Wednesday, April 07, 2004

instead of doing my reading for tomorrow (what a bad idea) i decided to listen to an old BBC interview of Singapore's Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, on Hardtalk last Sept. (thanks to jolene for posting the link to it on her blog.)

have a couple of comments about it, in addition to agreeing with her comment about gormlessness. first of all, i'm disappointed in how passive our PM is in taking what might be called controversial questions. i'd like to see a PM quicker on his feet and more sure of his opinion -and his country's opinion- on various issues. i'd like to see a more argumentative PM; someone who enjoys the debate rather than endures it -- he seemed exceedingly uncomfortable there in the hot seat, as it were.

there are times where it is all right to say 'i can't comment on this' -like when he declines to talk about the trial of the JI leader in Indon, and the only justification he really needed to give was 'it's an ongoing trial in another country's domestic legal system, and i don't feel it's appropriate to comment until the appeals process is complete, for fear of prejudicing the outcome.' and leave it at that. i mean, that's a perfectly reasonable response and any repeated attempts at the same question can be fobbed off with 'no comment', without coming off as having something to hide.

his responses to several other questions also upset me, in that they seemed unnecessarily defensive, weak, or equivocal. for example, Tim Sebastian comments on UN and international condemnation of Singapore's (among other ASEAN nations) refusal or failure to condemn human rights abuses in what he insists on calling Burma, and which i will now call Myanmar. my response is that unlike Singapore (and the other ASEAN nations), the United Nations, and the United States, don't live in South East Asia. the ties of geography are inescapable, however much we wish we could unmoor our little island in the sea and move to more hospitable climes. therefore, our attitudes toward one another in SEA, regarding human rights as well as other things, is tempered by the necessity to maintain stability between ourselves. the necessity to prevent war, to contain conflict, or even to avoid it. and frankly, if we can make a little profit out of it too, why the hell not? if you believe the realists, which i sometimes do, morality has nothing to do with statecraft; power and relative gains do. and if we can get some kind of economic gain out of a bad situation then why shouldn't we enrich ourselves?

again on the questions regarding the Remaking Singapore campaign. i want someone who will immediately point out to the questioner that his question has no logical causality -- just because we are remaking something doesn't automatically imply that the previous version is bad or broken. (fucking microsoft remakes Windows every few years or so just to squeeze more money out of everyone, right?) there's also no reason to presume that change only happens when things are broken and no longer work, or that a system can be perfect from the get-go, for all circumstances in all times. it's promising that he points out that we have to allow a younger generation to help determine what kind of future they want -- isn't that the kind of thing that all the western liberal democracies are crying about anyway? that people should get involved in their governments and their futures? isn't that the way democracies SHOULD work? - that people should speak up and change the way governments are run and systems are shaped to suit the way they want to lead their lives? -- though how much determining they are going to be doing is still to be seen. saying the system isn't flexible because it has to be remade is patently ridiculous, if only because allowing the system to be 'remade', or changed, or adapted, or whatever you want to call it, is already a demonstration of flexibility in itself, isn't it. (otherwise we would be forced to go along with the old system until it really did break apart and leave us high and dry, and possibly dead.)

and in response to his remarks about Lee Hsien Loong and dynastic rule in Singapore, i'd have to say that the son doesn't always contain the father. i mean, let's take a look at the number of useless descendents the european royal families have produced over time. even if it IS dynastic rule (the jury, at least my jury, is still out on that), it doesn't mean that we are going to get a repeat performance of the 1970s and 80s. circumstances change; the circumstances that have shaped the man are different between now and independence in 1965.

those are the things that really jumped out at me. i guess the other stuff is old news -- driving JB Jayaratnam or Chee Soon Juan to bankruptcy, executions, blahblah. (though it did strike me that PM Goh's ballpark figure for number of executions is totally wrong - it's not even in the same playing field as the right number-; and his ignorance of ISD detentions is appalling, considering that somewhere along the line their detentions are supposed to be reviewed. though i can't remember if it's by the PM or the President. i can't imagine why it would be the President. i thought he didn't have any real work to do.)

perhaps Lee Hsien Loong will make a PM more to my liking, despite my current distaste. although i would argue that he's more elitist and more isolated from the common man than PM Goh is, he's also more aggressive, more argumentative, more in your face. i think he relishes the challenge of the debate. the question is, while he's a face i would be happier to see on BBC and other international interviews, is he going to be the kind of face that i would like to see in domestic news about taxation, education, human rights and so forth?


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