

Am I to respect such a system ? Am I to bless the astronomical salaries of the current politicians ?

Let me be honest with you - and many will agree with me on this - we do NOT respect the current system in place and neither does it have our blessings.

it is precisely the lack of democracy and transparency that is the source of Singapore's current problems.

America may not have a perfect system - but theirs is certainly far better than ours !

Sincerely
Dr Syed Alwi

well said...spot on...hit the nail on the head...bravo!

Dear Minister,

No other country in the world can afford American democracy, dominated as it is by well-funded special interest lobbies. But if this is some sort of repudiation of liberal democracy as a system of government as a whole, it is not at all very convincing. Most other countries in the rich world manage to elect fairly competent governments come election-time, without the dramedy associated with American elections.

So dear Minister, are you saying that Singapore GRC system where certain constituencies are left uncontested will produce the best leaders? You gotta be kidding me.

For all its fiasco, bickering and unsightly fights between candidates, the winner will emerged as a tempered, seasoned politician who is able to handle real stress. So far, I can safely say that for most of the Singapore MPs, most of their tempering are probably just forged from the nomination date up to the election date. Where is the tempering process?

Give me US and Taiwan democracy style anyday, where there is forever a constant balance and check.

To be fair, I don't think the Minister said Singapore's system was better. There're other democratic systems in the world, the US is not the only one. Don't be too eager to shoot Singapore down.

Many would agree that it was a fluke that George W Bush became the president, "the most powerful man on Earth".

Just wanting the job badly is not good enough.That's one's personal agenda, one's business. If he cannot lead effectively, he shouldn't get the job.

US election. There's lots of hue and cry, sound and fury, but little on those candidates' agendas for the country. It's like, get elected first - by hook or by crook, think about what we can do later.

But US has no worries. 8 years of ineffective leadership? Life goes on. A change of leadership and they bounce back in no time.

"But will such a system throw up the best leaders?"

At the last elections, Mr Goh CT said that the GRC system is needed to give a 'sure-win' guarantee to candidates who does not want to risk losing to enter politics. thats why we have the best leaders, becos they are put into a system where they simply cannot lose.

"Ordinary people may not understand all the issues debated but, given enough time, they have the instinct to figure out who is the right man or woman to become President. That at least is the hope."

at least the US elections take 11 mths of campaigning which allows 'time to tell' about a person. here....2 weeks maybe? and a press whose job is to bombard the nation who it should vote for or else...? if singapore had 11 mths of campaigning, perphaps the people would know that they'll be voting for GST increases to help the poor as Mr Goh said that at election time last yr, it was not decided whether to increase the GST or not. also, perhaps the people will know that annuities will be shoved down their throat and million dollar pay increases must be given to prevent corruption too.

"all the campaigning makes for drama and entertainment, if it were not such a serious matter affecting our lives."

For the non-singaporean and singaporeans, the last elections were full of drama too. it would be entertaining if it was not such a serious matter affecting our lives. to the citizen, it seemed that whether one man handed in a form or not was more important than national issues. moreover, if someday, the opposition who dont hand up forms wins in future, the army must save the nation by restoring those who handed up their forms correctly?

So....will our system throw up the best leaders? the highest paid and longest sitting perhaps...but the best???

"No other country can afford American democracy" is a very bold assertion and is something that I will have to give further thought to, but i do think it is not the best. What I do think however, is a far superior system, in terms of throwing up the best leaders, as defined not just by ability to lead and inspire policy but also as defined by whether their policies are in line with the public will. I would like to hear your thoughts on the British system, and its
Singaporean mutation.

I would like to thank all those who responded to my blog on US Democracy. Or should I say, all those who were provoked by my blog to comment on Singapore democracy. It was not my intention to compare the US system to Singapore's. Singapore's circumstance are different; we are a city-state in a different region with a different history. I rather discuss the Singapore system on its own terms rather than in comparison with the US'.

But, looking at a much larger drama in historical terms, I wonder which system will in the end prevail: the US' or China's? Like the contest between Athens and Sparta during the Pelopponesian War, the organising principles of Chinese and American society are fundamentally and profoundly different. Ordinary Chinese have no direct say at all over who becomes China's President or Premier. But it is a formidable sytem with its own strengths and weaknesses. I remember the comment made by a European Foreign Minister who had much experience dealing with both countries. We are quite close. He was exaggerating of course. The US, he said, was short term in its calculation. The Chinese, in contrast, planned in terms of eternity. I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

Dear Minister,

Yes, please let discuss the Singapore system on its own, on this blog, without censorship in any form. Specifically the pervasive feeling among many Singaporeans of the use of GRCs, a partisan Electoral Commission and extremely biased media reporting to favour one party and hamstring all others. And that’s for starters. Shall we?

ya sure..same feeling here..i dont know whether to laugh or to cry by the response...please bring it on..tell us the Singapore system on its own terms!

Thats because the west believes history is linear, while the chinese believes that history is cyclical. western historiography believes in the rise and fall of nations as a progression of time, once over, it wont come back again. the chinese always believed that history would repeat itself; rotating them back onto the world's centre stage as the middle of civilisation. yet they are practical enough to understand that while history repeats, the factors and context do change. its in this context they embraced change. hence, Deng's policy of non-engagement against the US and economic prosperity are closely adhered to. but one thing will never change and China's long history attests to it: the power of the people.

the CCP's challenge is to balance its rule with the people's thinking and feelings, which are changing due to globalisation. China's leadership is balancing a fine line for they, a revolutionary party knows first hand the power of a united but disgruntled masses. it knows that it could never really go against the wishes of the people.otherwise, the cycle of history would turn again against their favour. it is more than just having a mandate from the people, it is really abt accountability. china may be far from being transparent, but i think they are realising tats what the people want.

Thats because the west believes history is linear, while the chinese believes that history is cyclical. western historiography believes in the rise and fall of nations as a progression of time, once over, it wont come back again. the chinese always believed that history would repeat itself; rotating them back onto the world's centre stage as the middle of civilisation. yet they are practical enough to understand that while history repeats, the factors and context do change. its in this context they embraced change. hence, Deng's policy of non-engagement against the US and economic prosperity are closely adhered to. but one thing will never change and China's long history attests to it: the power of the people.

the CCP's challenge is to balance its rule with the people's thinking and feelings, which are changing due to globalisation. China's leadership is balancing a fine line for they, a revolutionary party knows first hand the power of a united but disgruntled masses. it knows that it could never really go against the wishes of the people.otherwise, the cycle of history would turn again against their favour. it is more than just having a mandate from the people, it is really abt accountability. china may be far from being transparent, but i think they are realising tats what the people want.

George, let's not jump the gun. Affordability is in the eye of the dispenser. Call to mind that Singaporeans are paying way beyond the world market rate for the income that your colleagues take home. The generous renumeration amounts are determined internally without any say from the public at large.

The Party you have nailed your colours to operates straight out of the Communist playbook. The power wielding Central Executive Committee is elected by a list of secret cadres. These secret cadres are appointed by the Party's Secretary General and only the Secretary General and his predecessor know the full identities of these voting apparatchiks. The normal rank and file party members, the so called wind beneath the wings of the Party, do not vote in the persons that constitute the Central Exco. This country could well be run by the switches and gears of a Wizard of Oz as we stomp down the yellow brick road towards a Swiss standard of living. Safe to say, we are not in Kansas.

Conspicious media attention lavished all through the decades and the final state funeral status accorded to the honourable member from Mandai, Ah Meng, has firmed up a suspicion that I have long held - the grand old dame may have been on that secret cadre list.

More personally George, to use the popular language of sci-fi that you have a penchant for, why associate with the virus stricken power driven darkseekers when you have the natural immunity of the One who is truly Legend? No director's cut alternate happy ending can come out of this. Any hope of discovering an antidote you may harbour cannot cure those who choose and prefer to remain in the darkness. You can wait at the South Street seaport everyday at midday when the sun is at its highest but those who fear the light will not come.

George, please, please stop watching out for that banyan tree. Hurry down instead from the sycamore. The view and perquisites may be first rate up there from the branches. But it's getting dark, the Casio G-Shock is beeping and most important of all, the Legend wants to stay at your house today. Why look, and work, among the dead for One who is alive?

Dear Minister,

It isn't even very obvious that the Chinese government is thinking ahead in terms of the next few generations, let alone eternity. The air in her major cities is too often choked by smog and her waters contaminated by industrial effluents. Many of her people will lead shortened lives as a result of cancers caused by this pollution. And many who attempt to expose the truth about these environmental problems get thrown into jail. Is this the sort of policy a government which thinks in the long term would pursue? The argument that this environmental mess is understandable because China's a developing country does not stand up to scrutiny- I'm pretty sure the old PAP ministers in charge of the environment would have a word or two to say about that.

Anyway, I'm not sure what you're trying to get at with your references to Athens vs Sparta/ US vs China. But my best guess ( to exaggerate it slightly) is that you are trying to proffer a contrast between societies which presume that the individual shouldn't be sacrificed for the greater good of the society unless it is absolutely necessary ( namby-pamby democracies like the USA), as against societies which have no hesitation about sacrificing people in the first resort for the greater good of all, whatever that greater good might be( China ).

Well, admittedly the only significant advantage that societies organised around the assumption that individual lives are expendable have is in the context of waging total war. That was more or less proven by the Germans, Russians and Japanese during WWII. But beyond the ability to wage total war, there really isn't very much to commend the Spartan system. When at peace, societies organised around the principle that individuals can always be sacrificed for the greater good no longer embraced that notion so fervently after a certain level of socio-economic development (remember the Soviet Union?)

Representative democracy limited by the rule of law has only been a very recent invention. But ever since liberal democracy was invented a couple of hundred years ago, as a system of government it has been the preferred choice amongst literate and healthy populations.

While it is usual to idealise Athens (in contrast to Sparta), the
historical reality was more complicated. The movie '300' about Sparta was inspiring. (I watched the spoof of it too, but that was a disappointment.)

I think it was Karl Marx who once said that democracy is not an end in itself but a means to an end. What is the end? Who decides?

My own view is that there is always a Darwinian process at work. Social systems which are better able to meet the challenges of production and defence will prevail over those which are stuck in the past. This is an endless process because of the advances of human knowledge and constantly changing circumstances. Liberal democracy is not the end point of history as we have found out. Fukuyama was wrong.

George Yeo

Dear Minister,

You have mentioned the difference between the American and the Chinese society. What are your opinions on the recent display of strong nationalistic spirit by the Chinese in various countries?

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