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Oct 12, 2005
Govt doesn't depend on 'calibrated coercion'
IN 'MANAGING civil disobedience' (ST, Oct 10), Dr Cherian George regretted that the PAP Government's 'calibrated approach to coercion' and its self-restraint had made it harder for 'pro-democracy activists - (to) remind Singaporeans that they should care about political liberalisation'.
He noted that 'that is where Dr Chee (Soon Juan)'s strategy of civil disobedience comes in', and commended it as a 'strategy (which) turns the state's monopoly of force against itself'.
Dr George has mixed up several different issues. First, the Government does not depend on 'calibrated coercion', but derives moral authority precisely from what Dr George himself acknowledged - 'an outstanding record in delivering the goods, internal discipline, ability to win genuine freely-given loyalty from the majority of Singaporeans'.
Second, this record of good and clean governance depends on rigorously upholding the rule of law in a plural and democratic society.
The Government must act when the law is broken, whether by opposition politicians or government supporters, and whether through violent or non-violent means.
If a law is unjust, there are established avenues for reviewing and changing it. Neither Mr Chiam See Tong nor Mr Low Thia Khiang has had to resort to 'civil disobedience' or defamation in order to be elected as MPs.
Our defamation laws follow the English model, and keep our public discourse responsible and honest. Dr George described defamation civil suits as 'the state's weapon of choice', but ministers can sue successfully only if they have been defamed, and they do so on a personal basis, not on behalf of the state.
Opposition MPs themselves have sued when they considered themselves defamed.
Third, zero tolerance for law breaking does not equate to zero tolerance for dissenting views. On the contrary, we encourage people to speak up and express their opinions on national policies and community life, so that out of the diversity of views a consensus can be forged, and a better decision made for the good of the nation.
Dr George's critical article was published in The Straits Times, contradicting his own claims.
Of course, where criticism is directed against the Government, then the Government has to respond to it or rebut it, or else lose the argument and the respect of Singaporeans. This is what it did a decade ago in response to Dr Catherine Lim.
Such exchanges do not represent 'PAP intolerance towards dissent'. They are part and parcel of public discourse in a democratic society.
Dr George is, however, right that the PAP has not 'undergone a fundamental philosophical conversion towards liberal ideals'. He offered no supporting arguments or evidence why these are the right ideals for Singapore.
The Prime Minister has explained why he does not believe that liberal democracy as practised in the West will work here.
Singaporeans know that we have thrived on a different approach - the PAP has won every election since 1959 because it enjoys the trust and support of the people, governs in their interests, and involves citizens in the large issues that affect us all.
Chen Hwai Liang
Press Secretary to the Prime Minister