Singapore: Recession and Internet Politics


Professor Carl A. Trocki

At last, Singapore has fallen to the inexorable economic forces that have successively hit Japan, the surrounding states of Southeast Asia, the US and Australia. Mid-July growth numbers showed that Singapore had officially slipped into recession. Surprisingly, the government has taken a relatively minimalist approach to this downturn. In mid-August, Deputy Prime Minister, Lee Hsien-loong, met with a group of the unemployed in his constituency of Ang Mo Kio. Aside from rebates on utilities and other charges and some rentals, which could add up to S$500 per household this year, the government has little more to offer than exhortations for job-seekers to be realistic in wage and job expectations and to take advantage of government training schemes. Other benefits might be forthcoming if the situation worsens. Local economists, both from the National University of Singapore and from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have predicted an upturn for next year, but the rest of 2001 looks grim. ‘We have to ride out this period and wait until external conditions change, for our economy to recover’, Lee told his audience.

The government and opposition members are beginning to prepare themselves for the election which will be held in August 2002. There is more political activity on Singapore-related websites as individuals air their views. Chee Soon Juan, leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party [and a writer for ASIAN ANALYSIS], noted ‘With the media in Singapore so tightly controlled, the Internet has become a very important medium for us to spread our ideas’. The government is taking steps to clamp down on this last window of open political discourse. On 25 July, the government introduced legislation to regulate material that promotes political parties and candidates on the Internet.

In a recent speech to a gathering of public servants, Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng warned that freedom is dangerous. He praised the former Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia and intimated that Singapore too could face chaos if there were too much emphasis on democracy, human rights and press freedom.

Researchers at Singapore’s NTU have recently developed new pattern-recognition software that will make it possible for surveillance systems to spot ‘abnormal behaviour’. The team classified 73 features of human movement, including speed, direction, shape and pattern that can be used with a ‘neural network’ which can learn and remember patterns.

WATCHPOINT: Look for the government to tighten controls on freedom of expression, particularly on the Internet.


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