On presidental debates, political violence, the United States, and Singapore

I’d like to drop a personal note of thanks here to Barbara F. Walter who mentioned me in this post at Political Violence @ a Glance. It was a summary of responses to an earlier post asking, “If presidential debates have little effect, why engage in them?” 

Basically, what I wrote was, “Debates actually give a form and appearance of legitimacy to democratic governance.” This applies whether one is talking about the US or Singapore. Although the presidents of both countries are key members of the Executive branch of government, in the former s/he is both head of state and government, in the latter he is merely head of state and has very few substantial powers. A key similarity of course is that in both cases, both come from the ruling party or coalition (in Singapore that comes with bigger implications). The nature and effect(s) of presidential debates in both countries can be described, well, in the way I’ve done so.

Image courtesy of Political Violence @ a Glance blog.

And yet, key differences are that the US is at once both a mature neoliberal democracy and neo-imperialist power spanning a continent, one that may have two revolving mega-parties, but where it is increasingly riven by the polarisation of its elite political class and by money politics; Singapore is an advanced, state-led selective neoliberal economy, ruled by a single party since independence, with highly-paid Cabinet ministers, infused with another form of money(ed) politics, and bursting at the seams in population (with only about 60% being fully-fledged citizens born in the country) for a small island/city-state – or as some would say, microstate. 

Political Violence @ a Glance is an interesting blog. Although completely unrelated, I just recalled my friend Martyn using the term “political violence” in his post back in May, here.

The video above comes from part of the debates during the run-up to the Singapore presidential election last year. The contestation about the Internal Security Act, or ISA makes greater sense when you link it to what Martyn wrote. In a nutshell:

There are three things you need to know about Singapore.

1. The only political violence that has happened in the last 45 years in Singapore are the ones inflicted on political prisoners behind the walls of the Internal Security Department.
2. The Internal Security Act has been abused (to serve political ends) more often than it has been used appropriately (to safeguard national security).
3. The people and the institution responsible for the political violence and the abuse of ISA are still in power today. Open discussions on such topics remained sensitive, and even outlawed, in Singapore.
Detainees reported that they were interrogated, tortured, traumatised and were forced to sign “confessions” – if there were acts of violence, it was not committed by the detainees.
Finally, I would argue that in Singapore, presidential debates give the thinnest veneer of democratic governance, and reflect almost no accountability to come afterwards.  
Read, digest, discuss…

2 thoughts on “On presidental debates, political violence, the United States, and Singapore

  1. 2. The Internal Security Act has been abused (to serve political ends) more often than it has been used appropriately (to safeguard national security). —> citation needed. Information not provided in Martyn’s blog, nor the links that he posted. Can’t discount the act’s use against terrorists.
    But agree with your overall premise that debates manufacture legitimacy. Can’t say the action of putting up a sham is confined to Singapore though.

    • rodsjournal says:

      Dear coward,

      I don’t think you have been following the debates and news about the ISA, particularly since the anniversary of the 1987 arrests of the so-called Marxist conspirators just passed. A simple internet search will suffice.

      The ISA and its attendant practices and institutions (eg. the ISD) are what I call ‘legalised extra-legal/extrajudicial’ laws, institutuions and practices. It is precisely because of this that the ISA is problematic.

      As the ISA allows and enforces detention without trial and therefore gives no allowance for the determination of guilt or innocence via a court of law, we only have the historical context by which the ISA has been used, and understood. And this context has been a rather ugly and dispiriting one, serving to put one – and only one – political party in power in Singapore since the ISA was first used in the years leading to independence of the country.

      Let me make this clear:

      Note that the very nature and function of laws like the ISA require no evidence of guilt, only the will and decisions of the powers-that-be that control its administration. I need not elaborate who or what those powers are in Singapore.

      As such, Martyn does not need to provide evidence of supposed guilt or malfeasance to anyone, not even me and certainly not to you. The PAP government itself has chosen not to provide clear evidence of wrongdoing, instead using instruments like the ISA to show that might, alas, seems right. By the same measure, we do not have ‘terrorists’ in detention but only those alleged or suspected to be so – simply because they have not been tried in a court of law to ascertain their innocence or guilt.

      It should also be obvious that presidential debates are a ‘sham’ (your word, not mine) not only in Singapore; my post started out talking about the United States.

      Lastly, I note that you have hidden your identity with a link to The Online Citizen, and that your IP address is not registered with IP registries like ARIN. If I encounter your next post (ie. a reply) like this from you in future, your post will not even see the light of day in my blog – and will be permanently marked and trashed as spam.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s