Strengthen institutions to make them last

No one form of democracy fits all.

Thus, we should tailor one that suits our unique circumstances.

Nevertheless, the results of the 2015 General Election do show how we are progressing towards democracy ("Liberal reflections on loss and acceptance in GE2015"; Wednesday).

Our country's history is short. Unlike many countries founded on revolutionary fervour that overthrew oppressive regimes of their time, our history offers none of the Mandelas or Gandhis that galvanised the masses into achieving independence.

On relative terms, our ascendance to nationhood was peaceful. We observed "people power" from a distance and could not fathom it happening here, where rights were not achieved through struggles.

Our political consciousness remains low as a result of our education, which is largely apolitical, either by design or otherwise.

Institutions that outlast people or political parties should be created or strengthened, so that diverse voices can be heard, if we are to call ourselves an inclusive and First World society.

We have not been raised on an "inalienable right to free speech", nor do we mull over what constitutionality means to us lay folk in the street. Checks and balances remain abstract.

The salutary neglect may have served us well. We achieved First World status quickly, devoid of ceaseless political wrangling or filibustering in Parliament. 

Economic and social policies were speedily implemented.

We "struggled" in the factories and offices, to the envy of compatriots from elsewhere.

Thus, we witnessed how efficiency has taken us to the Promised Land. What fills our national psyche has been largely bread-and-butter concerns. We are, therefore, predisposed to "play it safe" when it comes to voting.  

But with increased affluence and a burgeoning middle class who are well travelled and informed, the ideals of what the Promised Land means take on different hues and colours. 

The young and old, rich and poor, those who are single and those who are married will have their own views of the ideal society. Our discourse on the ideal society, which includes governance, will become more diverse.

As we sort out the social compact between governors and governed, the status quo remains.

Institutions that outlast people or political parties should be created or strengthened, so that diverse voices can be heard, if we are to call ourselves an inclusive and First World society.

The evolutionary path towards democracy is not on a straight-line trajectory. We may move forward, backwards or to the side.

One thing is for sure, the 2015 General Election is not the final step in this evolutionary process.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline 'Strengthen institutions to make them last'. Print Edition | Subscribe