Blog Posts by Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh

  • COMMENT: Why it’s time to take a good, hard look at wealth inequality in Singapore

    A protester holds up a placard during the Population White Paper protest last year. (Yahoo file photo)A protester holds up a placard during the Population White Paper protest last year. (Yahoo file photo)

    Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh is a writer. Together with Donald Low, associate dean for executive education and research at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Sudhir is the co-author of an upcoming book, Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, to be published by NUS Press in April 2014.

    Singapore needs to address its drastic wealth inequality in order to, among other things, reduce social tensions, improve social mobility and maintain its commitment to building a fair and just society.

    While there has been much discussion about income inequality in Singapore’s recent past, wealth inequality has garnered little attention. This is partly because of a paucity of official data. But a report on global wealth last year by Credit Suisse, an investment bank, suggests that Singapore has one of the biggest wealth disparities in the world.

    Why worry?

    In any capitalistic society, some inequality is desirable as the just rewards for differing effort, which incentivises people to work

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  • COMMENT: Cartoonist’s arrest stems honest discussion about race in Singapore

    Leslie Chew a Singaporean cartoonist was arrested last week. (Screengrab from Facebook)

    COMMENT

    In order for Singaporean society to deal with race, religion and other sensitive issues in a mature way, they have to be discussed and debated publicly, not suppressed. Singapore needs to learn to talk honestly about race.

    In that light, the most disturbing thing about the arrest last week of Leslie Chew, a Singaporean cartoonist, is that he appears to have been targeted for asking, through his cartoons, a very pertinent question: is there institutionalised discrimination against Malays in Singapore?

    This is not a new assertion, yet it rarely gets the proper treatment it merits. Those who believe that Singapore has succeeded in building some multiethnic utopia might balk at the suggestion. And yet there is plenty of fodder to support it.

    Consider the views of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, on genetic determinism. In a meeting at the University of Singapore on 27 December 1967, Chandra Muzaffar, a Malaysian political scientist, recalls Lee Kuan Yew sharing this

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  • COMMENT: Lessons for Singapore in brutal gang rape tragedy

    Undertakers and hospital staff carry the dead body of the Indian rape victim into a van as they leave Mount Elizabeth Hospital. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)Undertakers and hospital staff carry the dead body of the Indian rape victim into a van as they leave Mount Elizabeth Hospital. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)

    COMMENT

    As 2012 draws to a close, most Singaporeans’ hearts are filled with sadness, not joy.

    All the triumphs and moments of elation this year—from our country’s first individual Olympic medal in more than 50 years to the broader Asian pride we feel every time somebody horses around to the Gangnam Style—have been rightly overshadowed by the shocking, abhorrent gang-rape of Amanat (not her real name), the young Indian student who passed away in Singapore after having been flown here for medical treatment from Delhi, the scene of the crime.

    As we wipe away our tears, and search our souls for answers, many Singaporeans, in a philosophical mood, have come away feeling rather proud about Singapore, particularly the way we treat women. Our attitudes are buttressed, so the argument goes, by our strict laws here. Minister K Shanmugam has said that he cites cases like Amanat’s “in discussions with people who want the death penalty abolished”.

    But all this Singaporean triumphalism misses

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  • Instead of NS, consider a ‘National Social Service’

    As Singapore has been doing, it should continue to push the boundaries of high-technology military research. (Getty Images)

    COMMENT

    (This is a continuation of “Singapore’s outdated national security policies”)

    If Singapore’s security threats have indeed evolved over the years—and no longer includes “potentially hostile Muslim neighbours”—then the country needs to adapt, and prepare itself for today’s main threats: pirates and terrorists.

    In order to combat them, Singapore needs a good Navy, Coast Guard and Counter-terrorist units. But it does not need many large traditional divisions of the Army, including Armour, Infantry and Guards.

    One could argue that Singapore does not need an Air Force either. But given its tiny size, it might be prudent to maintain the highly-efficient Singapore Air Force as an additional deterrent to would-be aggressors, especially since it is conceivable that a terrorist attack could be airborne.

    Finally, as Singapore has been doing, it should continue to push the boundaries of high-technology military research. Drones, unmanned vehicles, robots, and other futuristic weaponry

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  • Time to overhaul Singapore’s national security policies

    Time to overhaul Singapore’s national security policies. (AFP file photo)Time to overhaul Singapore’s national security policies. (AFP file photo)

    By Sudhir Vadaketh

    COMMENT

    Singapore’s national security policies are outdated and in dire need of revision. These policies are heavily influenced by the paranoia of the 1960s, when a vulnerability fetish gave rise to a siege mentality amongst Singaporean leaders that persists till today.

    One archaic assumption is that Singapore should maintain a military alliance with Israel to protect itself from its main security threat—potentially hostile Muslim neighbours. This harks back to the mid 1960s, when Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, looked across the world and realised there was one other state that had faced and repeatedly overcome a similar national security challenge—being “a tiny minority in an archipelago of 30,000 islands inhabited by more than 100 million Malay or Indonesian Muslims.”

    Lee’s decision to seek help from the Israelis was defensible then, given that Singapore had just been thrown out of the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, and that Indonesia under

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  • ‘Peaceful revolutions’ underway in Malaysia, Singapore

    The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and the People's Action Party’s consistent electoral success was built on a combination of rapid economic growth and iron-fisted political control. (AFP photo)

    COMMENT

    Malaysia and Singapore are witnessing two slow, quiet, largely peaceful socio-political revolutions that will ultimately change the complexion of the region.

    For decades, the vast majority of Malaysians and Singaporeans appeared relatively content with their respective ruling parties—the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and the People's Action Party (PAP). Their consistent electoral success was built on a combination of rapid economic growth and iron-fisted political control.

    As living standards got better, most people in the two countries were happy to live their lives quietly under the democratic radar.

    But over the past decade, a combination of forces—including policy missteps by the ruling parties, the emergence of more credible opposition candidates, and the widening of political space through the Internet—has blown the lid off these hitherto politically apathetic countries.

    In both Malaysia and Singapore, authoritarian states are making way for more democratic

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