12 Oct 2005

U.S. envoy slams Singapore's political curbs


Wed Oct 12, 2005 7:51 AM BST


SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The outgoing U.S. envoy to Singapore criticised the city-state's limits on political expression, saying governments will pay an increasing price for failing to give citizens freedom of choice and expression.

U.S. Ambassador Franklin L. Lavin [pictured] said it was surprising to find what he called constraints on discussions given Singapore's strong international links.

"In this era of Weblogs and Webcams, how much sense does it make to limit political expression?" Lavin told an audience at his farewell dinner on Tuesday. The speech was made available on the U.S. embassy's Web site.

Extract form the speech,
Singapore has its share of challenges as well. Singapore has flourished over the past 40 years, but is a 20th century model adequate for the 21st century? Singapore is grappling with the definitional questions of what kind of society it wants. Remaking its economy is, in a sense, the easy decision. Shaping a political system to reflect the needs and aspirations of its citizens is more difficult and more sensitive. What are the bounds of expression? What say should citizens have in their government? In this era of Weblogs and Webcams, how much sense does it make to limit political expression? Remember, we have the death of distance. There are no islands anymore. As part of Singapore’s success is its strong international links, it is surprising to find constraints on discussions here. In my view, governments will pay an increasing price for not allowing full participation of their citizens.


In August, police ordered a 36-year-old filmmaker to surrender equipment used to make a documentary on opposition figure Chee Soon Juan. A student on a state scholarship shut down his personal Web site in May after a government agency threatened a libel suit for his online comments.

On Friday, Singapore jailed two men for posting racist comments aimed at the country's ethnic Malay community, who are mainly Muslim, on the Internet.

"Singapore has flourished over the past 40 years, but is a 20th century model adequate for the 21st century?" Lavin asked.

"Remaking (Singapore's) economy is, in a sense, the easy decision. Shaping a political system to reflect the needs and aspirations of its citizens is more difficult and more sensitive," he added.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week ruled out adopting a Western liberal democracy with a multi-party system in the next 20 years, saying that it was unsuitable for the country.

Lavin, whose four-year tenure saw the conclusion of a U.S.-Singapore free-trade agreement and a deepening of security ties, takes up a new post in Washington as undersecretary for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

He will be replaced by Patricia Herbold, a lawyer and a Republican fundraiser.

[Who according to John Burton] has suggested that the Bush administration might be preparing to take a tougher line on Singapore's human rights record.

Ms Herbold, a lawyer and Republican fundraiser, told a US Senate hearing on her confirmation that she would continue a dialogue that Washington has with Singapore regarding the openness of its society and its political system.


A parliamentary republic with elections held at regular, constitutionally mandated intervals, Singapore has been dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP) since independence in 1965.

Opposition politicians, who hold only two of the 84 seats in parliament, have long complained that frequent defamation suits by PAP officials have stifled dissent -- a view echoed by a 2004 U.S. State Department report on Singapore.

Many analysts expect parliamentary elections in the coming months although they are not due to be held until mid-2007.

In May, Amnesty International criticised Singapore's human rights record, saying that control on political expression remained tight despite government promises of greater openness.


Related Links:

Channel News Asia report on the speech which ignores the above reference to Freedom of Speech.

How the Straits Times reported his departure from Mr Brown's coverage.
http://www.mrbrown.com/blog/images/us_envoy.jpg

Extract from a question and answer session from Today Online.
Speaking to Today, Mr Lavin said he felt it was "very difficult to find a platform if you have a policy point to make that might be critical of the government".

"I think governments should take a broader view of political expression. It will provide a greater sense of attachment for the Singapore population."

During the question-and-answer session, he said that one-party political dominance here has "enormous strengths", such as "very high quality leadership" which maximises its long-term vision. But the system also has weaknesses, and "the lack of open and vigorous debates might reduce a Government's popularity if it doesn't let ideas or views be properly aired", he said.

Referring to a failed demonstration outside the US embassy last year against the Iraq War, Mr Lavin said he was "embarrassed" when the police asked him if he wanted to press charges against the demonstrators. "I said 'no'. I mean, go ahead, hold the signs and say something if you want to."


Updated
US envoy slaps Singapore over freedom of speechby John Burton of FT.
The Washington Times, EMBASSY ROW

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Once again, the local MSM has let Singaporeans down... Read the happy-ending one-sided bullshit CNA churned out, will ya. Or maybe it's not CNA's fault but a 'higher' censorship at work. The irony..

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/172935/1/.html

soci said...

at least Today mentioned the speech in a more balanced format.

Anonymous said...

"But Patricia Herbold, Mr Lavin's successor, has suggested that the Bush administration might be preparing to take a tougher line on Singapore's human rights record."

About damn bloody time!!

I thought the US will never scratch beyond the happy, shiny surface which the gov't presents, and the state propaganda keeps polishing. We're an oppressed lot kicked in under the facade.

Won't matter for too long. I'll migrate before I hit 30, and take my money with me.

Then, Mr Lee should ask himself why his people are deserting this so-called oasis, instead of branding them 'quitters.' Because, really, what are these people quitting from, and seeking? (Does he and his Party ever ask themselves that? Of course not. They probably thought whoever's not sucking on their tits are traitors.)

I'll tell you. Because some of us really want to be able to discuss and critize local politics -- but not as opposition politicians whose social status in SG is worse than a dog anyway, but have to face all sorts of trials and tribulations worse than Jesus Christ -- without the ISD banging down the doors with a hammer and sickle.

clyde said...

They probably thought whoever's not sucking on their tits are traitors.

Haha...good one. Although that caused unpleasant images of half-naked PMs and was-PMs breastfeeding Singaporeans. *shudders*

I am still skeptical if America will move to pressure political reform in Singapore. It seems to me any significant pressure by their federal government would only arise if their was any economic, military or political gain for them. It's not hard to find examples of many countries that are not aligned with their interests and yet face no significant pressure or threat from America. And by significant pressure, I mean one that effectively causes change whether diplomatic or by military aggression.

Given that economical ties between the two countries are good, I would not forsee any reason for the US to actively pursue political reform in Singapore, other than to engage in the usual 'persuasive' approach. To which the local govt. is likely to give the same response it does its people; nod and ignore.

sandalman said...

Bush, the human rights crusader? I'm skeptical.. that man will be more concerned about his pockets and face than anything else. Not to to pooh-pooh the competent people working for him, but with him in charge, I don't think anything substantial will result.

soci said...

The out-going and in-coming US envoys taking notice is 'substantial' in itself.

pleinelune said...

Bush wouldn't give two hoots for how "oppressed" we are, seeing as we don't have any oil.

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VJ

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