26 December, 2009

Is Singapore more like Zimbabwe than Malaysia ?

Malaysian constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari sparked a furore lately for likening the state of “lawlessness” in Malaysia to that in Zimbabwe which was echoed by former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim.

“Nothing will change unless those who know rise up to expose the vermin (that are) eating and destroying our national institutions and democratic values.”

Political analyst Abdul Aziz Bari likened those who hold the reins of power in Malaysia to a bunch of 'thugs'.

According to him, these individuals do as they please without proper regard for the law of the land and the percepts laid down in the federal constitution.

"We are like Zimbabwe, just with another name!" stressed the law expert.

If Abdul Aziz or Zaid , both lawyers by profession, had repeated the same remarks in Singapore, they would probably be sued for defaming the government and disbarred with their careers destroyed.

Besides no former Law Minister in Singapore will ever dare to criticize the system after being “retired” with a plume job in some government-linked companies to keep their mouths shut.

In a way, Singapore bears a closer resemblance to Zimbabwe than Malaysia is under the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and we are not talking about the economic but the political situation in these two countries.

Of course in terms of economic progress, Singapore is way ahead of Zimbabwe and Malaysia, but our archaic, obsolete and repressive political system is not too far behind Zimbabwe.

In fact, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe should learn from Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew on the art of masquerading a dictatorship as a “democracy” without incurring the wrath of the free world.

By and large, Mr Mugabe is shunned by the international community for being a despot. His ruling party is nothing more than a band of thugs who resort to harrassment, intimidation and even murders to silence the opposition.

On the other hand, Lee is no less a despot than Mr Mugabe, but he is welcomed by the international community everywhere he goes. Even President Obama granted him a rare audience at the White House lately though he is officially not the leader of Singapore.

The opposition is allowed to exist in Singapore provided it stays “constructive” (a Singapore euphemism for “doing nothing”) most of time and avoid crossing the path of Lee in the event of which they will be fixed, arrested and bankrupted till they “fall on bended knees and beg for mercy.”

The effectiveness of both methods is clear for all to see: Mr Mugabe’s rule is wobbling towards the end of his reign and he had to share power with his adversary in order to maintain his grip on power.

Lee does not have to concede any ground to Singapore’s non-existent opposition. Still being revered by some as the “founding father” of Singapore, he can win a free and fair election easily hands down anytime.

But Lee is not merely interested in winning elections, he wants an “overwhelming” mandate which means winning all the seats in parliament and if not, losing no more than two in the exising opposition wards.

Lee’s ruling PAP has won 10 consecutive elections from 1959 till 2006, a feat not seen or achieved in any other democracies in the world.

Of course one can argue that Singapore isn’t a democracy to begin with, but the fact remains that relatively free elections are conducted on a regular basis and though there are rampant gerry-mandering and unscrupulous practices such as the use of the state media to discredit and demolish the opposition, there were few complaints of fraud or vote-buying.

Now back to Malaysia – it may not be as developed as Singapore economically, its GDP per capita is much lower than ours and it ranks a pathetic 56th position by Transparency International compared to Singapore’s position as the 3rd least corrupt nation in the world and yet its people enjoy more political freedom than Singaporeans.

The Malaysian Bar Association can criticize the government freely and protest against decisions made by the Chief Justice without any repercussions.

The Singapore Law Society is muzzled by a law which disallows it to comment on legislation and policies unless its opinion is specifically sought after by the government.

Singapore lawyers are expected to toe the official line. Few would dare to go against the Chief Justice or Attorney-General openly. A former Singapore citizen Gopalan Nair questioned a decision made by then Attorney General Tan Boon Teck in the 1980s and was disbarred for two years.

The Malaysian opposition can lambast the Prime Minister openly without being sued for defamation. Democratic Action Party (DAP)’s Tony Pua, who slammed PM Najib recently over his GST proposal would have been bankrupted a long time ago had he been in Singapore.

Another voracious critic Lim Kit Siang, who hammered the government relentlessly would probably be detained under the Internal Security Act by the PAP and exiled elsewhere like Singapore’s former Solicitor-General Francis Seow, once Lee’s blue-eyed boy who had fallen out with him.

For all his diatribes against Dr Mahathir, Badawi and Najib, Lim should consider himself fortunate that he is still able to speak his mind relatively freely in Malaysia. Lee would never tolerate such public show of dissent against him.

The irony is: DAP was an offshoot of the PAP, regrouped from the Malaysian branch of the PAP after Singapore was booted unceremoniously out of Malaysia in 1965.

The three opposition MPs in Singapore’s parliament are largely ineffectual and dare not challenge the ruling party. When asked point-blank by PM Lee last year if Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng should resign over the escape of terrorist Mas Selamat, opposition MP Low Thia Kiang was stunned into silence, earning him the nickname “Silent Low” among netizens....more



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