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