Today the fun really began. After a few days at the end of last week of ‘I guess this is slightly related but also what does this really have to do with politics in Singapore?’, today marked the first day of actually looking in depth at politics in Singapore.
Our first stop today was a visit to the Parliament of Singapore. This was one of the excursions that I was most excited for. After all, I spent quite a lot of time in high school (and in university) in various parliament houses, even debating in the chambers (but that’s a different story for a different blog post), and I was excited to see how parliament in Singapore differed from parliament in Australia.
My questions were answered, but not in the way I had expected. Our tour guide was very charismatic and clearly very enthusiastic, however he spent very little time actually discussing Singapore’s parliament. We covered the history for a solid 20 minutes, and talked a lot about how Singapore make their water and how competition for resource could spark the next world war. But really, most of the information actually about parliament was given in the short video presentation we watched at the start. Of course I had expected this, Singapore may be a democracy but it’s not as open as the democracies in Australia or Britain, but it was still irritating, particularly as we ran so far behind that we had to rush through viewing the actual House of Commons, which was the most interesting thing in the building.
The subjects the tour guide focused on are telling, however. We were reminded time and time again that all four major groups in Singapore (Malay, Chinese, Tamil/Indian, European/British) are represented the parliament. The question of where exactly the ‘opposition’ (of which there will be 6 in Singapore’s next parliament) sit in the House was glossed over, with the obvious explanation that members from the PAP (the ruling party) also have to sit on the ‘opposition’ side because they dominate the parliament so heavily. Issues of being held accountable to the people were explained away through the role of the non-voting ‘Nominated Members’ (who advise the parliament on the feelings of the people) and a general disinterest amongst the people of Singapore in politics after they have elected their parliament. Probably the most interesting thing to happen was when our tour guide said that “Lee Kuan Yu was a dictator. Americans have informed me that he was a benevolent dictator.”
The highlight of the entire tour (so far) came this afternoon however when we headed over to the Australian High Commission for a talk with someone from DFAT and AusTrade. We spent well over an hour listening to the two women talk and asking them questions. It was super interesting to hear about their experiences, and a lot of the things they said will also be good to consider if I ever think of applying to work for DFAT in the future.
That’s all for today – no photos because they were banned at both the Parliament of Singapore and the Australian High Commission.