Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. ~Sir Winston Churchhill
Singapore celebrates her 39th year of independence this year, after more than a century of British rule, a few years of being occupied by the Japanese Empire & a couple of years as part of what is now known as Malaysia.
Today, it could be classified as a first world developing country, that rivals any other in its own right, a true Garden City, with perhaps one of the finer education systems in the world.
For 39 years, the citizens of the Republic have continuously elected the Peoples Action Party, headed first by elderly statesman Lee Kuan Yew, and then by the more energetic Mr. Goh Chok Tong, who have turned the Republic into a beacon of light for third-world developing countries.
The Peoples Action Party (PAP) was repeatedly elected by the people, due to its strong foundations and visions for the future. Meanwhile other political parties, such as the National Solidarity Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliances, the Singapore Democratic Party, The Singapore National Front, The Singapore Peoples Party and the Workers Party remain on the sidelines.
Throughout the years, under the guidance of Mr. Lee, Singapore has turned from a third world country left in turmoil, to the Republic that it is today. Mr. Lee remains the Senior Minister in todays administration, whilst his son, Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, is set to take over the role of the Prime Minister, after the incumbent Mr. Goh Chok Tong retires this year.
One of the many reasons, for the PAPs success is the respect that the people have for the current, past and future Prime Ministers. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was the man whose economic reforms largely turned Singapore around.
Every emerging democracy at one point or another, suffers from what can be accredited as a lack of finance. One of Mr. Lees brilliant ideas, was the setting up of the Economic Development Board, whos Contact Singapore division found foreign talent and investors for Singapore in the 1960s and 70s when an injection of foreign monies was quite desperately needed. Today, companies such as software conglomerates Microsoft, American bookstores like Borders, and even Italian fashion designers D&G, have stores set in Singapore; Singapore Airlines, is constantly the top international airline in the world, while the Port is still one of the worlds busiest. The telecommunications sector giant, Singtel (whose chief executive is Mr. Lees other son) has majority stakes in different telecommunication companies around the world, and is largely regarded as one of Asias if not the worlds best. The local newspapers have won international accolades too.
The title of the Garden City has largely endeared Singapore to a huge international crowd of tourists and investors. Singapores commercial airport is the best in the world, as indicated by numerous polls, and despite a lack of diverse tourist spots, tourism is still a multi-billion dollar sector of the economy. The people of Singapore then, are definitely well off, with around 900 millionaires (excluding value of homes), in a country of only around 4.1 million. Unemployment is low, despite an economy is that is only bouncing back from crisis such as the 9/11 Attacks on the States, and the Asian Economy bubble bursting.
Yet some of the more democratic reforms have fallen flat. The government introduced the Speakers Corner in Singapore at the turn of the millennium and despite an early fad surrounding it, today it is an almost deserted place, where opposition speakers read out speeches calling for more democratic reforms to audiences of five to six men. The only crowds come when the real heads of state, such as Messrs Lee & Goh, come around.
In 2002, the secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, Dr. Chee Soon Juan, was jailed for five weeks for trying to organize an illegal labor day rally outside the Istana, Singapores Presidential Palace. Messrs Goh and Lee had also filed a libel suit against Dr. Chee for the attack on their character, competence and integrity for scandalous comments that he made during the earlier General Elections.
The fourteenth article of the constitution of the Republic of Singapore also allows for free speech, which is something that every citizen of the Republic is justly allowed. While extreme views are still not tolerated in Singapore, which is still an Asian society (albeit a westernized one), just and fair views are taken into consideration.
There have also been comments about the lack of media freedom in Singapore. Singapores television channels, radio stations and newspapers are also largely in the hands of the two government controlled Singapore Press Holdings & Media Corp. Yet, the newspapers & TV channels have been voted among the best in Asia, and the radio stations are of a first-rate quality. There are true channels for people to express their views through newspaper forums (albeit in an edited format) and the internet boom has also allowed more Singaporeans to have their voices heard. Yet, even the governments grip on the media appears to the loosening, in 2002, a Singapore governmental committee suggested a substantial increase in foreign ownership limits in media companies from 5 to 10-15 percent. The local media has also seen an influx of foreigners working for it, and the liberation of the local media sector has pleased many an international body. While there is also a censorship on movies, this is diminishing, with new guidelines and regulations which have appeased art groups and democratic reformers.
Yet, perhaps the governments iron grip has done Singapore more good than harm (if any harm at all.) The strictness of the Republics government has led to an efficient society that is economically, politically and socially stable. Crime rates are low, and the Ministerial Cabinet is largely revered by an overwhelming majority of the people, largely due to the PAPs ability to keep the people more than content.
Marxism, or any form of it, as in countries such as the US & the UK is not tolerated. Communist and Falungong (a Chinese sect) activities are strictly prohibited. Rallies are also kept to a minimum, requiring a pass for rallies of any sort, usually political ones.
As Singapore enters the twenty first century, it can be seen that Singapore is starting to emerge from its shell, to become a classic democratic example for Asia. A relaxation of the rules, and implementation of others, have kept the country stable from any form of political commotion.
While it is true that the PAP holds almost all the power, the way it gathered its power, was by legal means. The people rightfully elected their chosen government for the last thirty-nine years, and it has turned out to be the best possible choice. While there are certain democratic features found in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom that arent available in Singapore, the government here has fulfilled its basic obligation, that being to provide the citizens of the Republic with economic stability, and happiness. And that in turn, should see the work of modern Singapores founding father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, endearing for many years yet.