Monday, July 1, 2013
Singapore's authoritarianism impedes progress
Ladies and Gentlemen,
If there is one thing history has taught us from the Roman Empire to Chinese empires is this? Authoritarian societies always remain backward, while real democracies always advance. When the average citizen feels respected and his opinions count, is when the country surges ahead; while countries that treat their citizens as fools to be manipulated, are the ones who stay behind.
Nazi Germany was an exception. Although a dictatorship, it was able to mightily advance through violent oppression and repression. But history tells us that it would not last. In Nazi Germany's case their defeat in the war put an end to it. But otherwise, it would have petered away anyway. Such progress is merely ephemeral at best. It simply cannot last.
You see sustained progress in the countries that came out of the British Empire; USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. As for countries such as Nigeria and India which did not progress as well as the others, it has to be explained by their colonial overthrow of their masters. The new leaders of the colonies very often tried to retain the privileges and wealth that their former masters enjoyed. Rights such as freedom of speech, expression and the rule of law was compromised by greedy native leaders and the progress that should have come did not. On the other hand, countries such as the USA deliberately made sure that these rights are respected and safeguarded which accounts for their progress.
A society in which their people respect their civic institutions, a faith in the rule of law, a respect for free speech and expression and an understating that everyone has an equal opportunity as anyone else is crucial for a state's advancement.
Singapore lacks these qualities. In every sense the people have lost trust in their institutions. If the law can be openly abused to destroy political opponents such as JB Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan, it is impossible to respect the legal system in the island. If the government decides to control all news media in the island you can no longer trust the news you read; is it propaganda or real? If the news media is used as a platform to silence critics by publishing defamation cases and threats to charge people for contempt of court, it loses all credibility whatsoever. If ethnic Chinese are given preferential treatment for jobs and housing over other citizens, non-Chinese feel marginalized and abandoned. If the path to success is trumpeting the ruling party and groveling, the government appears partisan and not fair to all. In the end, the average citizen no longer trusts his government treating them no better than confidence tricksters.
In such a society, there is no incentive to try to achieve because it is not the best man who succeeds but the man who is prepared to grovel and sing praises. In such a society one is busier trying to please, not trying to invent and improvise.
The citizen feels ashamed of himself having to grovel and sing praises, just to advance. For example, Davinder Singh is a highly successful lawyer in the island, for the main reason of having represented Lee Kuan Yew in pursuing defamation cases which he has always won, not because he is an excellent lawyer but because its courts are Kangaroo Courts. The judges would have gave him judgment even before he stepped into the courtroom. Despite his success only in Singapore island thanks to his client Lee Kuan Yew, I am not sure how comfortable he would be among the Singapore public who would consider him no better than an outright ass kisser, devoid of any scruples whatsoever.
Such a society impedes progress. Large swathes of citizens are repulsed by such men and either simply withdraw from co-operation or even leave the country entirely. Losing such talent especially in a tiny island such as Singapore with no more than 2.5 million locals and fast declining is surely causing tremendous harm to the nation.
And the claim repeatedly put out by Lee Kuan Yew and his friends at the top that Singapore is a meritocracy is like saying North Korea is the most democratic country on earth. JB Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan were impoverished and reduced to make a living selling books that they themselves wrote on the streets of Singapore for having dared to challenge Lee Kuan Yew and his son openly. The former was once a top flight litigator and the latter a brilliant neuro-psychology professor. If there is meritocracy, why were they reduced to this, not to mention the other thousands of victims known and unknown?
In the USA and the other developed countries, every citizen has respect for their system of government. You may not like what is going on but least you do not fear being arrested and thrown in jail for your opposition. There is rule of law and the basic human rights are treasured and protected. I would feel safe in a society such as that. I would be willing to give my best knowing that success does not require the tailoring of my thought process to conform to that of the government. I can safely be who I am and not lose hope. In Singapore I would have to be a chameleon. Think something but do another, all to make sure that I am still on the right side of Lee Kuan Yew and his powerful friends. It is not a life that one would willingly choose unless you are a Davinder Singh, Lee Kuan Yew's defamation lawyer.
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Fremont, CA USA
Tel: 510 491 4375