Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why Singapore Lee Kuan Yew's style of government is impossible to replicate after him

Ladies and Gentlemen,

True, Lee Kuan Yew built the skyscrapers the roads and provided clean running water. There is no doubt he brought in huge planeloads of immigrants, mainly Chinese, and some Europeans who provided jobs for the locals. It is also true that he managed to raise the GDP of the island to record levels unprecedented anywhere else in the world.

All very good. But there are fundamental faults so blatantly obvious in his system that it is impossible to endure after him. The Lee Kuan Yew model is simply a one-off system only good for someone like him. It is quite obviously simply impossible for anyone else to carry on like this. This is why.

Small Tiny Island totally reliant on foreign capital
The island is physically tiny, about 700 sq kilometers and a few kilometers less at high tide. The local population (not counting the huge barrage of recently arrived Chinese immigrants) is perhaps only about 1.5 million.

You can imagine what even the slightest economic or political instability will do to a place as tiny as this. Even worse, as the island is almost totally reliant on foreign investment, once the the foreign investment leaves, which they will at the slightest instability, so does the locals leave and then it is the end for Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore. There will be nothing left. A larger country not entirely dependent on foreign investment can withstand a great deal of instability. But not this tiny island.

The Lee family's blatant shameless corruption and nepotism
It is well known by now what Lee Kuan Yew paid himself, his son the Prime Minister, Loong, their entire family and his entire government. In fact the salaries they receive have now become the butt of jokes and the target of ridicule around the world.

These are salaries that would have made Mobutu of the Congo who stole the diamonds look like a saint. Let me say this once again. Lee Kuan Yew, his son and his entire family pay themselves and their cronies no less than $3.7 million a year. And in order to justify the corruption, he conveniently calls it a salary, as if corruption will turn legitimate simply by labelling it, salary.

And then we have shameless nepotism. Every single member of his family are provided plush jobs and everlasting opulence. I thought this sort of thing only happens in the kingdoms of the Middle East where Hafiz al Assad makes his son Bashar al Assad the president with permission to steal any amount of state funds he wants but I was mistaken. It happens in the former British Colony of Singapore too.

The people have no rights
Although the Constitution exists on paper, it is completely abrogated and disregarded. The island is run on a whim, Lee Kuan Yew's whim to be exact.

There are no rights of freedom of speech, expression assembly or a free press. Neither is there the rule of law where Kangaroo courts routinely destroy opposition politicians for criticism considered normal anywhere else in the world. Effectively with the Kangaroo courts and their obedient police force, they can effectively silence anyone they please giving themselves carte blanch to frolic as they want.

It has become a Chinese City with Malays and Indians relegated to irrelevance
Unlike the British days and the times immediately thereafter, all Singaporeans regardless of race were still Singaporeans. Today you are hardly Singaporean if you are not ethnic Chinese. They are openly discriminated in jobs and housing and they have no recourse to the law, since none exist. In fact they can hardly understand what is being said as Mandarin is actually spoken more often than English.

Strutting around the island like a prize rooster in his Singapore chicken coop
Having had the reputation of fighting the Communists, fighting the British, going into Malaysia, coming out of Malaysia, fighting the economic depression and having done the whole hula hoop, Lee Kuan Yew had quite a reputation, nobody can deny that.

He had stature. He told Singaporeans that he had to control them, or else they would be put away. Out of fear and especially out of who he was, they went along. As a result Lee Kuan Yew was able to be as corrupt as he wants, as guilty of nepotism as he wants, and able to deny every single right of his people, as he wants. Somehow he managed to get away with it.

Goh Chock Tong and Loong, his son
He stepped down in 1990 and gave the Prime Minister-ship to Goh Chock Tong who was a seat warmer for his son Lee Hsien Loong (Loong) who replaced Goh in 2004. Mind you, both Goh and Loong were behaving as dictators exactly like the earlier Lee but they got away with it, primarily because Lee Kuan Yew, even though no longer active, was still alive. His presence alone was sufficient to intimidate the population into submission.

But now since Lee Kuan Yew is dead, can Loong strut around like his father bullying anyone in his way?
That is the big question, can Loong behave the same way as his illustrious dictatorial father? What is Loong anyway? He as we know him is simply an obedient boy who passed his exams, and through nepotism was given a government scholarship, studied in England and returned to Singapore to be made Prime Minister by his father.

That is the sum total of his curriculum vitae. Loong did not fight the Communists, did not move the mountains nor did he tame the monster. Thanks to his father he is where he is, that's all. If it wasn't for his father, he would probably be filing away invoices at his desk at the Bank of China along Singapore's Battery Road.

So is he now going to pay himself $3.7 million a year and hand out the same to all his family members and minions as he did in the past?

Is he going to deny the Constitutional rights of free speech to his people. Is he going to jail Roy Ngerng for having questioned his CPF (retirement fund) policies? Is he going to deploy his turbaned Indian lawyer to sue people all and sundry because he did not like what they said? Is he still going to deploy the corrupt judge Belinda Ang Saw Ean to put away political contrarians like his father did? Who the Hell is he anyway, but an obedient boy who passed his exams? Why should anyone listen to him? Why should he pay himself $3.7 million a year, now especially since his father is dead?

This is where the rub is
The problem for the poor boy Loong is this. He is simply trapped. He is doomed either way he turns. And this is entirely because Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore model simply made no sense.

1. It is illogical and nonsensical for anyone to expect any society to remain quiet when they see corruption of their leaders especially on this grand scale before their very eyes.
2. It is illogical and nonsensical to assume that any society will remain quiet when they are denied their right of freedom of expression.
3. It is illogical to assume that any society would remain quiet when they are denied freedom of the press or the rule of law.
4. It is illogical to assume that the Malays and Indians will simply allow themselves to be discriminated in their own country.

Already in the last few years Singapore has seen increasing signs of dissent. There have been numerous instances of anti government graffiti, numerous instances of anti- government protests in Speakers Corner the only place allowed for protests and other instances of anti government sentiment. In spite of the government cracking down hard, the frequency of such incidents are only growing. Now with a weakened Loong minus his father, we can only expect the protests to multiply multi-fold.

Loong is simply trapped either way he turns. If he decides not to be corrupt and accept a lesser salary, people will consider him weak, he will lose face, a terrible thing for Chinese, and his already precarious authority. On the other hand if he continues being corrupt and continues stealing $3.7 million a year, the people would be no longer afraid to rise since his father is no longer around.

He faces the same Catch 22 situation with every thing else, heads I win tails you lose. If he tries to loosen his grip he loses face and the people would take advantage. If he doesn't, without his father around the people would rise. The poor Loong is simply trapped.

On the other hand, if he tries to step down and hand over the leadership to some other minion foolish enough to accept it, it will be even worse. He would be probably overthrown the next minute.

Singapore Iraq or Libya.
Singapore will face the same problems that dictatorships such as Iraq or Libya faced, only on lesser scale and minus the violence. With Saddam the dictator in power, Iraq managed to survive. Same with the Libya of Gaddafi. Once they were gone, you see total chaos because no one else is able to fill the vacuum left by the dictator.

Singapore is no different. Lee Kuan Yew did not leave in place a civil society.

There are no real political parties except for his own, which has handpicked bureaucrats running the country, not real leaders since the dead Lee never tolerated anyone else as leader. None of these minions who call themselves Ministers and politicians have any support on the ground.

They are all, what one can call instant politicians and Ministers. The moment they return from their scholarships, they are fielded in elections under circumstances where they can never lose and the next minute thrust among the people as "leaders". Most don't give them even a second look at their faces in the state controlled press.

There is simply no way this Alice in Wonderland style of government the deceased Lee Kuan Yew created can ever be transferred beyond him. His son simply cannot behave the way he did and neither can any of his minions. Once the people begin to disrespect him, the ethnic Chinese prince would have lost his face as well as his moral authority to rule. And there is an old Chinese saying "When man loose face, he has to go".

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Fremont, California USA
Tel: 510 491 8525


Anonymous said...

Regardless of whoever wins the next election, I hope they bury the PAP scumbags like the cockroaches they are.

- Nigel Lai

Anonymous said...

Interesting reading:

Calvin Cheng rebuts critics on Singapore trading freedom for economic success

Anonymous said...

What do you do when papa Singapore is dead and his offspring do not have the capability to fit into the old man shoes.

Having worked Singaporeans into a trance to worship the Singapore god, it is time to purge the troublemakers for the next generation of political stability.

Singaporeans failed to pick up the failed legacy of Lee Kuan Yew. The things that he failed to implement to keep his legacy alive because he did not believe in them.

BTW New Zealand stand half mast tomorrow in recognition of LKYs economic records but unlike the fairy tale article that dud Calvin Cheng wrote (picked up by British paper), NZ does not need to sacrifice freedom in the process of attaining economic progress.