Friday, September 4, 2009

"Singapore is not an electoral democracy."

In Freedom House's 2009 report on freedom in the world, Singapore received a downward trend arrow due to the politically motivated handling of defamation cases, which cast doubt on judicial independence.

Some highlights from the report:

Singapore is not an electoral democracy. The country is governed through a parliamentary system, and elections are free from irregularities and vote rigging, but the ruling PAP dominates the political process. The prime minister retains control over the Elections Department, and the country lacks a structurally independent election authority. Opposition campaigns are hamstrung by a ban on political films and television programs, the threat of libel suits, strict regulations on political associations, and the PAP’s influence on the media and the courts.

Despite his expressed desire for a “more open society,” Lee Hsien Loong did little to change the authoritarian political climate. He called elections in May 2006, a year early, to secure a mandate for his economic reform agenda. With a nine-day campaign period and defamation lawsuits hampering opposition candidates, the polls resembled past elections in serving more as a referendum on the prime minister’s popularity than as an actual contest for power.

In 2007 and 2008, Lee continued to pursue his economic agenda while using the legal system and other tools to keep the opposition in check. The government also maintained that racial sensitivities and the threat of Islamist terrorism justified draconian restrictions on freedoms of speech and assembly. Such rules were repeatedly used to silence criticism of the authorities.

Singapore has traditionally been lauded for its relative lack of corruption. There is no special legislation facilitating access to information, however, and management of state funds came under question for the first time in 2007. Critics lamented the state’s secret investment of national reserves, and investigations into the state investment arm, Temasek Holdings, were launched by Indonesian and Thai watchdog agencies.

Singapore’s media market remains tightly constrained. All newspapers, radio stations, and television channels are owned by government-linked companies. Although editorials and news coverage generally support state policies, newspapers occasionally publish critical pieces. Self-censorship is common among journalists as a result of PAP pressure.

Read the full report here.