Sunday, 19 June 2011

Will PM Lee do a ‘Chiang Ching-kuo’ in Singapore?

After May 7 election, PM Lee made some changes that seem to be big changes in Singapore.  Some observers even said he had re-discovered himself and been fully in charge of the government by his own judgment (less the influence of Lee Kuan Yew).

It is too early to tell whether PM Lee’s commitment to change and listen to the people will go deeper and become a permanent change in Singapore politics.

However, comparing to Chiang Ching-kuo of Taiwan in the 1980s, PM Lee is still far behind. Firstly, Chiang initiated political change without the pressure from voters.  Secondly, the changes that Chiang made have far greater impact and meaning than the changes announced recently by PM Lee.

Key changes made by PM Lee

The followings are the key changes introduced by PM Lee:

* Announcing a younger cabinet without MM, SM and other not so popular ministers;
* Reviewing the ministerial pay and senior civil servants;
* Reducing the demand on foreign workers;
* Improving the public housing programme; and
* Improving the public transport system.

If you compare these changes to Chiang Ching-kuo, may I use the famous quote? It is just a peanut.  

Chiang lifted martial law and media control

Let see what Chiang Ching-kuo did in Taiwan then we can have a better understand of the meaning of change. He created a democratic system in which the people could choose their ruler. He lifted martial law and the ban on political parties and non-official media.

These changes or contribution to Taiwan democracy are both recognized by the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party.  This is something strange in Taiwan politics that these 2 parties rarely agree on one common agenda.

PM Lee never touches on the ISA, the media, a fairer political competition and system, even the role of elected President is confusing as many people are not clear about its function after more than 20 years.  The law minister and a former senior minister need to come out to clarify the appointment and function of the Elected President. 

PM Lee recently announced changes may result to future acknowledgement of the PAP and the oppositions but it is really a bit too far from any impacting or influencing change in Singapore politics. 

Political elites’ attitudes towards democracy

Ching-fen Hu is his paper “Taiwan’s Geopolitics and
Chiang Ching-Kuo’s Decision to Democratize Taiwan    pointed out that political leadership can change the democratic process. (

Hu said: Taiwan’s successful transition from authoritarian regime to democracy suggests that neither a Leninist party structure nor a Confucian cultural heritage is a bar to democratization. Taiwan’s experience also clearly illustrates that democracy can be achieved through political leadership, a mode of democratic transition that has been emphasized in recent scholarship by Samuel Huntington, Bruce Dickson, and Steven Hood, the lattermost of whom argues that democratic transitions are brought about by political elites who have changed their attitudes about democracy.

Political learning and democracy

In the paper, Hu also stressed the importance of political learning that I am not sure whether it is equal to the PAP’s stress of listening to the people.  

Hu said “this process has been described by Nancy Bermeo as “political learning,” meaning the process by which “authoritarians come to realize the benefits, or in some cases their only option for survival, is to move towards a democratic solution.”

The paper further explained “As the paramount leader of the Kuomintang (KMT), the decision to move forward with Taiwan’s democratization in 1986 ultimately belonged to Chiang Chingkuo (CCK). Although CCK initially supported the status quo, he eventually came to realize that a democratic solution would benefit the KMT, and that failure to liberalize the system could result in violent conflict.”

We will have to wait and see the changes in attitude of Singapore political elites and their political leaning about democracy from GE2011 and the coming Presidential election. 

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