Chapter 1 Making Singapore's Liberal Base Visible
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14 Chua Beng Huat 14 C H A P T E R 1 C H A P T E R 1 Making Singapore’s Liberal Base Visible Chua Beng Huat Introduction Introduction Singapore is a postcolonial society with particularistic characteristics. Historical evidence showed that the island was a trade centre in the fourteenth century when it was Temasek. However, by the time of Stamford Raffles’ arrival it was no more than a tiny settlement, which facilitated Raffles’ bringing the island under the absolute control of the East India Company and its later transfer to the British colonial office. With the founding of the trading post, waves of immigrants came from China, South Asia and the islands of Malay Archipelago. Singapore was a settler country, with a multiracial immigrant population. The colonisation of Singapore island did not result in the destruction of a local economy, indigenous culture or pre-modern state/government system. Without an indigenous state prior to British colonisation, there were no traditional leaders that could readily claim the right to govern; there was no past political system that could be dusted off and reinstated as the government system. No bloody war of independence was fought; consequently there were no military leaders who could claim political leadership and establish a military regime, on account of having shed blood for the new nation. The island-state, declared independent on 9 August 1965, had to be constituted entirely on the template of a modern state. In the midst of the Cold War, two models of modern state formation were available for emulation: the liberal democratic state of the Making Singapore’s Liberal Base Visible 15 so-called Free World or the Communist State. Having been through a decade of “Emergency War” with the Malayan Communist Party, from the end of Japanese Occupation in 1946 to Malaya independence in 1957, Malaysia would not accept a communist Singapore. Neither would Indonesia, which was in the midst of the bloodiest massacre of communists and their alleged or real fellow travellers, nor the Philippines, where the Communist Party remains an organised insurgent force. Besides, the People’s Action Party (PAP) itself had been through an internal struggle between the allegedly pro-communist left faction and the English-university-educated social democrats within the party that led to the splitting of the left-wing to form Barisan Socialis. Not surprisingly , the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore is one that contains all the individual rights and freedoms of a liberal democracy, with a significant difference: Singapore is to be a “multiracial” nation and there is to be racial equality. Framing Governance: Repression, Race and Religion Framing Governance: Repression, Race and Religion The PAP had already begun to consolidate its power from the point it formed the first elected parliament in 1959. Political suppression included prolong jailing of alleged communists under the Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial, and deregistering radical labour unions, replacing them with government-backed industrial unions under the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). With the PAP–NTUC partnership, industrial “peace” was imposed — workers’ rights trimmed and employers’ rights expanded — making Singapore attractive to foreign capital to drive the nascent industrialisation. In 1968, the left-wing politicians who remained outside prisons committed collective political suicide by refusing to partake in the general elections. This last rash act gave the PAP its first absolute parliamentary majority and control of the state, with periodic adjustments to electoral procedures needed to maintain this absolute hold on power. Repressive authoritarianism was at its most vehement during the 1960s and 1970s. This was “condoned” internationally by the Cold War atmosphere. Against the 1965 massacre of alleged communists in Indonesia, the ten-year insurgency in Malaya (1946–56), and the long revolutionary war in Vietnam, political detentions in Singapore were rather minor offences and as such drew little, if any, condemnation from the liberal nations of the West. Subsequently, in the past two decades, political suppression of dissent became more sporadic and targeted against specific 16 Chua Beng Huat individuals; nevertheless, threat of suppression continues to cast long shadows on the population. Collective memories of the past remain undiminished ; the increased use of defamation suits as a means of controlling dissent and criticisms provides evidence of continuing repression. Race is another area where intense government intervention was evident from the start. The reality of the three racial groups is translated into a basis of governance in many areas of social life. In contrast to the logic of...


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