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.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Fremont, CA USA
Tel: 510 491 4375


Anonymous said...

This is what happens when you suppress people and take away their creative juices.


The Singapore education system is LACKING due to the academic focus. The Ministry of Education has been headed by clowns in the past many years. Scholars are IDIOTS who have no idea about real life. Having a Uni degree does not mean you are smart.

Authoritarianism plus Confucianism plus Selfishness plus Apathy plus ...

One of the many reasons why employers hire FTs for senior and important jobs in Singapore over the LTs (Local Talent).

Anonymous said...

by Annie

Brilliant article [by Eric Ellis] and a long time coming. You can't imagine how happy I am to finally see an honest article about the real Singapore. Not the Singapore every foreigner tells me they perceive it to be.

I am Singaporean and growing up, my father always taught me to question the Singapore government's integrity. He taught me not to be a sheep herded by the government. It's good to know that our suspicions were not unfounded. For years, with media control and a very secretive government, access to information was hard and

I always felt like the odd one out since the Singapore government is always commended for doing sooooo much good for its people. Yes, they have done a good job but not without the help of its people and how do they reward its people? No press freedom, poor human rights, no freedom of speech, citizens being treated as second class, punished for everything and bulk import of foreigners to support their money making machines. It's a ruthless society that has no room for the weak, the old and the poor and the government responsible for it.

Anonymous said...

Singapore is all about one man’s neo liberal idealism and his strong stubborn ideology the last 50 years. Once that man is gone, it will start to tumble free fall downwards simply because the man and his ideology is just temporary. We should be wary of people who are stubborn and insist on their own views as being absolutely correct and beneficial to the country while the rest of the views by others are just noise. Because such a setup is the recipe for an epic collapse. That man and his ideology will bring himself down and the drag rest of the country with him down the pit hole.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to innovation, Singapore government shoots itself in the foot

Anonymous said...

Please let the world know that Singapore still engages the Literary Inquisition.

Let the world know that the one-party government of Singapore persecutes artists and writers:

There is no freedom of speech or press in Singapore. The Singaporean government abuses the law by arresting the people under the Sedition Act.

It's a egregious lie for a country, which blatantly claims itself to be a democratic, first-world republic to engage in a 17th century Manchu Qing brutal practice.

Let the truth be known!

Gopalan Nair said...

To Anonymous who said

"Once that man is gone, it will start to tumble free fall downwards simply because the man and his ideology is just temporary".

What you said is absolutely right. Singapore is run on an ideology which does not stand up to scrutiny or good sense. It says dictatorship is good, democracy is bad; state controlled press is good, free press is bad and so on; Kangaroo courts are good, rule of law is bad etc.

So far both out of ignorance and fear, Singaporeans have gone along with it. Now it is different. People are wiser. There are Gopalan Nairs too and Leslie Chews the cartoonists. Telling us now that dictatorship is good, democracy bad, doesn't sell anymore. And when the old man dies, with Singaporeans more adapt at following and leading, whose ideology would it be to hold the day. You are right. This whole make believe nonsense city state is already crumbling. And when he is gone, it will crumble completely.

Gopalan Nair said...

To Anonymous who said

"Once that man is gone, it will start to tumble free fall downwards simply because the man and his ideology is just temporary".

And especially so in tiny Singapore which has no more than perhaps 2.5 million local Singaporeans left; and mind you fast diminishing too. I am looking forward to see the show when the 92year old Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore dies. It is going to be interesting, no doubt about it.

Anonymous said...


I find it absolutely shocking that the Singaporean government arrested the cartoonist, Mr Leslie Chew. The Singaporean police even confiscated his personal property and asked him to surrender his passport!

To me, an American, that's akin to the FBI arresting Bill Oakley and Matt Groening for their "Two Bad Neighbors" episode of The Simpsons in the States.


The situation in Singapore is terrible indeed. What other crimes against humanity have been committed there?

Anonymous said...

gopalan nair thanks for all yr articles,

they are an eye opener.

Singapore citizens are fools. to keep voting in the same govt again and again, JBJ and a few others warned us before but we didnt listen.

Basically Singapore citizens are expendable.
the elites will make use of them make money and abandon singapore once that is done

Gopalan Nair said...

To Anonymous who said

"Singapore citizens are fools. to keep voting in the same govt again and again, JBJ and a few others warned us before but we didnt listen."

You are wrong in assuming that voting matters. In Singapore Lee Kuan Yew has cleverly devised a system where voting does not mean anything. He governs through the courts by abusing the law to destroy any real opposition. On hindsight even if Jeyaretnam won, it would not make any difference.

The only way to bring down this dictatorship is either to let things as they be and wait for it's collapse or to take to the streets, provoke the govt to use force and create a cycle of retaliation from which they cannot escape.