Singapore government has decided to call #ReturnOurCPF protest at Hong Lim Park a public nuisance. And yet over in Hong Kong, protesters claim their movement is a public or civil disobedience. Can these two represent Asian ways of democracy mentioned by PM Lee?
PM Lee has made his point clear enough, presuming the whole cabinet also agrees with this Way (of charging protesters at Hong Lim Park). What about Singaporeans? Do you agree?
In a Forbes Conference, PM Lee said, "If you look at the countries in Asia, you'll know these are complicated countries and they work in different ways.”#1
Asian democracy gets complicated when bad examples are used.
Perhaps, we can look at the most successful Way in Asia - Japan. Meiji Reform started at 1868, less than 200 years ago. The reformation transforms Japan into a modern and democratic country. Historians argue the modernization process has two important components work in parallel: militarism and democracy. Education, health care, technology, society, political and legal system etc. were all subjects to change under the Reform.
We cut it short and jump to Singapore as a comparison. Over the past 50 years, what are two most important components in Singapore development?
Pragmatism and Pseudo-democracy
Even though we have a very big defence budget, the word ‘militarism’ seems to be too strong. It is better to hide the ‘militarism’ under pragmatism as defence force or NS is mainly for self defence. Pragmatism has inbuilt into the whole of Singapore, from economic, education, language, birth control, housing, even CPF. You contribute money to protect your future retirement need. The more you put in, the more you will take out later. There is no free lunch.
Then, why a pseudo-democracy can also be the other important component? Not to forget, everything the PAP government does is approved under the Parliament and acts according to Singapore Constitutions. The government needs a mandate, in Chinese history, this is called ‘heavenly mandate’. In modern democracy or pseudo-democracy, ‘Bills become Acts’ needs debate in Parliament.This is why the changes in Hong Kong Chief Executive Election need the final mandate from China’s Parliament in Beijing.
So, Singapore’s past success is based on the formula of
Pragmatism > Pseudo-democracy.
Pragmatism is taking the lead, doing 80-90% of the duty. And the parliament, as the supporting role, contributes to only 10-20% of nation building.
This is certainly off balance. But Singapore continues to progress as everyone is happy with this arrangement. Not only that, Singaporeans also accept that this is the Confucian Way as claimed by the PAP leaders. But how come an off-balance can be seen as a Doctrine of the Mean#2.(Zhong Yong) One must in the mid-point then one can claim his/her ‘mean’ position. The PAP is clearly not.
In a deeper understanding of Zhong Yong, it really does not mean the central position. In this case, the PAP is right. Look at the following Chinese weighting tool, the mean point is not necessary at the center. You can adjust the balance as you wish.
The claim of running Singapore under the Confucian Way under this condition is right. There is no such thing of 50:50 for pragmatism and democracy. It is not necessary to maintain at 50% mark. However, Confucius will disagree with such an extreme off-balance of 80/90% pragmatism. Only Legalists will agree.
Interestingly, can the future PAP leaders know the real meaning of Zhong Yong and play it to their advantage in policy making? Will Singaporeans accept such a big off-balance, such a misinterpretation of Zhong Yong? Why must it always be 90:10 or 80:20 and not 60:40 or 40:60?
The PAP has over used the Pragmatism, from education, health care, HDB, no dialect policy, media control, ISA, GRC, NMP, to the latest public nuisance and ‘To Singapore, with love’. At the same time, the PAP popular votes are in the decline and more oppositions are in the Parliament.
These trends will continue. The new balance point may not be the mean. However, it will also different from the past. The hard truth is every single point moving towards the mean point will affect the popularity of the PAP. This is because voters will give more considerations to Democracy or perhaps consider Democracy over Pragmatism.
Democracy and Pragmatism
Singaporeans are luckier than people in Hong Kong. Whether democracy or pragmatism, we don’t need Beijing approval. But is the assumption of China never change right and for ever? Chinese civilization, over the past 5000 years, is a change and adaptation with new elements, including foreign importations. Look at how they live, dress, dine, educate and entertain!
If Western modernization and postmodernization are the guides, especially for Singapore, then we will shift to a more equal and new balance point between democracy and pragmatism. The PAP of course wants to hold the unrealistic Zhong Yong for another 15 years. They prefer to continue to use pragmatism as an excuse and want Singaporeans to sacrifice democracy.
PM Lee’s ideal Asian Way of democracy is the Confucian Way. However, the Confucian Way of balancing Zhong Yong is outdated and becoming less pragmatic politically. Perhaps, he is still under the influence of his father.