Ladies and Gentlemen,
Singapore today is an island city state molded from Lee Kuan Yew's idea of what the place should be. With the partition of Malaysia with Singapore becoming independent in 1965, Lee was faced with an tiny island with no resources and forced to go alone. It was a difficult proposition. So he wanted an island with a resilient people, a people who obeyed his rules believing that only Lee and his government was right, a people who would care only for their livelihood and not abstract ideas of democracy and human rights, an island with a state controlled press which will tell the people what Lee wanted them to know and no more, a country with no real trade unions, where people would accept the necessity to receive whatever salary their masters would pay them without complaint, and be content to live in a society where the only important thing was hard work and discipline.
And any attempt by anyone to resist his government results in harsh punishment, loss of career, loss of livelihood and penury. Having repeatedly used harsh repressive methods against anyone who is foolish enough to attempt such resistance, across the island there is the understanding that it is suicidal to challenge Lee Kuan Yew if you have wanted a normal life.
Although the island had a constitution with the usual rights expected of any civilized country, Lee wanted his people to disregard it. In his view, Constitutions were not necessary because he alone knew what is best for his people and there was no need for any such thing as a Constitution.
Any attempt to criticize him or his party results in the offender being labeled not just his enemy but an enemy of the state, and consequently vilified, defamed insulted and neutralized.
In large measure Lee has succeeded in the character molding. Today the vast majority of Singaporeans are content with their lot. They have jobs, Lee has provided housing in which the vast majority of the islanders live, they are obedient and hardworking and the only thing they do is work and go home. One does not see any major clamor for human rights, or any open dissatisfaction against his regime.
Is this model sustainable in the 21 century? I think not. You are already seeing cracks in the Lee Kuan Yew model.
When Lee created his unique Singapore molded in his own image, it may have been possible for his people to go along with him. After all in 1965 after partition, Singapore had nothing. Unless strong measures were used to keep people disciplined, hardworking and obedient, a barren tiny island would very possibly collapse and disappear entirely.
But today is not 1965. Firstly he could not have anticipated the Internet where instant mass communication and information made Singaporeans today far more knowledgeable about the world. Much harder to convince someone today that they should simply obey, roll over and eat humble pie whenever Lee demands.
The second mistake he made was not following the wisdom of an old Chinese sage who said, the best way to keep your people in line was to keep their stomachs full and their minds empty. I am sure no doubt Lee would want his people's minds to be empty but with increasing education and exposure to the Internet this proposition becomes more and more difficult. Increasingly affluent Singaporeans are travelling to the West and asking why the Hell should I just obey when no one else has to.
And the rules that Lee uses to suppress and repress his people are increasingly seen as illogical and irrational. For instance today, any attempt to criticize the government or his Ministers would very probably result in a defamation action in court. But any rational person would question such a rule. Nowhere else is there such a nonsensical practice where each time you criticize, you end up in court.
Another nonsensical rule is the need for every paper or media to be controlled by the government. Any rational thinking person would ask why should I be told only government propaganda when in Australia newspapers are free and can report what they want?
In Singapore people are not allowed to make public speeches without a permit, peacefully protest without a permit or demonstrate without a permit when everywhere else in the world they are allowed to do this without being punished.
Lee began compulsory national service in the late 1960s claiming that the island should be defended against the hostile Malaysians and Indonesians. That Singapore should be an Israel of Asia. Even though at that time relations were not very smooth with them, I must add through Lee's own making, by harping on his claim that the Chinese were superior to the Malays, today after 50 years there is no real danger of hostilities breaking out and the idea of the need for national service becomes redundant.
In fact Lee's reason to introduce national service went far beyond national security. It was to develop a disciplined workforce, especially one that would obey orders which would suit him very well; his orders that is.
Today the whole program of national service is completely broken. Every single Singaporean given the chance would either avoid it or desert. The state controlled newspapers does not mention this but the barracks are literally empty. Childbirth has been reduced to almost zero and any student able to go abroad is simply not returning.
As Lee's idea of Singapore is simply not resonating with his people, he, through his son whom he placed in power, has no choice but to use increasingly harsh measures to force his people to obey these repressive and at times comical rules. Only yesterday was a blogger in Singapore sued for defamation, a very frequent spectacle in the island, for claiming that Lee Kuan Yew's son, the prime Minister has corruptly embezzled public funds. Even though his victim will probably apologize and submit, people would have grave doubts whether Lee's son is indeed corrupt, because in Singapore's entire history no one who was sued has ever come out whole. Your being found guilty is as certain as the sun rises tomorrow.
Again last week 5 youths were labeled vandals and their arrest given wide publicity after they wrote "Bastard PAP" and other insults against Lee's governing party on a government housing block wall. In fact there have been a series of cases where young men were arrested for writing anti PAP slogans on walls and the trend is growing. These young men are asking why they should be arrested and treated so harshly for writing political slogans on walls when in other countries their actions are treated as political speech and protected under the Constitution.
Lee Kuan Yew and his son have simply no alternative but go on using increasingly harsh repressive measures against their own people to stay in power, measures that don't make sense and are in some cases even comical. Take for instance the law that allows protests only at Hong Lim park, an area near Chinatown in Singapore. You can imagine how ludicrous this law is, when for instance, if you wanted to protest against working conditions at Sembawang Shipyard, in the northern part of the island, you would have to do it at Hong Lim Park which is at the southern end of the island!
Not wanting to mention the obvious, let me say this. If any ruler wants a country that is expected to last, it has to have laws and rules that make sense and the people respect. If you have nonsensical rules like those in Singapore which says you cannot speak in public unless you have a government permit, you simply cannot carry your people with you. In such a situation, you end up having to use increasingly harsh repressive measures against your own people to force them to submit. And such a system cannot last. It will unravel.
I do not know if Lee Kuan Yew is alive or dead. No one has seen or heard of him now for nearly a year. When he dies, his son, someone who has very little credibility, will have no choice but to come down hard on his people to keep them in line. In a tiny island, this would mean an even larger brain drain to the West. It would also mean a massive outflow of foreign investment because for Nike it does not matter if they are in Singapore or Jakarta. They don't want to take a risk on their investments and profit.
Lee Kuan Yew and his son today are like horses going down a hill with their carts behind them. No matter what they have to continue their same style of government of keeping their subjects in line with the severity of punishment. There is coming a time when the average Singaporean is saying he does not have to take this nonsense anymore and that will be the collapse of the Lee Kuan Yew created Singapore.
As Tunku the former Prime Minster of Malaysia once put it, Lee Kuan Yew is too clever by half. He appears smart but lacks wisdom. He is too calculative but appears not to know simple human nature. He fails to understand that Singaporeans are not Lee Kuan Yew and the vast majority are, thankfully, normal human beings. He fails to understand that they are living in a country, not in the army barracks.
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Fremont, California USA
Tel: 510 491 8525