The success of the Civil Society Vol.11. No. 1 was followed by an issue devoted to the question of democracy. Sanjay Krishnan was no longer part of the editorial team having left for Columbia University in New York. Lee Weng Choy and I carried on as the main editors. It was a mixed bag thematically but organised loosely around the idea of democracy with section divisions reflecting our ideas about how best to deal with a potential hot potato: Institutions, Education, Contestations, Articulation. We also continued with the “dialogue” format which rendered a conversational feel to what some would consider heavy discussions.
In the Letter To The Editor section we received a critique from a Straits Times columnist Asad Latif which is worth noting: “.. would you be offended if I said that it is becoming a platform for voices that speak ultimately in the same tongue, no matter how varied the accents are? … Hence it is that I search in vain for the voices of the HDB heartland… Those thoughts may not fit into the binary categories some of your contributors appear to work from, if only implicitly: authoritarianism/ freedom; capitalism/ freedom; PAPsim/ freedom (what ism?): sexual deprivation/ sexual empowerment,.. I do not doubt that these can be legitimate categories. But the relationship between them surely is not guaranteed to be binary?”
It was a criticism that we didn’t address in the next issue [link to Looking At Culture] which remained a platform for intellectuals and experts rather one for the general population or one reflecting the “haggling voices int he wet market” as Asad Latif put it. Of course we had none of the resources that the Straits Times had to achieve this democratic vision but more importantly we believed that the only way to survive was to remain strategically above the fray. In fact several contributions to us either were spiked or had to have major editor intervention because some thought that Commentary was a space for unfettered ‘free speech’ of the intemperate kind. It was clear to me that we were not going to please everyone.
The end of our editorial leadership of Commentary reflects the many tensions in Singapore politics of that time.