Monday, October 31, 2005

Govt shouldn't equate analysis with advocacy

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Oct 13, 2005
Govt shouldn't equate analysis with advocacy
IN MY article, 'Managing civil disobedience' (ST, Oct 10), I analysed 'calibrated coercion' as one under-appreciated governance skill of the People's Action Party, and speculated that the opposition's strategy of civil disobedience presents a new challenge that the PAP would have to manage carefully.

The Prime Minister's press secretary, Mr Chen Hwai Liang, has responded by presenting the Government's position on its own success factors ('Govt doesn't depend on 'calibrated coercion').

I will continue to refine my own analysis based on Mr Chen's and other responses. The PAP's record of political stability is unique in the world and deserves nuanced and sustained study, which I, like others in the academic fraternity, are committed to. I therefore welcome the Government's engagement with my ideas.

However, I am saddened that the Government has chosen to cast my article in partisan terms. Worse, it claims that I 'commended' the strategy of civil disobedience. This is not just a misrepresentation of my views. It is also a serious accusation, as it suggests that I was inciting readers to break the law.

I did not. I tried to explain Dr Chee Soon Juan's strategy, not champion it. Unfortunately, Mr Chen has chosen to equate analysis with advocacy. By this token, a historian who studies the rise of communism must be a communist himself. The terrorism expert who explains the motivations of Al-Qaeda operatives must be siding with terrorists. And a sociologist analysing Stefanie Sun's international appeal must be a groupie. Such labelling would make much academic research untenable.

Only time will tell conclusively whether Dr Chee's application of civil disobedience to Singapore is as irrelevant as communism, as dangerous as terrorism, or as benign as a Stephanie Sun song.

However, until experience tells us otherwise, my own hunch is that it is possible to work legally for a better Singapore, and to call for changes in laws without breaking them. Most Singaporeans who are in favour of faster political liberalisation (including opposition leaders other than Dr Chee) appear to share this faith.

I also share the view of PAP MP Charles Chong and his grassroots leaders that Singaporeans who want to press for change need to be 'very creative, but within the law'.

That does not mean alternative approaches, such as Dr Chee's, don't deserve close and dispassionate scrutiny. Sadly, readers may get the impression from parts of the Government's response to my article that it will treat such study as equal to instigating others to break the law, and therefore out of bounds.

As for me, I will choose not to come to this pessimistic conclusion despite the unfair accusation, and accept on faith that there remains room in Singapore for the critical discussion of serious issues.

Cherian George (Dr)

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