Wednesday, May 26, 2010

PAP’s classic three-fold propagandist tactic to brainwash unsuspecting Singaporeans

Source: Temasek Review

Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany once said:

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

Goebbels must be proud that his propagandist technique is not only studied, but meticulously implemented by the ruling party of a supposedly “democratic” state to keep its citizenry politically ignorant, apathetic and feeble.

This is only possible under a one-party totalitarian system in which the media has been turned into a mouthpiece of the regime, much like in Nazi Germany, Stalin’s U.S.S.R and Kim’s North Korea.

All the newspapers in Singapore are printed by one single company which is chaired by a former PAP minister. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (CAP 206) further restricts the ownership of the print media in Singapore and publication of foreign papers.

As such, it is hardly surprising that the Singapore media is ranked a pathetic 133th position in terms of press freedom by respected international media watchdog Reporters without Borders in 2009.

The propagandist tactic employed by the PAP via the state media over the last few days has the mark of Goebbels stamped all over it – repeating the same few points over and over again until they become ingrained in the minds of unsuspecting readers.

1. Flooding the press with good news, whether real or not:

If you haven’t noticed, the state media is flooded by a deluge of positive news about Singapore over the last few weeks. The Straits Times even boasted rather unshamedly that a “wave of optimism” has swept across Singapore.

Singapore’s “impressive” growth figures in the first quarter of the year has been repeated ad nauseum by the papers; the number of unemployed fell to an all-time low and new jobs are created daily for Singaporeans; wages are going up; consumer confidence is returning and home buyers are flocking back to purchase properties at astronomical prices.

The ordinary man in the street will not be able to differentiate the truth from the propaganda and is likely to believe what was published especially when most readers will simply glance through the headlines without analyzing the news articles in depth.

2. Ministers claiming credit for everything:

After the idea that Singapore’s economy has “rebounded” has been sold successfully to Singaporeans, the PAP ministers will now step in to claim credit either overtly or covertly.

During his May Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong painted an exceedingly rosy picture for Singapore in the near future and hinted that its continued success depends on a “strong and stable” leadership.

Three weeks later, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean claimed that Singapore’s economic recovery is due to the combined efforts of the country’s political leadership and public service.

While there may be some element of truth in his claims, it was not mentioned that the turnaround is contributed partly by the end of the global financial crisis.

At the same time, negative news such as unhappiness over the increasing number of foreigners in the country and rising prices of HDB flats are being swept quietly under the carpet to keep them out of the minds of Singaporeans.

Expect more such self-praise from the ministers in the next few months ahead.

3. Announcing the pay hike of ministers:

At the beginning of the year, it was reported that PAP ministers will receive a 8.8 percent pay rise this year due to the improving economy.

With the economy performing better than expected, their pay hikes are likely to increase. However, with Singaporeans already been “primed” to accept the “fact” that the ministers deserve a pay rise for their “efforts” in turning the economy around, the controversial topic is unlikely to cause a massive public furore this time.

Furthermore the state media can always be entrusted to make the announcement in a less than conspicuous manner so as not to attract public attention and with no political pressure exerted on the PAP whatsoever from any other groups, they will get away with their pay rise without paying any political price again.

The state media is full of such subtle propaganda to brainwash Singaporeans into believing that they have the most capable and competent leaders in the world who are incapable of making a single mistake and therefore they are deserving of the obscene salaries they are getting.

In order to maintain their grip over the minds of Singaporeans, it is imperative that repressive laws are put in place to curtail the civil and political rights of Singaporeans.

To quote from Joseph Goebbels again:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Internet Control and Auto-regulation in Singapore (PDF)

This paper examines how certain groups in Singapore attempt to employ the Internet to find their voice and seek their desired social, cultural and political ends, and how the regulatory devices adopted by the highly pervasive People Action’s Party (PAP) government respond to and set limits to these online ventures whilst concomitantly pursuing national technological cum economic development strategies.

Read the PDF here: http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/Articles3%281%29/singapore.pdf

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dissent leads to creative thinking that is essential for productivity

Source: Singapore Democrats


In a letter to the Straits Times, writer Mr Peter Heng said that dissent has little to do with productivity. Dr Chee Soon Juan's reply to Mr Heng has been censored. The Straits Times has refused to publish Dr Chee's reply (see here).

Another letter writer advised Dr Chee to work with other social groups so that his voice can be heard. We reproduce Dr Chee's replies below (The first two of Dr Chee's six replies were published yesterday).


Dissent leads to creative thinking that is essential for productivity

I ask Mr Peter Heng to be slower in concluding that dissent has nothing to do with productivity. (Rebellious nature may not lead to productivity, ST, 17 Apr 2010)

There is significant empirical evidence to show that dissent reduces conformist behaviour and groupthink, traits that do nothing to foster creative and innovative minds. And it is innovation and the willingness and ability to thing out of the box that enables productivity to rise.

Studies have shown that dissent experience in groups increase behavioural tendencies that demonstrate creative or divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is, in turn, vital for effective decision-making in groups, and consequently vital for businesses that are hoping to raise productivity levels of their employees.

Dissent which takes place within a set of rules is healthy for a society. In Singapore this set of rules is enshrined in our Constitution. Dissent is like pain. Nobody likes pain, but without it, we would not be able to live for very long.

Dissent does not lead to violence and chaos. This is the scaremonger's propaganda. It may help the ruler to perpetuate his control over society but it does absolutely nothing for Singapore's progress.

In fact clinging on to such archaic thinking in the modern economic world will be the undoing of Singapore.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

Read Mr Peter Heng's letter, Rebellious nature may not lead to productivity, here.


Singapore needs a pluralistic society

Mr Aloysius Lau is correct that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to a country's problems. (Chee's passion for democracy admirable, ST, Apr 17, 2010).

This is why we need a pluralistic and democratic society that allows a diversity of viewpoints to be canvassed. It is from an open debate that the best and most workable ideas will emerge.

The present system run by the PAP Government is anathema to an open and inclusive approach in politics.

Such a system breeds groupthink that gives rise where the cross-pollination of ideas and viewpoints cannot occur. This leads to a diminished gene pool from where robust policies, no matter how multi-pronged they may be, cannot be born.

Mr Lau's suggestion that the SDP should work with social groups and organisations to ensure that our views are heard is a very good one.

The reality, unfortunately, is that most, if not all, such groups come under the control of the Government. Either that or they are fearful of being seen to collaborate with an opposition party. Such is the sad reality in Singapore that will lead this country down the path to mediocrity and stagnation.

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party

Read Mr Aloysius Lau's letter, Chee's passion for democracy admirable, here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

PM Lee on nepotism and his father’s legacy

Source: Temasek Review

Dear PM Lee,

I refer to your interview by Charlie Rose as reported by Straits Times on 16 Apr 2010.

lhl4You said our entire system is founded on meritocracy where you get the job because you are the best man and not because of connections. But according to a Straits Times report on 20 Oct 2009, your father said that China’s princelings like Li Peng’s son and daughter may never be recognised if they weren’t well connected because China is such a big place. Considering that the chance of you becoming the prime minister out of about 2.5 million Singaporean adults is a mere 0.00004%, we don’t need to be as big as China to appreciate your father’s belief that meritocracy aside, you need the right connections to stand out amongst so many Singaporeans. So if you share your father’s beliefs, you shouldn’t rule out the importance of connections and you or at least your father has no moral basis to sue IHT for allegedly saying something that your father essentially believes in.

You said you lose credibility and moral authority if people do not think you are the best man for the job. On what basis do you assert that? Just as you require IHT to prove their assertions, so too must you prove your assertions failing which you have no right to assert them. You have no right to say that you lose credibility when people do not think you’re the best person unless you can prove it. You have no right to say that it is a fundamental issue of fitness to govern unless you can prove it. You said it is a basic Confucian precept that you are allowed to make the right decisions only if you have the moral right. But Confucian moral right comes from being virtuous, not being the best.

You said being put in the same list as Kim Jong II is as good as an attack on the moral fibre of your trust with the people. But the list included so many Asian nations, are you saying it is an attack on all those nations as well? Yet none of the leaders in those nations are even half as bothered as yourself. Why are you so especially sensitive?

You give the impression that you are very insecure as though your very authority can be easily undermined by people saying you are not the best. What if we conducted a survey and found that 33% of Singaporeans find that you are not the best, would that undermine your moral right to govern? If we concede that there may be 33% who think that you are not the best, then why is it such a big deal that one journalist thinks so too? If your worry is that the other 66% may lose confidence in you when they come across the article saying you are not the best, then wouldn’t that make their confidence in you shaky and weak to begin with?

You said the same journalist and newspaper has done it again. But what the journalist has done this time is to merely state facts and the facts speak for themselves. Unless the facts are erroneous, which they are not, you have no basis to make an issue out of it.

You said the IHT can bring their lawyers to prove what they say is true. That shows your basic ignorance of the basic law concept of presumption of innocence. As Mr Shanmugam would always emphasize, it is never up to the accused to prove that he is innocent. The onus is always on the plaintiff to prove the accused’s guilt instead. As such, the onus is on you the plaintiff to prove what the IHT said is false. The onus is not on IHT to prove what they said is true. If you don’t even understand this basic law concept, how can you even say you are the best?

You said your father made a state where there was none. But the state of Singapore was already in the making for 140 years before your father took over. The system that could run without him was not made by him but was bequeathed to him by the British.

Thank you

Ng Kok Lim

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kampong Buangkok: Last Village of Singapore

Source: Motochan

Kampong Buangkok: Last Village of Singapore

May 1, 2010

Earlier today, I made the effort to check out Kampong Buangkok, Singapore’s last kampong (village). Neil Humphreys wrote about it, as did New York Times. Countless others have also visited the village that spans across land the size of 3 soccer fields and tucked off Lorong Buangkok via Gerald Drive, at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5.

Follow the sign down the rabbit hole...

Follow the sign down the rabbit hole...

Otherwise known as Selak Kain (Malay) or 罗弄万国村 (Simplified Chinese), Kampong Buangkok has withstood Singapore’s past 4 decades of rapid urbanization, and till today continues to be home to over 20 families who pay cheap rent to its landlord, Madam Sng Mui Hong. Under URA’s 2008 Masterplan, the land area that the kampong is on appeared to be slated for redevelopment. Its days were obviously numbered, so I thought I’d do my part in curating this small but otherwise important piece of Singapore’s fast disappearing historic landscape, and give my Olympus E-P2 a workout.

And so I spent 2 hours on a Friday morning under the hot morning sun exploring this almost forgotten corner of our island. Most of the villagers appeared to be out at work, which unfortunately reduced any opportunities for interaction with them. Neither incessant mosquito and sandfly attacks nor pesky guard dogs (whom I sent yelping back into their compounds) could spoil my morning excursion, as I snapped away, photo after photo.

Houses of Kampong Buangkok

13 Lorong Buangkok

13 Lorong Buangkok

19B Lorong Buangkok; a double-storied house, the most opulent and  well-maintained amongst the houses of Kampong Buangkok

19B Lorong Buangkok; a double-storied house, the most opulent and well-maintained amongst the houses of Kampong Buangkok

25 Lorong Buangkok

25 Lorong Buangkok

Makeshift porch of a villager's home

Makeshift porch of a villager's home

Outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchen

Main porch of a Chinese villager's home

Main porch of a Chinese villager's home

29D Lorong Buangkok

29D Lorong Buangkok

Life around the Kampong

I certainly felt the slowdown in pace of life the moment I stepped on its dirt tracks. It was actually quiet – I couldn’t hear any traffic. Here at Kampong Buangkok, Man and Nature co-exists. As I walked around, I saw butterflies, lizards and more varieties of birds than just crows and mynahs. There is a certain rustic charm that our urban jungle – despite the best efforts of NParks – cannot offer.

A trap set by a villager to ensnare merbahs (singing birds)

Hibiscus & Monk Statuette

Hibiscus & Monk Statuette

Ripening mangoes within a villager's compound

Ripening mangoes within a villager's compound

A rooster peeks out of his enclosure

A rooster peeks out of his enclosure

When I was still a young ‘un, up until I was 10, almost every weekend, my dad would drive the family up to the Lim Chu Kang kampong in his classic burgundy Volkswagen Beetle to spend the day at our grandparents’ chicken farm. I would drop large red firecrackers into old rusted oil barrels and watch those barrels jump up or have holes torn out of them. I would swing on the worn tyre hanging off the tree in the backyard. I would play hide-and-seek with my cousins or be dazzled by my grandfather who often brandished his bat gun to impress his grandkids. Kids these days? They just stay glued to their iPhones, PSPs or Nintendo DSes. Bah!

My visit to Kampong Buangkok brought back many such fond childhood memories. I wish I was into photography back then – those photographs would have been an extremely insightful look into how I viewed my world as a kid. You can bet that I’m going to be teaching my kids photography once they’re big enough to handle one ;-) .

Other resources on Kampong Buangkok

There’s been some calls for the government to conserve Kampong Buangkok. I disagree, and believe it would be more helpful for the government to delay indefinitely its plans for redevelopment, and simply allow the village to remain as it is, for as long as there will be residents willing to maintain such a way of life. At least other kids will have a chance to experience kampongs in person, instead of through textbooks, videos and blog posts like mine.

As a parting note, check out the following 2 links for some interesting stuff on Kampong Buangkok. If you’re interested in the rest of my photo shoot, pop on over to its flickr photo set.

Trees of Kampong Buangkok

Trees of Kampong Buangkok

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Raising us up the PAP way (Video)

Singapore Democrats

The poor in Singapore live a tragic existence where the income gap is the biggest in the world among rich nations. The SDP has proposed a comprehensive set of alternatives to narrow the rich-poor divide in this country. Help us speak up for the voiceless in Singapore. Help us fight for economic and social justice. Donate to the party that speaks up for the people. Click here for more options to donate.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Group wants “race” removed from NRIC

Each time Mr Seelan Palay has had to fill in the “race” column in application forms, he feels “awkward”. “I’ve cultivated a practice of avoiding to fill it in completely, and many of my friends do the same,” he says in a brief interview with The Online Citizen (TOC).

Mr Seelan feels so strongly that “race” should be removed from the NRIC, an identification card which all Singaporeans carry, that he has started a Facebook group asking others to support the call. The Facebook group currently has 710 members.

A member of the newly-formed non-governmental organization, Singaporeans for Democracy (SFD) (website, Facebook group) headed by Dr James Gomez, Mr Seelan is not new to being at the forefront of championing causes. His latest endeavour saw him and his group make representation to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Racism on 22 April 2010. At the meeting, SFD raised the issue of having “race” removed from the identity card (IC).

The Facebook group “will form part SFD’s efforts to monitor the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism who will present his findings on Singapore before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (in June 2011) and the UN General Assembly in New York (in November 2011),” it says on its information page.

Mr Gomez says on the Facebook group: “I believe the removal of ‘race’ from the Singaporean IC, will help us move one step closer to a Singaporean Singapore and faciliate a more genunie multiculturalism. And I will be prepared to defend this position electorally.”

Here’s TOC’s brief email interview with Mr Seelan on the issue:

TOC: Why do you feel ‘race’ should be removed from the NRIC?

Seelan: It removes the psychological barrier on “race issues” and releases a latent feeling many Singaporeans have to be together and to share our common identity. It would also be good to take note of migrant societies like Australia, Canada and the US where more national identity is stressed.

TOC: Are there any personal reasons or personal encounters which you have experienced which makes you start this initiative? Could you share them with our readers? As a member of the Indian community in S’pore, have you encountered any discriminatory practices, particularly from govt depts or the civil service, for example?

Seelan: My personal encounters with Singaporeans young and old show that there are positive views about removing such social classifications to build a better society in Singapore, and that is the main reason I’ve started this initiative. To show that there are people from all walks of life who share this sentiment.

As for discrimination from official channels, I definitely feel awkward when I have to fill in the “race” column in application forms. I’ve cultivated a practice of avoiding to fill it in completely, and many of my friends do the same. There are also other factors like the HDB’s racial quota and the GRC system, but as I’ve mentioned above, the main reason for this project is to build a better society.

TOC: What is the main goal or end-goal of the initiative? A more inclusive society? A race-blind society?

Seelan: The main goal of this initiative is help create a truly Singaporean Singapore, something which a certain octogenarian claimed he’d create. But we might be well aware of his views on Race, Culture & Genes by now.

Beyond Facebook, Singaporeans For Democracy (SFD) will also be present at the UN Rapporteur’s press conference tomorrow (TOC note: The press conference was held in April 2010), where it will launch a monitoring committee. The committee will be headed by Dr James Gomez and will issue a reply to the Rapporteur’s findings.

TOC: What’re your views on the recent changes whereby the govt is allowing parents/S’poreans to choose their race to be included on their NRIC/birth certs as a result of mixed marriages?

Seelan: The changes only go to show how ineffective and complicated such classifications can be, so its best to remove the classification altogether.

TOC: What do you think of the consequences on security matters? Such as, the police would be better able to identify a person if his race was known to them, for example.

Seelan: International crime investigation practices have progressed quite a bit, if anyone in the Government has been watching CSI at the very least. There are face recognition systems and forensic DNA analysis which are far more efficient.

And even if someone identifies a suspect as looking “Chinese”, how would that information be of any use to the police if its printed on the suspect’s identity card which the police don’t have in the first place?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Charade Of Meritocracy in Singapore

The Charade Of Meritocracy
FEER, October 2006

By Dr. Michael D. Barr

The legitimacy of the Singaporean government is predicated on the idea of a meritocratic technocracy. A tiny number of career civil servants play a leading role in setting policy within their ministries and other government-linked bureaucracies, leading both an elite corps of senior bureaucrats, and a much larger group of ordinary civil servants. Virtually all of the elite members of this hierarchy are “scholars,” which in Singapore parlance means they won competitive, bonded government scholarships—the established route into the country’s elite.

Scholars not only lead the Administrative Service, but also the military’s officer corps, as well as the executive ranks of statutory boards and government-linked companies (GLCs). Movement between these four groups is fluid, with even the military officers routinely doing stints in the civilian civil service. Together with their political masters, most of whom are also scholars, they make up the software for the entity commonly known as “Singapore Inc.”—a labyrinth of GLCs, statutory boards and ministries that own or manage around 60% of Singapore’s economy.

The basis of the scholars’ mandate to govern is not merely their performance on the job, but also the integrity of the process that selected them. The educational system is designed to cultivate competition, requiring top students to prove themselves every step of the way. Singapore’s schools first stream students into elite classes after Primary 3 and 4. They then compete for entry into special secondary schools and junior colleges, before vying for government and government-linked scholarships to attend the most prestigious universities around the world.

These scholarships typically require several years of government service after graduation, and the scholars are drafted into the Administrative Service, the officer corps of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), or the career track of a statutory board or GLC. The government insists that all Singaporeans have equal opportunities to excel in the system, and that everyone who has made it to the top did so purely by academic talent and hard work. Other factors such as gender, socioeconomic background and race supposedly play no more than a marginal role, if they are acknowledged as factors at all.

On the point of race, the Singapore government has long prided itself on having instituted a system of multiracialism that fosters cultural diversity under an umbrella of national unity. This is explicitly supposed to protect the 23% of the population who belong to minority races (mainly ethnic Malays and Indians) from discrimination by the Chinese majority.

But this system conceals several unacknowledged agendas. In our forthcoming book, Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethnicity and the Nation-Building Project, Zlatko Skrbiš and I present evidence that the playing field is hardly level. In fact, Singapore’s system of promotion disguises and even facilitates tremendous biases against women, the poor and non-Chinese. Singapore’s administrative and its political elites—especially the younger ones who have come through school in the last 20 or so years—are not the cream of Singapore’s talent as they claim, but are merely a dominant social class, resting on systemic biases to perpetuate regime regeneration based on gender, class and race.

At the peak of the system is the network of prestigious government scholarships. Since independence in 1965, the technique of using government scholarships to recruit cohorts of scholars into the administrative and ruling elite has moved from the periphery of Singaporean society to center stage. Even before independence, a makeshift system of government and Colombo Plan scholarships sent a few outstanding scholars overseas before putting them into government service, including most notably former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. Yet as late as 1975 this system had contributed only two out of 14 members of Singapore’s cabinet. Even by 1985, only four out of 12 cabinet ministers were former government scholars.

By 1994, however, the situation had changed beyond recognition, with eight out of 14 cabinet ministers being ex-scholars, including Prime Minister Goh. By 2005 there were 12 ex-scholars in a Cabinet of 19. Of these, five had been SAF scholars, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. A perusal of the upper echelons of the ruling elite taken more broadly tells a similar story. In 1994, 12 of the 17 permanent secretaries were scholars, as were 137 of the 210 in the administrative-officer class of the Administrative Service.

The government scholarship system claims to act as a meritocratic sieve—the just reward for young adults with talent and academic dedication. If there is a racial or other bias in the outcomes, then this can only be the result of the uneven distribution of talent and academic application in the community. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong put it when he spoke on national television in May 2005, “We are a multiracial society. We must have tolerance, harmony. … And you must have meritocracy … so everybody feels it is fair….” His father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was making the same point when, in 1989, he told Singapore’s Malay community that they “must learn to compete with everyone else” in the education system.

Yet if Singapore’s meritocracy is truly a level playing field, as the Lees assert, then the Chinese must be much smarter and harder working than the minority Indians and Malays. Consider the distribution of the top jobs in various arms of the Singapore government service in the 1990s (based on research conducted by Ross Worthington in the early 2000s):

• Of the top 30 GLCs only two (6.7%) were chaired by non-Chinese in 1991 (and neither of the non-Chinese was a Malay).

• Of the 38 people who were represented on the most GLC boards in 1998, only two (5.3%) were non-Chinese (and neither of the non-Chinese was a Malay).

• Of the 78 “core people” on statutory boards and GLCs in 1998, seven (9%) were non-Chinese (and one of the non-Chinese was a Malay).

A similar outcome is revealed in the pattern of government scholarships awarded after matriculation from school. Of the 200 winners of Singapore’s most prestigious scholarship, the President’s Scholarship, from 1966-2005 only 14 (6.4%) were not Chinese. But this was not a consistent proportion throughout the period. If we take 1980 as the divider, we find that there were 10 non-Chinese President’s Scholars out of 114 from 1966-80, or 8%, but in the period from 1981-2005 this figure had dropped to four out of 106, or 3.8%. Since independence, the President’s Scholarship has been awarded to only one Malay, in 1968. There has been only one non-Chinese President’s Scholar in the 18 years from 1987 to 2005 (a boy called Mikail Kalimuddin) and he is actually half Chinese, studied in Chinese schools (Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College), and took the Higher Chinese course as his mother tongue. If we broaden our focus to encompass broader constructions of ethnicity, we find that since independence, the President’s Scholarship has been won by only two Muslims (1968 and 2005).

If we consider Singapore’s second-ranked scholarship—the Ministry of Defence’s Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Scholarship (SAFOS)—we find a comparable pattern. The Ministry of Defence did not respond to my request for a list of recipients of SAF scholarships, but using newspaper accounts and information provided by the Ministry of Defence Scholarship Centre and Public Service Commission Scholarship Centre Web sites, I was able to identify 140 (56%) of the 250 SAFOS winners up to 2005.

Although only indicative, this table clearly suggests the Chinese dominance in SAFOS stakes: 98% of SAFOS winners in this sample were Chinese, and about 2% were non-Chinese (counting Mikail Kalimuddin in 2005 as non-Chinese). Furthermore I found not a single Malay recipient and only one Muslim winner (Mikail Kalimuddin). A similar picture emerges in the lower status Singapore Armed Forces Merit Scholarship winners: 71 (25.6%) of 277 (as of late 2005) scholars identified, with 69 (97%) Chinese winners to only two non-Chinese—though there was a Malay recipient in 2004, and one reliable scholar maintains that there have been others.

The position of the non-Chinese in the educational stakes has clearly deteriorated since the beginning of the 1980s. According to the logic of meritocracy, that means the Chinese have been getting smarter, at least compared to the non-Chinese.

Yet the selection of scholars does not depend purely on objective results like exam scores. In the internal processes of awarding scholarships after matriculation results are released, there are plenty of opportunities to exercise subtle forms of discrimination. Extracurricular activities (as recorded in one’s school record), “character” and performance in an interview are also considered. This makes the selection process much more subjective than one would expect in a system that claims to be a meritocracy, and it creates ample opportunity for racial and other prejudices to operate with relative freedom.

Is there evidence that such biases operate at this level? Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question is “yes.” Take for instance a 2004 promotional supplement in the country’s main newspaper used to recruit applicants for scholarships. The advertorial articles accompanying the paid advertisements featured only one non-Chinese scholar (a Malay on a lowly “local” scholarship) amongst 28 Chinese on prestigious overseas scholarships. Even more disturbing for what they reveal about the prejudices of those offering the scholarships were the paid advertisements placed by government ministries, statutory boards and GLCs. Of the 30 scholars who were both prominent and can be racially identified by their photographs or their names without any doubt as to accuracy, every one of them was Chinese. This leaves not a shadow of a doubt that those people granting government and government-linked scholarships presume that the vast majority of high-level winners will be Chinese.


The absence of Malays from the SAFOS scholarships and their near-absence from the SAF Merit Scholarships deserves special mention because this is an extension of discrimination against the admission of Malays into senior and sensitive positions in the SAF that is officially sanctioned. The discrimination against Malays has been discussed in parliament and the media, and is justified by the assertion that the loyalty of Malays cannot be assumed, both because they are Muslim and because they have a racial and ethnic affinity with the Malays in Malaysia and Indonesia. Current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has historically been a vocal defender of this policy.

This discrimination hits Malay men hard, first because it deprives many of promising careers in the army, and second—and more pertinent for our study of the elite—it all but completely excludes potentially high-flying Malays of a chance of entering the scholar class through the SAF. A Chinese woman has a much better chance of winning an SAF scholarship than a Malay man.

Yet even before the scholarship stage, the education system has stacked the deck in favor of Chinese, starting in preschool. Here is the heart of Singapore’s systemic discrimination against non-Chinese. Since the end of the 1970s, the principles of “meritocracy” and “multiracialism” have been subverted by a form of government-driven Chinese chauvinism that has marginalized the minorities. It was not known to the public at the time, but as early as 1978, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had begun referring to Singapore as a “Confucian society” in his dealings with foreign dignitaries. This proved to be the beginning of a shift from his record as a defender of a communally neutral form of multiracialism toward a policy of actively promoting a Chinese-dominated Singapore.

The early outward signs of the Sinicization program were the privileging of Chinese education, Chinese language and selectively chosen “Chinese values” in an overt and successful effort to create a Mandarin- and English-speaking elite who would dominate public life. Two of the most important planks of this campaign were decided in 1979: the annual “Speak Mandarin Campaign” and the decision to preserve and foster a collection of elite Chinese-medium schools, known as Special Assistance Plan (SAP) schools.

The SAP schools are explicitly designed to have a Chinese ambience, right down to Chinese gardens, windows shaped like plum blossoms, Chinese orchestra and drama, and exchange programs with mainland China and Taiwan. Over the years the children in SAP schools have been given multiple advantages over those in ordinary schools, including exclusive preschool programs and special consideration for preuniversity scholarships.

For instance, in the early 1980s, when there was a serious shortage of graduate English teachers in schools, the Ministry of Education ensured there were enough allocated to SAP schools “to help improve standards of English among the Chinese-medium students, in the hope that they will be able to make it to university”—a target brought closer by the granting of two O-level bonus points exclusively to SAP school students when they applied to enter junior college. By contrast, neither Indians nor Malays received any special help, let alone schools of their own to address their special needs. They were not only left to fend for themselves, but were sometimes subjected to wanton neglect: inadequately trained teachers, substandard facilities and resources and the “knowledge” that they are not as good as the Chinese.

This account of discrimination against non-Chinese might lead the reader to assume that the quarter of Singaporeans who are not Chinese must form a festering and perhaps even revolutionary mass of resentment. Such an assumption would, however, be a long way from the mark. Non-Chinese might be largely excluded from the highest levels of the administrative elite, but just below these rarefied heights there plenty of positions open to intelligent and hardworking non-Chinese—certainly enough to ensure that non-Chinese communities have much to gain by enthusiastically buying into the system, even after the glass ceilings and racial barriers are taken into account. There are many grievances and resentments in these levels of society but the grievances are muted and balanced by an appreciation of the relative comforts and prosperity they enjoy. For most, any tendency to complain is subdued also by knowledge that it could be worse, and the widespread assumption among members of minority communities that it will be if they seriously pursue their grievances. As long as the Singapore system continues to deal such people a satisfactory hand, if not a fair one, it should be able to cope with some quiet rumblings in the ranks.

While this discrimination is not sparking a reaction that threatens the regime in the short term, the resulting injustices are certainly undermining the myth that the regime operates on meritocratic principles. This is worrying in the longer term because this myth, along with the capacity to deliver peace and prosperity, is one of the primary rationales by which Singaporeans reluctantly accept the many unpopular aspects of the regime, such as the lack of freedom and democracy, the intrusion of government into most aspects of private life, the pressure-cooker lifestyle and the high cost of living.

The rhetoric of meritocracy has given Singaporeans the consolation of believing that their ruling elite are the best of the best and can therefore be trusted almost blindly on important matters, even if they are highhanded and lack the common touch. As this illusion gradually falls away—and today it is already heavily undermined—the trust that Singaporeans have for their government is becoming increasingly qualified. It remains to be seen how long the regime can avert the logical consequences of the contradictions between the myth and the reality.

Mr. Barr is a lecturer at the University of Queensland and author of Lee Kuan Yew: The Beliefs Behind the Man (Routledge, 2000) and Cultural Politics and Asian Values: The Tepid War (Routledge, 2002).