Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore is pretty much as fair and balanced as I imagined it might be, never really overtly critical nor given to nation-building sentiment. Professor Chua Beng Huat more or less tells it like it is, along the way giving a history lesson on the PAP’s political methods and finesse over the decades.
An important concept that is laid out early on is that of hegemony/consensus, where the electorate (that’s us) are subject to somewhat repressive, intrusive but still legal restrictions – freedom of speech, home-ownership, family-planning – but with the intrinsic understanding that these are to be endured or even welcomed in the interest of pragmatism (economic survival).
One interesting event brought up in the book is the General Elections of 1984, the turning point when the PAP suffers its first setback since independence – a mere 63% majority, its lowest ever.
“However, noone was under any illusion that the shift in voting behaviour represented an endorsement of the opposition. A post-election survey confirmed the frustration with certain policies, and a desire to keep a check on the PAP government, were the overwhelming reasons for casting protest votes.”
I see a bit of a parallel with the upcoming GE, case in point – the Worker’s Party going for Ang Mo Kio GRC, coming up against PM Lee Hsien Loong himself. But then again, noone is under any illusion here as well as to the likely outcome of the contest, least of all WP chief Low Thia Khiang,
“We’re not saying that we’ll win Ang Mo Kio, what,” he quipped, “We’re going there to participate so people have a choice. I think the people in Ang Mo Kio would like that.”
So 20 years on, the extent of our political vigour is still limited to symbolic gestures instead of actual change in the status quo. Of course, our political apathy can easily be explained away by ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it‘. Is full-blown democracy really that essential to our society’s well-being? Or to paraphrase my Uncle Harry, “Democracy for what? Can eat one ah?”
In any case, read the book to better understand Singapore’s political history, not just the old chestnuts of Raffles, the Temenggong and Bill Farquhar. This is not stuff we learn in school. Good to read as a primer for the upcoming GE.
My next book will be David Benioff’s The 25th Hour.