Singapore’s next frontier

Singaporeans couldn’t believe their ears. “I’m sorry,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong just days before the election a year ago this week that dealt the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) its worst setback in the five decades since island city-state became independent. “If we didn’t get it right, I’m sorry,” Lee said. “But we will try better next time”. The unprecedented public apology may well have saved the PAP from a debacle. But the “new normal” ushered in by that vote (as well as a later vote for the more symbolic presidency, in which the PAP’s choice won by just a few thousand votes) has upended politics in Singapore. While PAP lost just six of 87 seats in its unicameral parliament, the party won only 60% of the vote, and some key ministers were sent packing. One year on, it’s clear that public discontent has opened a new chapter in Singapore’s development that deserves the world’s attention. Why am I devoting 2 columns to Singapore in The Post? As I noted last week, I’ve been fascinated by Singapore’s remarkable achievements in rising from Third World to First via a series of savvy policies implemented by unusually talented government officials in recent decades. The era now unfolding in Singapore is a test of whether a tradition of sound governance under one-party rule can adapt to the stresses of globalization even as a now-educated and more vocal middle class forces a transition toward fuller democracy. If Singapore can renew its economy, open up political life and better meet its citizens’ needs and aspirations in the decade ahead, there will be important lessons for the world. If it falters under these challenges, different conclusions will be drawn. A lot is riding on the outcome, and not just for Singaporeans. China, many of whose leaders view Singapore’s achievements under “soft authoritarianism” as a model, will be watching closely. So should United States. Public frustration in Singapore today has a number of causes. For starters, for all its growth, Singapore has become one of world’s most unequal societies. While its per capita income is among world’s highest, per capita consumption and wages as a share of gross domestic product, both better reflections of ordinary citizen’s lot, rank much lower. A massive influx of low-wage foreign workers in recent years, which has helped swell population from 4 million to 5 million in just a decade (imagine adding 75 million people to America’s 300 million and you get a feel for the disruption), has put downward pressure on middle- and lower-income Singaporeans’ wages. It’s also created a sense in some quarters that Singapore may be heaven for the multinational elites who set up shop here but hellish for too many of the natives who serve the food or sweep the streets. Even Singapore’s ambassador-at-large, Tommy Koh, a soft-spoken senior statesman with whom I spent an hour recently, calls Singapore’s widening gap between rich and poor “socially unconscionable” (…..)



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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