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Return to Singapore...

One year ago, a moderately critical column I wrote on press restrictions in Singapore violated Singaporean censorship rules for foreign periodicals and caused, I believe, The Tech to be promptly banned there ["Tech banned in Singapore," Oct 30, 1990]. Since that fateful day, that little island has served as a constant reminder to me, not only of the suffering of the thousands of Singaporean Tech subscribers who were left high and dry, but of the irrepressible truth that I am a danger to myself and others.

Since then there has been some considerable reformation and deformation in Singaporean political life, and I believe that this island off the tip of Malaysia deserves another column, even though people in Singapore may never read it.

Shortly after the Singapore column hit the newsstands last year, the paternalistic Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, stepped down, placing his party-mate and bosom buddy Goh Chok Tong in power. During the three million years of of Lee's rule, Singapore had enjoyed startling economic growth, at the cost of stringent restrictions on political debate, the press, the sale of jukeboxes and virtually everything else worth living for.

While content with a standard of living nearly equal to that of Japan's, more Singaporean citizens began to yearn for the social freedoms that tend to follow economic success. Goh embarked upon a reform program, aimed at curbing censorship rules and other government ordinances to create a looser social and political structure.

In the Parliamentary election two weeks ago, Goh's People's Action Party won a resounding victory, taking 77 of the 81 seats. The victory was taken as a defeat by Goh, who wanted to get 62 percent of the popular vote but got only 61 percent. Now, says Goh, the reforms must cease because a popular mandate for their continuation has not been achieved.

To the foreign press, whose opinions of Singaporean politics are unwelcome in Singapore, Goh's conclusion seems to have misread the opinion of the voters. Singaporean opposition figures, while dodging bullets, are insisting that Goh's "failure" was the result of the electorates doubting of Goh's sincerity. The not-quite-dead-

yet Former Prime Minister Lee has been blamed for manipulating Goh like a pound of ground beef.

As Gorbachev learned months ago, if you give people the chance to vote, chances are that they won't vote for you, if you are the one who denied them the vote in the first place. This vicious cycle is the paradigm that turns reforms into revolutions. The Singaporean populace undoubtedly supports reform, but Goh is apparently too wishy-washy and dishonest to rule, and the Singaporean people probably knows it.

No matter what anyone says, the same basic situation remains. After overcoming his happiness over the election which he fixed so he would lose, Goh will return to hard-line rule, even though a majority of the Singaporean population supports reform. If Goh slips even more in the polls at the next elections, he may very well blame the few months of reform for mucking up the unbounded wonderfulness that emerged from the 30 years of hard-line rule started under Lee.

If the People's Inaction Party continues on this path of conservatism, Singapore may find itself faced with a government that lacks the people's support but won't admit it, and a political upheaval with the magnitude of South Korea's. Upheaval has a way of not only causing civil wars, but of threatening foreign companies that operate factories and do business in unstable countries -- the same foreign companies that have helped foster Singapore's economic growth.

If Singapore wants to remain prosperous, it can not turn its back on reform.


Matthew H. Hersch, a sophomore, is associate opinion editor of The Tech.