My lecturer once told me that 'an authoritarian state monopolies national power but is unable to eliminate civil society.' Perhaps, this is the best way to describe the current Singapore political scene. With constant pressure exerted from below, the government is increasingly struggling to cope with the calls for a democratic reform. The current court case involving Chee and the PAP presents a fodder for democratization. Will Chee's renewed calls for this process be achieved?
The PAP has like many Asian political regimes, subscribed to the practice of 'Asian Values'. As incoherent as it may be, the essence of these 'Asian Values' lie in rejecting the Western notion of liberal democracy and human rights. Regimes like the PAP believe that there is an alternative way to good governance. Significantly, PAP's version of 'Asian Values' believe in the need for an authoritarian rule for economic prosperity. Rising from the tumultuous times that plagued Singapore's postcolonial era, the PAP developed an instinct for survival and the leaders placed material fulfilment on the pedestal.
Indeed, now that economic growth has been achieved and sustained, therein lies a large group of middle class. With no more worries for clean water, food on the table, wealth and housing, this group of middle class remains the pivot for the political direction of the country. The governing PAP are hoping that this middle class remain happy and satisfied, hence preventing a political radicalization. On the other hand, political opposition like Chee are banking on the material satisfied, yet politically unsatisfied bunch of the middle class to push through for a democracy that is based largely on a Western oriented concept.
Indeed, Chee personifies the political disgruntlement that pervades in many Singaporeans. Driven underground and online by the current PAP government, these group of political dissenters spend their time vilifying the current regime on online forums and blogs. They want democratic change but they are too materially satisfied or have too much material wealth at stake to come forth and demand for such. Choosing instead to become the subservient worker in the day and the radical political activist online at night, this bunch political disgruntled middle class are becoming an increasing worry for the PAP. The PAP may label Chee a political gangster or a political juvenile but these remarks are glossing over the many thousands who are behaving in Chee's manner to call for democratic change. As the PAP continues to clam down on such political demands, they are increasingly isolating themselves from the rising tide of disgruntlement that may eventually overwhelm the regime.
Indeed, while Chee is getting chastised in court, there are many more thousands singing his praises online on forums and blogs. By choosing to just take Chee as a singular political mad dog that is unrepresentative of the populace consensus, the PAP is committing political suicide. Nobody will be striving forth, mobilizing the masses and calling for civil disobedience when there are no support. This ticking time bomb has not exploded solely because the majority of the Singaporeans have not been left in the economic doldrums. Does the PAP want to remain so precariously placed on this singular reason?
It is time for the PAP to provide a top-down revolution. As a party preferring to err on the side of authoritarianism, it will be hard to cede their monopoly power. But they will have to understand that after building such an educated and economic affluent middle class, the call for democratic change will remain inevitable. No longer are we trapped in an era of Cold War, where the battle with communist rages. After Fukuyama depicted the advent of the end of history, we are now moving into an era where capitalism and globalisation are main stayers in today's society.
If the PAP still believes that any misdemeanours can be covered up with any of their well utilized institutions, then they are living in fairyland. The advent of the internet has removed all barriers and increased the necessity for transparency. Chee cannot convince the judge in the Singapore court but he can convince the millions in the international community via the internet.
Faced with domestic and international pressure, the PAP remain victims of their own success. After creating a class of citizens that have led Singapore from Third World to First, this same bunch of people are now shifting uneasily under their own political aspirations. The PAP must recognize that Singaporeans are no longer satisfied with just material wealth. Desire for democracy is no longer merely the possession of the esoteric intellectuals amongst us.