Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, the 3oth of January 2008, is the 75th anniversary of Adolf Hitler forming the government in Berlin with his appointment as Chancellor in the Reichstag, Berlin, 30th January 1933. So I thought of Lee Kuan Yew. Are there similarities?
In 1933 when Hitler formed the government, Germany was under the yoke of the West. The Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of the First World War in 1918 humiliated the Germans. They were required to pay reparations to England, their navy was ordered reduced, air force curtailed, the Rhineland was off limits and the Reichmark, the Germany currency was not worth the paper it was printed of.
For this defeated humiliated people came a Hitler who told them it was time to rise again. Time to be proud again. Time to throw up the unbearable yoke that was put over them by the victors Britain and France. And he told them he would do it.
Although he did not win outright at the elections, he managed by skullduggery and violence to force President Hindenburg to swear him in as the Chancellor. And so began the Third Reich. And true enough, Hitler did manage to make Germany the strongest mightiest and economically strongest and most powerful European country from 1933 to 1939 and beyond. From shambles, Hitler managed to make Germany the most powerful country in Europe.
And Lee Kuan Yew? In 1959, Singapore was nothing more than a backwater and a sea port. Unemployment was high, poverty was all around and people did not know which way to turn, or what was to come. But Lee Kuan Yew becoming Prime Minister in 1959 did turn the country around. From the sleepy shipping harbor that it was Lee Kuan Yew and his policies managed to turn it into what it is today, an international city.
So the similarities and the abilities between the two are striking. From great adversity they managed to turn a difficult situation around. But, just as Hitler, Lee Kuan Yew will eventually fail. For Germany the failure was due to military defeat. For Singapore, it will be because the basis of his policies have lost their appeal in this modern age.
In 1959, it was easy for Lee to tell the people to support his policies without complaint. It was a time when people were just trying to survive. With heavy unemployment, with poverty and little hope, the people of Singapore were prepared to pay any price, sacrifice their rights and liberties in return for a better life; in return for bread and butter.
So for a long time, he forced every Singaporean into resettlement into HDB flats, he controlled the unions, he denied civil liberties, he kept wages low in order to compete with other low cost countries, he invited Western countries to set up assembly line factories with cheap labor from Singapore, he controlled the press with propaganda, he denied assemblies and protests. In other words he controlled people's lives for one purpose and one purpose alone; that is for economic development. The Singapore people who were predominantly poor allowed him to control their lives any way he wanted; as long as he managed to lift up their lives economically.
But the problem now is different. Singaporeans have now reached a certain level of education. A certain level of sophistication. They are no longer the impoverished coolie of 1959. They cannot be expected to tolerate those restrictions imposed on them such as in 1959. But the problem is, Lee Kuan Yew feels he can still make Singaporeans obey his orders like before. And this is where he will fail.
Singaporeans of today are not those of 1959. Today they expect a little more than just food on the table. They expect some liberties too. They expect a right to criticize the government. The right to speak. The right to assemble. The right to a free press. The right to live like Europeans, as they have the means to do so.
Very soon I expect more and more Dr. Chee Soon Juans to appear in Singapore. As if one is not bad enough! You can see this happening already. And just as Hitler fell, having been defeated militarily, Lee Kuan Yew too will fall because there are too many Dr. Chee Soon Juans. Who refuse to roll over, just because Lee says so.
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