Law Minister: Singapore is not a country


For a fouth day running, Singapore Law Minister K Shanmugam tried desperately hard to convince a skeptical audience that Singapore is a “democracy”.

He quoted the example of Chicago where democratic mayors have won without interruption since 1931.

‘But nobody questions whether there is a democracy in New York,’ Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Wednesday, referring to the frequent questioning of Singapore’s democratic credentials given the 50-year dominance of the ruling People’s Action Party.

Drawing on arguments by American economist Bryan Caplan in a recent article, he said Singapore was viewed as a deviation from the democratic norm because it was seen primarily as a country.

‘This is where most people make a mistake…I have tried to explain that we are different. We are a city. We are not a country,’ he told 200 lawyers, many from America, at the New York State Bar Association International Section’s meeting here.

Did Mr Shanmugam make a “honest mistake” or a freudian slip? If Singapore is NOT a country, then are we still considered a sovereign and independent state? So which country owns the sovereign rights of the city of Singapore?

Singapore is unique in the sense that it is both a country and a city at the same time.

As an important minister in the Singapore cabinet, Mr Shanmugam’s words carry a lot of weight.

Why are Singapore males serving National Service when they are only defending a city and not their country? Who does our Prime Minister report to? What value does our pink IC have? Are we citizens of a country or residents of a city?

Mr Shanmugam’s use of Chicago is also highly inappropriate because Chicago is only a city in the United States and not a country by itself.

Furthermore, though the Chicago legislature is dominated by Democratic lawmakers, it has all the necessary pillars of democracy as outlined by former Thai Prime Minister Anand Paranyachun such as freedom of expression, political tolerance and a robust civil society.

You don’t see Chicago politicians being bankrupted by defamation lawsuits or protestors being arrested by the police. That’s the difference between Chicago and Singapore.

It must be a long and tiring week for Mr Shanmugam and he can be forgiven for a slip of tongue. Unfortunately, his flawed arguments can only convince Singaporeans and not the politically astute Americans with a long and proud history of democracy.

Steering committee member James P. Duffy III gave a diplomatic reply to the state media when asked about his thoughts on Mr Shanmugam’s speech:

“While not everything we learnt would fit comfortably with some important Western values, we are at the beginning of what we expect will be a long and fruitful dialogue with people whom we respect and want to know and understand better.”

If you read between the lines, you will realize he is merely “giving face” to Singapore which is the host for the event.

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