Currently I am following with great excitement the debate on human rights reported in the media, especially on the increasing world interest in the special Singapore model of governance, which critics say is unacceptably authoritarian, and which admirers say is a model worthy of world emulation. Minister Mentor has drawn attention to what he perceives as liberal democracy’s annoyance with Singapore’s success, and with the fact that Russia and China are showing keen interest in the model.
In the light of all this interest, I thought it a good idea to reproduce an excerpt (declined for publication by the newspapers) from a recent political speech I made, in which I told a little, wickedly satirical tale, set sometime in the future, about precisely this model being adopted by the world
Let me share with you an idea that I have for a satirical play, on my favourite theme of the suppression of political liberties in Singapore.
Central to this proposed play is a question that goes straight to the heart of the famous absolutist philosophy of the PAP government, by which the only conceivable, not-to-be-questioned goal for Singapore is material prosperity, and the only conceivable, not-to-be-doubted means to secure this goal is PAP leadership. Everything else is an irrelevance or a hindrance, especially the political ideology of liberal democracy. As it stands, the unremitting realpolitik of the PAP has meant the curtailment of virtually all democratic freedoms in Singapore, except the basic, fundamental one of free and open elections.
My question is: will the PAP be prepared to do away with even this last vestige of democracy, if they perceive that the very survival of the nation is at stake? Will the PAP, in extremis, be prepared to sever all ties with the free world of which Singapore has been a member all its life?
For purposes of the play, the answer is yes. Picture this scenario, sometime in the future. It is election time. A young, attractive, very charismatic opposition leader has appeared on the scene. Nobody has seen the likes of him before. He draws huge crowds, mesmerising them. He cleverly commandeers all the resources of the Internet, and the SMS, to promote his aims, and is succeeding spectacularly. Singaporeans are excited because for the first time, they see his party, boldly named ‘People’s Reaction Party’ or PREP, as a viable alternative to PAP.
The government watches him warily. They see him as a real threat. He is exactly the kind of politician they despise, the emotion-stirring demagogue, the smooth- talking populist who if he gets into power will most certainly squander the nation’s reserves within a year. To make matters worse, there is a configuration of events, both at home and abroad, that are likely to favour this upstart—a fever of change sweeping the world, toppling governments that have been in power for decades, the emergence of the young as a formidable political force, feared for their colonization of the Internet and the extremism of their views, at home the eruption of a major scandal that causes Singaporeans to question the much-vaunted competence of the government.
The PAP leaders huddle in urgent consultation. What should they do? If they do nothing, this rabble-rouser will steal the election, and destroy all that the PAP has been building up so painstakingly for half a century.
The leaders make a decision to prevent a freak election. They do the unthinkable. They send in the army. There’s a scene in the play that shows tanks in the background, helicopters whirring overhead, the riot police plunging into the crowds, scattering them, pulling all the troublemakers off the streets, throwing them into jail. Soon order is restored.
As expected there is an uproar of protest from the free world. But the PAP has done its calculations well, and made the correct predictions. True enough, the protest soon dies down. For the world has a short memory for such things, and is only too happy to go back to minding its own business. Even better, there is a definite softening of stance as critics both at home and abroad, begin to take into account the following considerations. Firstly, nobody was killed that day. Secondly, many so-called liberal democracies have done far worse things to their political opponents. Thirdly, Singaporeans continue to enjoy the good life. Lastly, and most important of all, Singapore continues to be a responsible, reliable, partner in international business and other activities.
But the strongest endorsement comes from a powerful bloc of nations that is increasingly seen as a rival to the Western bloc led by the US. It is the organisation called BRIC comprising the four nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The BRIC members go out of their way to applaud the PAP for what they describe as the real kind of leadership so sorely needed in a troubled world. Moreover, they invite Singapore to be a member, for they realize that the unique PAP model of governance can be developed into a BRIC model which can be offered to the world as an alternative to the western liberal model. From now onwards, authoritarianism will no longer be a bad word; all the negativity will go to democracy instead.
In the play, there is a scene showing all the five leaders of the bloc, now renamed BRICS, standing in a row for a photo-op, against the background of their national flags. All are dressed in pristine white, for BRICS has adopted the PAP official uniform, as a gesture of appreciation and gratitude. The little red dot has become a shining beacon of hope in the world. It is the moment of the PAP’s apotheosis.
A drama needs conflict for creative tension. The counterpoise to the triumphant PAP is a single individual. He is not a dissident, but an ex-PAP member, in fact a high-ranking minister. He was the only to protest against the decision to use force, to send in the army that day. Whether his decision was based on moral conscience or pure idiosyncrasy, is not clear. He is expelled from the party. Disgraced, embittered, broken, he suffers a massive mental breakdown and becomes a raving, ranting madman.
Wild-eyed and dishevelled, he wanders the streets and public places of Singapore, speaking to whoever cares to listen, resisting his family’s efforts to restrain him, to keep him from the public eye. Again and again, he recounts the events of that terrible day of democracy’s demise in Singapore, but it is a madman’s incoherent jabbering that nobody wants to listen to. In any case, nobody wants to be seen near him, for there are rumours of secret surveillance cameras everywhere. There are also rumours of kind, compassionate Singaporeans visiting him secretly in the darkness of night, offering food, medicine, solace.
He has become a national embarrassment. The PAP leaders don’t know what to do with him. Someone suggests incarcerating him on a small isolated, outlying island, out of the reach of the world media. Then, to everyone’s relief, he dies a natural death. His body is found very early one morning, crumpled in a heap, beside a bus stop. His family quickly take it away.
The play ends with an amazing scene—crowd upon crowd of Singaporeans coming to lay flowers on the spot where he had died. Dark-suited businessmen in their Mercedes, somber-faced academics, tai tais in their jewels and chauffeured cars, students, teachers, hawkers, waitresses, taxi-drivers, Singaporeans from all walks of life, come to pay silent tribute, for the time being ignoring those dreaded surveillance cameras.