Thursday 2 February 2012

First 'Young Guns' forum organised by the NUS political association

Politicians agree democracy is 'least bad' system of government
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times 27 Jan 2012

Democracy has its downsides - from partisan gridlock to slanderous comments made online - but it is still the 'least bad' system of government.

Young politicians from four different political parties agreed on this on Thursday at a National University of Singapore (NUS) forum, when asked if Singaporeans should worry about the 'darker side of democracy' with the advent of more competitive local politics.

The quartet was appearing at the first 'Young Guns' forum organised by the NUS political association on Thursday. Attended by about 300 students, the event will gather youthful politicians to speak to undergraduates every year.

One participant asked whether Singaporeans should worry about the 'darker side of democracy' in the face of the new normal in local politics.

Ms Nicole Seah of the National Solidarity Party expressed confidence that unsavoury aspects of Singapore's changing political landscape, such as nastiness in some online discourse, would fade in time.

The extreme voices are 'early adopters' of online political discussion, and may initially dominate. But as the political landscape matures, the 'silent majority' will become more discerning and reject overly extremist views, she said.

Mr Vikram Nair of the People's Action Party (PAP) said Singapore needs a democratic system, but added: 'We need a strong government within that system' to overcome potential gridlock.

In response to a different question, he revealed that he had at first been reluctant to appear at the forum.

'At every forum I've attended before this one, I have been misquoted,' he explained. While articles misquoting him are widely circulated, retractions made later are not.

'That is because people have an agenda to discredit us,' he said, referring to the PAP. 'I don't think (some of the) misquoting is accidental, I am quite sure they are deliberate.'

Mr Nair made this point as he defended Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing, who had come under fire from some netizens for a chye tow kway analogy he used when talking about ministerial pay.

Mr Chan had noted that there is $10 chye tow kway and there is $1.50 chye tow kway. If one is happy with the quality of the food, then one would be happy to pay. If not, no matter how low the price, there would still be complaints.

One participant said Mr Chan's comment had been viewed as a sign of elitism. But Mr Nair said Mr Chan was a down-to-earth person with few airs, and that some of the perceptions repeated online might not be the full picture.

Mr Gerald Giam, of the Workers' Party (WP), said that some point to the messy politics in countries like the United States and Britain as worst-case scenarios for Singapore.

But citizens of these countries would not give up their system for any other, warts and all, he posited. Democracy is not a perfect system, but it is the least bad, he said.

The Singapore Democratic Party's Mr Vincent Wijeysingha said that democracy should not be judged by 'what it achieves for the nation', but how individual Singaporeans' interests are protected under a democratic system.

If national outcomes were all that mattered, he said, a system of slavery could produce high economic growth.

Meanwhile, Mr Giam, who is a Non-Constituency MP, also fielded some questions about the WP, the largest opposition party in Parliament.

He was asked about criticisms that the WP is just the 'PAP in blue' - blue being the WP party colour - given that its stance on some issues mirrors that of the ruling party.

Mr Giam replied that the party does not look at policy in terms of where the ruling party's position is, and then define itself in opposition. Rather, it takes its stand according to what it believes is good for Singapore.

He pointed out that while PAP MPs can express criticism and disagree with the Government in Parliament, they almost always are forced to vote along the party line, due to the party Whip.

'At the end of the day, as opposition MPs, we can vote the other way.'

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