The rise and decline of Venice as the foremost naval and economic power in the Mediterranean between the early 12th and late 18th century serves as an example for Singapore, with ways in which this city-state can learn from their governance.
In his article, Leslie Fong, former editor of The Straits Times drew out two lessons that Singapore can hope to use.
He wrote, “Venice rose to become a great maritime empire (Stato da Mar in the Venetian dialect) because it gave its citizens a say in their governance and a chance to share in its growing prosperity. Mr Fong added that a lottery would be held in order to choose nominators for candidates to the council, which Venetians would eventually vote upon.
He also said that the people were given opportunities to “buy a small stake in any voyage organised by established merchants and make money if the goods brought back were sold for a profit. This opened the economy to every citizen who cared to calculate the risk, return and profit in, say, sailing to Morocco or Turkey for spice”.
In relation to Singapore, he then questioned, “do Singaporeans feel they have an adequate say, beyond the regular general elections, in how they are being governed and if they have views on policies that affect their lives, are these being heard?
Second, is the sharing of Singapore’s economic success broad and deep enough and if not, how should Singapore address this disparity without blunting the country’s competitiveness and prospects for growth?”
Another pertinent lesson that Mr Fong brought up was that “Venice sealed its fate when it concentrated all political and economic power in the hands of a minority”.
He added that while there may have been other factors in play as to the downfall of Venice, after the “law restricting membership of the Great Council to male descendants of noble families already represented in the body”, the downfall of venice began.
He wrote, “If Singaporeans need a further, and Asian, example of how political stratification and concentration of all power in the hands of a few brought down an empire, they might want to look at Han dynasty China.”
“There is no Golden Book in Singapore but I know there are Singaporeans who are alienated by what they see as a ruling class of elites who often say they have thought through everything and are disdainful of contrary views.
In this regard, I welcome the ruling party’s latest assertion that it wants to be inclusive and maintain a shared space where differences can be aired without eroding social cohesion”, he concluded.