Singaporeans Should be Proud of Their Country's "Gutter Politics"
With the Covid-19 situation largely under control (hopefully no second waves around the corner) Singapore is heading to the polls on July 10. This post, however, is not going to be about the elections (only tangentially) but rather about the calm environment they are about to take place in.
I know many Singaporeans are up in arms about one political party or the other but, frankly, the conflicts in Singapore are barely noticeable relative to what usually goes on in democracies in the so-called "developed" West.
The most recent drama erupted when one of the ruling party's MPs penned a long post questioning the opposition's leader allegiance after his indirect praise a playwright known for locally controversial statements.
This caused such a stir among some that they accused the ruling party of "gutter politics" or "character assassination".
Do you know what character assassination is? When a supreme court justice candidate (like Brett Kavanaugh), who is about to be confirmed, all of a sudden has to defend himself from accusations of a sexual assault he allegedly committed three decades ago (which somehow wasn't a big deal all these years). Or when a presidential candidate - like Joe Biden - now has to repel a similar indictment in a political retaliation likely organized by his opponents.
Last I heard Singaporean prime minister didn't face a court case over money allegedly paid to hush up an affair with a pornstar that happened 10 years ago - unlike Donald Trump about his involvement with Stormy Daniels, who later received the keys to the city of West Hollywood in a political demonstration of opposition to the sitting president:
In Singapore nobody is doing race-baiting to score political points - not only because it's immoral (and may even be illegal) but because the society would frown upon it.
Nobody is using their political position to stir violence targeting any other social group or political opponents. As riots and crime spill across America and parts of Europe, with reckless mobs vandalizing nation's historical and architectural heritage, the most anybody even dared to suggest in Singapore was whether the Raffles' statue should perhaps be moved somewhere - like to a museum - and even that did not exactly come from inspiration of any political party or, indeed, any politician, and is highly unlikely to gain any traction among the public.
Nobody really rocks the boat here, because the shared understanding is that the boat is carrying everyone. This simple notion is completely absent in polarized, divisive, violent, intolerant politics of the West.
In Singapore the "gutter politics" is questioning a politician's intentions on the basis of his sympathies - carried out in a detailed post, supported by certain facts and sources. Well, if that's the gutter then I'm happy to drink from it - and it doesn't even matter whether you agree with the accusations or not.
Nobody was angrily labeled a supremacist, a bigot, Nazi, literally Hitler or whatever. One person asked a few difficult questions, the other replied, and the public can now make up their minds who has shown greater merit.
In fact, there's so little political controversy here that the biggest drama in the recent years is the family feud over whether to demolish or preseve Lee Kuan Yew's old house.
America is on fire, Western Europe has caught some of it too, Eastern Europe is governed by incompetent wannabe despots. Racial conflicts, crime and violence (a result of politicians' blind allegiance to their dogmatic ideologies) are sweeping increasingly polarized (yet supposedly "civilized") nations and, in the meanwhile, the headline controversy in Singapore is whether the house should come down or not. <yawn>
Politically speaking Singapore is on a different planet, in a different universe entirely.
The environment is so civilized and pleasant here that the Speaker of the Parliament can do his walkabouts without a thick security detail and happily paid a visit to the opposition MP, Worker's Party prime figure and it's long-time leader, Mr. Low Thia Khiang, currently recovering from a fall he suffered a few months ago.
And both sit down for some tea and take a selfie (or rather "wefie") together.
Can anybody imagine Nancy Pelosi meeting Mitch McConnell? And it's not because people across the political aisle in America don't know or like each other, or don't cooperate - but because their political interests thrive on visible, public divide.
If Nancy Pelosi did that stunt with publicly ripping up presidential speech in Singapore I like to think she would face political annihilation.
Luckily, in the prosperous Asian city-state the two main political rivals thrive on peace and stability (even if their views on running the country are sometimes completely opposite). Which is why when Tan Chuan-Jin visits Low Thia Khiang they can quite publicly have a nice time, knowing that the society will overwhelmingly approve of this image, regardless of political sympathies and with benefit to both of them and their respective parties.
This is a result not only of enormous civility of Singapore's mainstream politicians but all Singaporeans. The parliament is mainly a reflection of the society. So, if the people are generally peaceful and reasonable, the local political scene is going to be just as civil. It does not mean there are no conflicts or bitter rivalry - but you're unlikely to witness senseless mud-slinging.
Whatever political loonies do exist in Singapore (and there are a few) they have been completely marginalized, relegated to peddling their twisted ideas on social media, far away from the peaceful mainstream.
None of it would be possible without the people - so I really don't think Singaporeans are third-world citizens, as judged by prof. Koh not that long ago. In fact, I believe that they are among the most civilized and orderly people on this planet - what is even more vivid now, when the West is struggling to respond to reckless, irrational violence and destruction, where politicians are at each other's throats and there's not a day or week that another ridiculous scandal doesn't blow up in their tabloidized mass media.
In the meantime, as Singapore enters its campaign period there may be quite a lot of rivalry, the candidates will have to answer some tough questions and dodge a few curveballs but as politics goes nowhere else in the world will you be able to witness this much class.