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Will “American democracy” throw up the best leaders?

Posted by theonlinecitizen on March 28, 2008

In the blog Beyond Sg, George Yeo, Minister for Foreign Affairs, asks if the United States’ system of “American democracy” will “throw up the best leaders”.

Quote from the blog:

“But will such a system throw up the best leaders? Watching the race between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, a large part of the contest is about crafting speeches and sound bites, and endless spinning of one’s position. The system of analysing and targeting voters is extremely sophisticated. Out of the cacophony, the American voter is supposed to be able to sense the core of a candidate and then decide in his own best interest. Ordinary people may not understand all the issues debated but, given enough time, they have the instinct to figure out who is the right man or woman to become President. That at least is the hope.”

What are your views about Mr Yeo’s question?



38 Responses to “Will “American democracy” throw up the best leaders?”

  1. sarek_home said

    In such system, at least the people believe they have “figure out who is the right man or woman to become President.”

    In Singapore’s system, the people know PAP does not trust them to “figure out who is the right man or woman to become President.”

    In such system, the person elected is definitely a leader because people voted for him/her even if he/she may not be the best.

    In Singapore system, we can’t be sure the ruler is really the people’s leader or he/she is the best.

  2. Aidil Omar said

    Is it just me or the foreign minister which is being paid millions, blabbering utter nonsense? What would he say about Communist China’s style of democracy or Cuba for that matter? Brilliant? The point is democracy is democracy, no matter what nationality or creed it represents.

    The constitutional rights of a citizen is carved in stone. The rule of law shines. Take these away and you have a tyranny. Period.

  3. noone said

    when there is a true democracy ina certain island, we know we can choose GN, someone who is now living in a sunny place.

  4. noone said

    GN is the best.

  5. sarek_home said

    In the following report PM Lee described this system as “undergo the leadership selection processes of
    an organised group before being presented to the electorate”.


    PM Lee explains strict qualifying requirements

    Friday • September 2, 2005

    Tor Ching Li

    FOLLOWING a simple yet dignified swearing in ceremony at the Istana
    last night, Mr S R Nathan starts his second term as the President of
    Singapore today.

    Addressing Mr Nathan on behalf of Singaporeans and the government,
    Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked Mr Nathan for his past six
    years of service.

    “You have upheld your Constitutional responsibilities and exercised
    the powers which the Constitution has vested in you, without fear or
    favour, working with the Government to fulfil both the spirit and
    letter of the safeguards,” said Mr Lee to an audience of about 200
    invited guests.

    Mr Nathan, 81, was returned unopposed as Singapore’s third elected
    President after the Presidential Elections Committee ruled on
    Nomination Day on Aug 17 that there were no other eligible candidates.

    Mr Lee stressed that the strict qualifying requirements for the
    Presidency “are necessary because candidates to be President stand on
    their own and not as the nominees of any political party”.

    This means they do not undergo the leadership selection processes of
    an organised group before being presented to the electorate, said Mr Lee.

    Mr Nathan pledged to continue to reach out to all Singaporeans and to
    foster a more cohesive and inclusive society.

    More importantly, he added, he would “take care of Singapore’s
    interests for the present and the future”.

    This will include working with the Government to progressively
    introduce “detailed rules and procedures” to operationalise the
    concept of the elected Presidency, Mr Nathan said .

    Mr Lee welcomed this initiative from Mr Nathan.

    He said: “As the (elected Presidency) is a new institution, it is
    bound to take time for us to appreciate fully how the mechanism works
    in practice and to develop the detailed rules and procedures which
    implement the concept.”

    “So from time to time, Parliament has amended the Constitutional
    provisions governing the elected Presidency.”

    Mr Lee added that Mr Nathan has already suggested “some refinements
    which the Government supports and will table in Parliament in due course”.

    “My Government and I look forward to continuing to work closely with
    (Mr Nathan) to help the institution of the elected Presidency mature
    in authority and stature, and to uphold a sound and effective system
    of Government that will assure all Singaporeans of a secure and bright
    future,” said Mr Lee.

    The 45-minute swearing in ceremony was followed by a reception.

    Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

  6. Hipo Hunter said

    Is he implying that the Singapore’s System is the best in the world? Is he trying to tell the US people to adopt the
    Singapore’s system?

    He failed to take note of MM Les’ latest statement on the Great
    Limping Escape of Mas Selamat.

    “…. that Singapore is not infallible …..”

    How arrogant can a man be!

    Moreover, whether the American system of selecting a leader or
    a President is the best or not, who is to judge? George Yeo?

    Come on lah, while you don’t wish others to interfere in
    Singapore’s internal affairs (especially politics), why are
    you interfering in another country’s internal affairs? Did
    the US people question the way Singapore “elects” her
    pre-selected President?

    I am really surprised as to why there is such a concerted and co-ordinated effort to “challenge” the Americans at this particular US Presidential Election? Perhaps, there is some
    urgency to protect someone’s self interests?

    I am really sick of leaders who practice double standards whenever
    it fits into their scheme of things! It seems that this practice has become their second nature already, after having got away with
    so many such practices without having to answer to anyone.

  7. peach tea said

    Yes, it is certainly a waste of resources, wearing the candidates down, and this is only the campaign at the primary, caucus, of the same party. When candidates of both parties compete for the presidency, we can expect more mudslinging and dirty tricks by both sides. Politics is afterall about clinching power. At least there is level playing field by the incumbent party and opposition, and not one-sided.

    The showmanship is a product that has evolved for modern America. This is a far cry and in fact a deterioration of the practices crafted and envisaged by the founding fathers. Ideals enshrined the constitution have evaporated over the years, overtaken by hype and spins, not serious debates.

    Looking at the calibre and character of past US presidents in recent history, we would think America, being a world superpower, could come up with better leaders. Majority of the people may not the information, intellect and wisdom to exercise this choice. They were made to believe certain promises that will never be fulfilled or worse if they were deliberately misguided. History has shown their tendency to swing from control freak to lame presidents to make up for what was missing in the previous president. Nevertheless, the strength of their well established institutions could endure the changes which most developing political systems could ill afford.

  8. Thomas said

    Could our Foreign Minister just possibly dislike democracy because, dare we say it, he was almost voted out of office.

    Peach Tea:

    Lincoln, FDR, JFK, Reagan and Bill Clinton were all good Presidents to name a few. No doubt Dubya is a stain but its a testament (like you said) of the American democracy despite all his efforts the country still functions (and objectively speaking he has some achievements but very very few ie disarming Libya and North Korea[?]). Where does history show the swing from control freaks to lame presidents? The mudslinging and dirty tricks is part of the system of vetting. Obama will be a far more superior and proven candidate once he goes through the gauntlet known as Hillary likewise if Hillary beats Obama itll show she’s one tough cookie. On a last note I think showmanship is not a product of the American political system but of politics in general. Each country has its own “political theatre”.

  9. Thomas said

    I wish George Yeo hadn’t devalued speech making. Once upon a time LKY used the stump to galvanize the nation into action. Likewise Obama has the same appeal now. Now all we have are endless policy speeches or speeches talking down to Singaporeans in general (admonishing us for this or that). Great leaders inspire and aspire for greatness. Good managers don’t necessarily make good leaders.

  10. Daniel said

    “George Yeo, Minister for Foreign Affairs, asks if the United States’ system of “American democracy” will “throw up the best leaders”.”

    Why even ask this question of distraction ? Why not ask ourselves the same question ?

    If Singapore’s system of ‘Lee’s nepotism & freak democracy’ will “throw up the best leaders”.” ?

    Why critize other country’s leadership if our isn’t so much better ?

    George Yeo, you have made a terrible mistake and jeopardised your own credibility and integrity by even giving such a speech because all I need to do to discredit you and your coffers is to ask this simple question:

    What the hell is the role of a president who been paid $4 millions per year using taxmoney to do nothing beneficial to citizen of Singapore other than to cut ribbons and attend charity events ? Why the president as head of the country not even interested in Singapore political and social affairs ? Where is our citizen right to remove such a utter useless disgraceful president that is in Dereliction of duty or lack of constitutional responsibility ?

    If the gahmen could not answer this simply questions that I posed then the coffers opt to keep their million dollars mouth shut and get on with their luxurial life.

  11. well what do u expect from a frog living in the well for too long!

  12. Unsure said

    Are you really sure you want our views?

    I am not so sure whether what I am going to say will be censored
    or deleted. So, I have to ask the above question first.

  13. kitsura said

    Some have mentioned that the US election campaigning wastes lots of money. But I guess they all forgot that Singapore’s President costs even more money that can’t really be justified.

    And whereas the US election campaign is only for a short period, the Singapore President’s salary is a recurring cost. And that it is all taxpayers’ money unlike the US election campaign money where most of it comes from willing donations from citizens and lobby groups.

  14. Dingo said

    You know what? I think we could just take the word democratic out of the pledge and simply call the island a republic without the word democratic.

    I mean it saves alot of trouble right? We wouldnt need elections or opposition anymore. Since everyone seems to be more interested in making money that would be a good solution.

  15. Peachy said

    Thomas, sure, some presidents made their mark & contributions but the question is whether the free system can throw up the best man for the job. Even the great presidents you named heightened the cold war, chalked up huge deficits, and didn’t practise what they preached. It’s well known that many American of high calibre shun politics.

    However, between democracy and a controlled system, there is hope for change, even three to six years by way of congressional and presidential elections. There are merits in the system but the question is there are many shortcomings inherent in this sort of forlorn practices that could be well be improved.

    Dirty tricks are deceptive if people believe in them. Americans themselves are surprised by the many conservatives in the electorate who actually believe in the allegations against Obama. This batch of candidates may be more promising than previous election who would prefer stability represented by McCain than Obama.

    The wide swings across the spectrum of controls are quite evident comparing Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush snr, Clinton, Bush jr (who had many ex-Nixon neo con in his kitchen cabinet).

  16. Andrew Loh said

    I agree with those who are scrutinising the president’s work. President Nathan has been in office for some 8 years already. And in all of that 8 years, he has not spoken even once – as far as I can remember – about the state of our reserves.

    This is glaring because the Elected Presidency was introduced so that the president is the so-called “second key” to the reserves.

    Compared to what his predecessor, President Ong Teng Cheong, tried to do (to get more accountability from the govt), the current president’s silence is totally unacceptable.

    Unless of course, the president deems that questions – such as those that President Ong brought up (and there were many) have all suddenly either been answered or deemed unnecessary to ask.

    I, for one, do not think the current president is worth the money we are paying him for – which is roughly about 10 times that of President Bush.

    Now, George Yeo should go look into that instead of asking about other country’s business.

  17. Adrian said

    Honestly and to put it plainly, I think the current President is just an over paid ribbon cutter to grace ceremonial and charity events.

  18. Singaporean said

    The american system is one of the best if not the best. Yes, they have “crafting speeches and sound bites, and endless spinning of one’s position.” But this is widely known and openly discussed / delibrated through the multitude of free channels.

    Contenders have to field real questions impromptuly from the public and among themselves. Hence, the populace get all the necessary information / viewpoints to make decision with “OPEN EYES”.

    If bad decisions are still made with all this, then it is the will of the people at large. At least, the system is not delibrately made to be restrictive in the first place.

  19. …and not forgetting reciting Im impressed!

  20. peach tea said

    Singapore is an island but we should not behave like one isolationist. Minister Yeo has raised a pertinent and relevant question that should not be dismissed with scepticism. No system in the world is perfect, not even America. However, there is much that Singapore could learn and pick up are the checks and balances, level playing field, open debate and serving the nation out of personal conviction (among other wishes) and not just for material gains. One of the main unsettling issues of the US model of democracy is the appeal to emotions and we can’t assume that majority would act rationally and would vote with their mind as well. It’s a matter of balancing what suits us best. Having studied all the permutations and possibilities, there has to be political will and sincerity on the part of the Singapore leadership to make such changes for the better future, not mere lip service.

  21. S. Lim said

    When a government starts to believe its own propaganda shit, half truths become truths. It believes that they are the best, only in a monoply system. Level the playing such as when competing in overseas markets, they fail miserably. Their confidence is a farce when they cannot even have a fare election system and need to resort to gerrymandering. National building press, another joke. A real Frst World Country is one where other First World Nations tells you you are there. Not when you praise yourself. Is there no shame?

  22. patriot said

    To say our Current President is doing nothing is not quite fair, at least we all know he carries babies for the photographers of our Medias. He attends dinners and watch charity shows and hosts foreign dignitaries. His duties are probably better handle by professional public relation officers who will cost the State ninety percent less.

    The President has a more serious duty than the above mentioned, that of taking care of his fellow parliamentarians’ welfares and they reciprocate likewise for him, that is what family is all about, is’nt it? And they are all done with a strong sense of duty and dedication.

    Singaporeans, leaders and lay citizens are indeed the best in the World, everyone else should learn from us, be they American, Chinese, Africa and any other nationalities. Even our neighbouring countries get free advices from our esteem leaders from time to time and they were publicly announced by our mainstream medias.

    US Politics within their Nation are for the Americans to decide, who leads them is the Americans’ Choice. Not all past and present leaders are(were) very wellknown for benevolence and competency. The Current President Bush Junior maybe leaving the worst shits for his successor to handle. But according to our very own leaders, Bush is the ‘Best Friend’ and the Most Powerful Man running the Most Powerful Nation in the World. Should we agree? Not me, the United States of America could very well becomes DISUNITED soon if the American Leaders are not taking care of their people.

  23. soh what said

    don’t talk cock lah. i’m only interested to know when this garmen will be kick out .tak boleh tahan.

  24. Robert HO said


    1. GY is just stating the obvious, restating what we all know and have seen for ourselves for long, and all this restatements without even the piquancy of ‘sound bites’ he so derides, or the insights and analyses into the restatements of facts that most of us bloggers have proven we can and have been producing in decent volume this past year alone, much of which can be seen in TOC own writings as well as those blog articles it highlights. If this is the best from the PAP, and GY is picked for that, since LIE KY and LHL cannot write or incise to save their lives, we are certainly doomed to even more mediocrity from the next generation of handpicked nepots and cronies.

    2. We all know, don’t we? that democracy is always inefficient — having to persuade, argue, debate and wiles when a LIE KY would simply jail the victim for 32 years like he did CHIA Thye Poh, releasing him only when old and sick caused by harsh prison regimen. Or simply torture the fellow without end, quite entertaining and amusing, too, makes you feel superior when you have few other means of feeling superior. Other forms of debate employed by efficient dictators include simply shooting the fellow. All these are quick, efficient and very persuasive. Thus, democracy always seems inefficient, interminable debating without quick and easy conclusions. Nobody, not OBAMA, CLINTON or McCAIN would really want to go through all this — GY and his Mental Minister are right — unless they have no choice.

    3. Does democracy then have no redeeming virtue/s? Ah, the people. We see what we choose to see and what we choose to pretend as GY does, that American democracy is messy while rigging elections like LIE KY LHL PAP did in Cheng San GRC 1997, by stuffing fake PAP votes into fake boxes, is efficient, quick, simple. Ah, the people. What we see is the astonishing sight of Presidents-elects of the most powerful country in history, all 3 having to pander to the people, to slice and dice the voters into very small blocs in order to appeal to their small, sectarian interests, as GY pointed out but dishonestly drew the wrong conclusions [GY is not stupid, he’s a lot smarter than LIE KY and therefore cannot go far]. Ah, the people. When the Presidents-elect all have to cater to the broadest majority they can, they cannot go too far away and wrong, from the peoples’ interests. True, some charlatans like GB may get into power by winning elections dishonestly and then do what they want, serve their own and their backers’ interests instead of the peoples’, but then, hey, they get thrown out in pretty short time, max 8 years, and then shame forever. Whereas LIE KY is continuing to draw millions for no work and had forgotten the people decades ago “Never mind what the people think”.
    4. Yes, the American system is messy. Saddam Hussein, like LIE KY, used to get over 90% of the votes, the same way. But hey, each new President is a REGIME CHANGE. A total catharsis. American voters can make mistakes like Bush but then in 8 years, they get to repudiate their mistake and cast Bush, and his party even, into not only oblivion but purgatory. Bush will be spat on wherever he goes. While LIE KY can not only continue his mistakes, but infrastructures them into concrete rules, hey, that’s so satisfying! to make rules that are obeyed for perpetuity. Godlike.

    5. But why compare 42km x 23km with a half-continent? Compare like with like and thus, SG with HK. HK is not a messy democracy but has enough freedoms to be truly 1 while SG postures as a democracy but is the ultimate Sparta, 100% militarised, with every man, woman and schoolkid obeying a myriad of orders unthinkingly and without being able to opt out or object. Thus, the correct metaphor for SG is that of a large regimen, all taking orders from the top, all moving in unison this way and that, like parade square formations. Every means and measure to ensure no 1 ever steps out of line or straggle. And armies are the ultimate in efficiency. No debates. No quibbles. Just orders and obeyed. Pronto. No questions.

    6. LIE KY has created the ultimate Sparta, Army, Hospital. The last, clean, landscaped, efficient, orderly but totally STERILE. Smelling of antiseptic. You don’t want to live in a hospital. You don’t want to wish hospital upon your children and descendants. Hence, many Singapooreans emigrate. Because a hospital is where you die, where everybody is a stunted human being, missing some parts or malfunctioning, deformed. Where the only life is to eke out a few more years, months or weeks, in depressingly unambitious living, just to stay alive, not even to try or hope for some glorious achievements. Singaporeans EXIST, day after dreary day, while Hongkongers LIVE full lives, with cantopop mp3s lifting eardrums, tv soap operas that are surprisingly sensitively made, with great humanistic touches often, and an enterprising breed that has diasporaed all over China and the rest of the world, in Chinatowns and the professions, while LIE KY has manacled every single Singaporean to his HDB mortgage that takes a whole lifetime to pay off, with little left, thus the ultiimate manacle, the financial 1.

    7. I could go on. So, GY, have you really not seen all this? Your abject apologist for your Mental Minister?

  25. James said

    arrogant bastard, thinks he knows what’s best when what is truly best is to let people decide for themselves.

  26. Daniel said

    of course GY see it but given millions of dollars to cover his mouth and eyes, he just pretend not to see it and talk about it like the rest of hypocritical gahmen. The most respected gahman is Siew Kum Hong who dare to address issues that make million dollars minister look like a panic chicken and cowardice.

    I will have preferred onlineOitizen focus on speech delivered by genuine nominated MP that raise concern and defend against nonsensical arguments by coffers than by seasoned and established gahman who has much to lose to tell the the reality and truth.

    Of course, this may not be possible as this will be perceived as partisan.

  27. noone said

    My choice for PM: Robert HO! or GN, who holds an American citizenship. Both can be strong leaders!!!

  28. the question is: Is he still relevant?

  29. peach tea said

    Now why did Minister GY raise the question at this time?

    Is it a harbinger of changes to the Singapore presidency?

    Is the president going to be more than ceremonial and there will be “real” contest, not defacto?

    If so, he won’t be in the likes of Nathan, but someone who could be “trusted” to rigorously check and ask questions. All this cabinet reshuffle, talks about fourth generation leadership can’t be randomly thrown up without any coherent strategy in mind.

    IMO, Yeo’s question is rhetorical. Obviously the government does not think that the American model is worth imitating but they do see certain powers of the C-in-C, veto power, chief executive, attractive. How to apply it to the Singapore context. We’ll have to wait and see.

  30. peach tea said

    I won’t call this consultation at all, just testing the waters, and setting the boundaries of the Presidency.

    The direct link should be :

  31. historical legacy said

    I said this earlier and i will say it again here:

    These people (GY, LKY, the whole lot) are fighting the cumulative effects of the French revolution, the American revolution, the Russian revolution, the Iranian revolution. They’re fighting every runaway slave, every peasant rebellion, every anti-colonial war of independence.

    LKY tried to fight world history when he visited Suharto at his deathbed and said: oh it’s fine that he was “slightly” corrupt and that he squirreled away a few billion of his country’s money — after all he brought progress to Indonesia.

    Is it possible to fight world history? No, in time they will be taken down. In Singapore it will come slower than the rest of Asia, but it will happen.

  32. Dingo said

    “LKY tried to fight world history when he visited Suharto at his deathbed and said: oh it’s fine that he was “slightly” corrupt and that he squirreled away a few billion of his country’s money — after all he brought progress to Indonesia.”

    – He was only “slightly” corrupt cause a few billion is equal to a bag of peanuts! The “thumb” brand logo turned upside down.

  33. jen said

    i think pap been growing peaches recently……

  34. exsing said

    absolutely agreed with what jen says above….pap is certainly growing a treeful of peaches here……..

  35. Happy said

    Last time I like this guy because he was sincere. Now I don’t like him because he has also become one of them – Hipos.

  36. patriot said

    He is our Minister of Foreign Affairs but he seems to know other countries, affairs better!

  37. patriot said

    the above post should read other countries’ and not countries,.
    My apology!

  38. kingfisher said

    All the campaigning is part of a process of winning the hearts and minds and garnering as wide a support as possible. Spinning is part of the process called democracy and free speech. The democratic process builds institutions and strengthens them through debate, checks and balances and ensures that we dont depend on one single Party to be infallible. The PAP gained power thru this one man one vote process and has been very clever at consolidating its power thru its more than 35 years history and has put in place blocking mechanisms for the opponents to gain influence. At least the US style is still democracy; that in S’pore, is a guided democracy!

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