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Why was Singapore excluded from the upcoming US Summit for Democracy?

I was deeply disappointed and confused to learn that Singapore was left out of the guest list for the United States’ upcoming Summit for Democracy on Dec 9 and 10.

Why was Singapore excluded from the upcoming US Summit for Democracy?

Singapore did not make a list of invitees to the upcoming US Summit for Democracy. A TODAY reader says this snub of Singapore made him wonder what criteria US President Joe Biden’s administration used to assess if a country was truly democratic.

Chirag Agarwal

I was deeply disappointed and confused to learn that Singapore was left out of the guest list for the United States’ upcoming Summit for Democracy on Dec 9 and 10.

This is after America invited more than half the countries in the world and one territory, based on a participant list on the US State Department website.

The first such meeting of its kind, the summit aims to help stop democratic backsliding and the erosion of rights and freedoms across the globe.

Democracy means many things to many people and this snub of Singapore made me wonder what criteria US President Joe Biden’s administration used to assess if a country was truly democratic.

Sure, we have our shortcomings: The average size of our Group Representation Constituencies is too big, the decision-making process of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee too opaque, and the nine-day campaign period too short.

But Singapore also regularly achieves a voter turnout of around 95 per cent, has had elections every five years since independence, and has not suffered from accusations of voter fraud by opposition parties, even though they are regularly beaten at the polls by the ruling party.

Can the countries invited, or even the US itself, match such standards?

It seems as though the US has defined democracy in such a way that any country dominated by a single political party is disqualified.

That we have arrived in this position organically, and not by diktat, was perhaps not considered.

It is often said that the end doesn’t justify the means. But can the means justify the end?

There are also foreign policy implications.

Singapore has regularly been invited to attend the G20 Summit — a forum of 19 major economies and the European Union — as a guest.

It is also seen as a strategic security partner and interlocutor of the US.

When it comes to discussing democracy, however, it seems as though Singapore is, to borrow the words of former foreign minister S Jayakumar, not at the table but on the menu.

The Economist newspaper recently called Mr Biden’s efforts to rally the free world under the flag of democracy a “poor advertisement for its merits”, given how dysfunctional and divided the US is now.

Even so, this largely symbolic virtual summit will launch a longer conversation about democracy around the world and how to get it right.

Singapore would benefit from being involved in that conversation and, for all our imperfections, may even add some value to it.

Perhaps the US Embassy in Singapore could provide an explanation for our exclusion.

Have views on this issue or a news topic you care about? Send your letter to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

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