Well, William and Kate came briefly and were gone. Leaving a trail of carbon footprints and the glamour of monarchy around the globe, serving a purpose known only to themselves but unbeknown to commoners or former colonial residents like me.
All men are equal before democracy, supposedly. Yet, the Queen’s presence dictates a distinctive line between the commoners and the royals, contradicting the very idea of equality among mankind that democracy upholds. And so, democracy and monarchy, two conflicting ideals and political system, co-exists in today’s UK political arena. Even the highest political office holder, the Prime Minister, is but another subject of the Queen.
The political power of the monarchy might have been decentralized in this day and age. However, it still clings tenaciously to the royal protocol in demarcating the difference between the commoners and the royals.
It continues to baffle me even though modern monarchy no longer welds the power of life and death over its subjects, retaining only the protocol of accentuating the “highness” of the royals and the “lowliness” of the commoners, at least verbally, discriminating yet opening a possibility for female commoners to be upgraded to the altar of the royals through the tool of marriage to a member of the royal family and subjecting the highest political office holder to be the subject of this former commoner. Bizzare.
But that is the UK political system. And having said all that, the monarchy system is more of a symbol whilst the democracy runs the actual mechanism of its political system. Afterall, despite having contradicting political systems and having to pay duly respects to the royals, whether the people or the commoners of that nation enjoys the absolute luxury of speaking out publicly against any political ideals without being subjected to intimidation. They need no licence to speak in speaker’s corner unlike us, and neither will their anti-monarch protesters who may threaten the “livelihood” of the royal family be prosecuted for their beliefs.
It brings me back to the memory of that elderly who out of desperation brought his knees down before Goh Chok Tong, the then Prime Minister of our country. That elderly man was seeking help from the PM during his walkabout with his usual entourage. That image etched in my memory as its visual impact and the person’s underlying outlook parallel the monarchy era of ancient China where subjects were to kneel before the emperors as lesser mortals, in an era when rulers enjoy unchallenged authority and supremeness.
Singapore has been a democratic country since the first day of our independence.
For that elderly to resort to such imploration of help in the public, I believe all possibilities and resources must have been explored and exhausted. However, the focus is not on his plight but his self-deprecating behaviour for help before a political leader who in the first place owes his position to the people’s votes. And that behaviour refracts the kind of political outlook ingrained into the minds of some of our people. The elderly’s gesture manifested the supremeness of our political in-powers and the lowly status of the citizens in our existing political climate, revealing the remnants of the monarch era which somehow rooted into this elderly living in a democratic nation. His behaviour might be an extreme illustration of a sub-conscious monarchy mindset in some of our people. Yet, we cannot deny that while people may not demonstrate extreme subordination like that elderly, they do unknowingly submit themselves to an inferior status before the presence of our politicians and grant them the absolute authority to the extent of allowing all political decisions made go unchallenged. For some people, monarchy is still very alive and kicking in our democratic society and is manifested in a different form from the British monarchy.
Contrasting the actions of this elderly man is a British lady on state benefits who wrote straight to the then British PM Tony Blair to express her annoyance of his decision to slim down state benefits. Here is a lady who lives off the state benefits, who is a subject of the Queen and a voter of the democracy, who perceives herself of an equal standing to that of the prime minister. And most importantly, the fearlessness of the politicians.
What gave rise to our fear and submission to our politicians, like subjects self-deprecating before the monarch? Why do some of our people submerge themselves knowingly and unknowingly into such monarchy mindset when our people and first generation leaders worked painstakingly to break away from the British monarchy rule?
The external factor unquestionably comes into the scene. It is the way which we have been “cultivated” since the day of our independence when we broke free from monarchy. We walked straight into a pseudo-democracy where it is executed in a manner very similar to monarchy. To be fearfully and humbly respectful of those placed in political authority and absolute political power to those with political authorities. And my conclusion is not baseless.
Former defeated Cabinet Minister George Yeo once said:
"Remember your place in society before you engage in political debate... Debate cannot (de)generate into a free-for-all where no distinction is made between the senior and junior party... You must make distinctions - What is high, what is low, what is above, what is below, and then within this, we can have a debate, we can have a discussion... people should not take on those in authority as 'equals'."
(20 Feb 1994 Straits Times)
This is the outlook of a political leader from a democratic system which he was voted into by his people and ironically denied the same people the equal rights to engage in political debate. And his is not an isolated mindset in our Cabinet.
It is no coincidence that former PM Goh Chok Tong, the highest political office holder of our nation, shared the same outlook of the lowly status of the voters as George Yeo. He challenged Catherine Lim, a local writer, to enter politics if she wished to continuing airing her views on our political climate (4 December 1994 The Straits Times) despite him promising a more open-minded and consultative style of leadership than his predecessor. As can be seen, after all is said, what is low should remain lowly (voters) and what is high (politicians) remains on the pedestal. Untouchable.
Such outlook from those sitting at the tip of our political hierarchy undoubtedly shaped the political climate and the political status for our lowly citizens and snuffles the spirit of democracy in the event.
We live in the icing of a democracy that is run in a manner that differs little from an actual monarchy.