“This article first appeared as a letter in Today newspaper. The writer is the editor of Philosophers for Change and resides in Singapore.”


The letters on the subtext of democracy, “Look at message behind quote” and “Conundrum first-past-the-post system poses” (May 14), emphasise the problematic nature of this ideology. However, we would be mistaken to think that democracy is “neutral” simply because it can be used to vote in an Adolf Hitler or a lesser megalomaniac. It is pointless to argue, as Winston Churchill did, that democracy is a terrible system but the alternatives are worse.


As the great parliamentarian had admitted, the system he defended was not so great in itself.  He also reportedly said: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Similarly, to state that proportional representation is more democratic begs the issue of why some think the Group Representation Constituency electoral system is worse.
If getting a proportion of votes validates a presence in parliament, why is that any better than having a group of people who gain admittance via majority vote? Why are political aspirants who may play the role of demagogue to gain those “proportional” votes any better than those who “ride on the coat-tails” of seasoned politicians?

It is imperative that the citizenry are proactive and make their voices heard through activism, public forums and the constructive, civil use of social media, rather than rely on politicians to harangue one another to score points ostensibly for the public good.
Besides, if the United States is a prime example of democracy, then this system has not fared much better since the time it allowed the Nazis to come into power. One need only look at the internal violence in the US since its independence, or see how it has become, perhaps, the world’s greatest debtor nation. Democracy has devolved; it has reached as far as the capitalist economic system that undergirds it has allowed.
This is why Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s statement that the Cabinet’s centre of gravity has shifted to the left is important. In tackling the underlying free-market fundamentalism that has weakened the US, technically the world’s foremost democracy, the Singapore Government would be grappling with what is behind the economic woes of many.
Indeed, good people in any system can offset its limitations. Any political system is a function of the character of the country’s people, not the other way around. As novelist E M Forster pointed out, democracy is not worth three cheers: “So, two cheers for democracy: One, because it admits variety and two, because it permits criticism.” What is left out are the ideas and practice of justice and compassion.’ ‘