Thursday, October 23, 2014

Singapore is not North Korea. Lee Kuan Yew's one man one party state is not sustainable. It will very soon collapse.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are and have been enduring dictatorships, many very brutal, but yet manage to remain for decades.

Take the case of North Korea. Unless something extraordinary and completely out of the blue happens, the dictatorship, as brutal as it is, can be expected to merrily go on for some considerable time.

It has the necessary elements to enable this. It has 24 million people, its borders are closed, it is not possible to obtain passports, the language is Korean and not English, the Internet is completely closed, the people believe the state propaganda that theirs is the best country in the world and the slightest criticism of their leaders would lead to arrest torture and even death.

Singapore is not North Korea. It does not have the structures in place to keep its citizens silenced and helpless, because they are not. Consider Singapore's circumstances. It has a mere 1.5 million local born citizens. The remaining vast majority are foreigners. It has the English language, its border's are open and anyone desiring a passport can get one. English makes the people mobile and facilitates emigration. Internet unlike North Korea is not banned enabling its people to know exactly what is happening around the world. It is not possible for Lee Kuan Yew's son to tell his people that they have the best country in the world, because it is simply not, and they know it.

Under these circumstances, it is not possible to govern a country like Singapore with brute force alone as can be done in North Korea. For a country like Singapore, the governors can only govern with the support of the people. Once that support collapses the dictatorship falls.

In 1959, when Lee Kuan Yew first got Singapore a plan was devised to dismantle civil society for the sake of economic advancement. At that time, it obviously worked. After all, then people needed jobs, not democracy. As long as they had something to eat, they were content.

But circumstances are no longer like that now. They are better educated. Many are well travelled, more sophisticated. They are no longer the sort of people who would be content as long as they had something to eat.

But the problem for Lee Kuan Yew and his son's government is that while Singaporeans have changed, the government has not. Even in this sophisticated society, free speech is illegal, there are no free and independent newspapers, assembly is illegal, protests are illegal, there is no rule of law, the judges are Kangaroos, and government supporters are rewarded while critics are persecuted. And the people are bitterly aware of their slavish lives. In fact it would not be incorrect to say that the entire population have no respect for their leaders whom they consider nothing but dishonest opportunists looking for their own pockets, not the peoples welfare. Every one of these leaders corruptly receive as salaries several millions dollars each year.

Since open revolt would result in arrest and imprisonment, the people do not resort to this. Instead they vote with their feet. Singapore has the highest brain drain in the world. It is bad enough for any country to lose their best and brightest but it is fatal for a island this size with a local population of just 1.5 million!

Another manifestation of their anger at their government is the almost zero fertility rate, the lowest in the world. And to make things worse, they have a large senior citizen population which is dying off in increasing numbers. One look at the Internet shows how bad the situation is for this government. It is impossible to find a single piece of writing from Singaporeans supportive of their government. The huge numbers of foreign companies there who primarily employ foreigners may be happy but it does no good for the locals. The foreigners aren't interested in human rights. All they want is a buck, dictator or no dictator.

There are numerous reports of the island's very low productivity rate, which should not be surprising. An unhappy population and an unhappy workforce, never gave their best. The idea is do the least for the buck for these dictators who pay themselves millions while they get nothing. Why should they work hard for a government such as this, they ask.

I think it will all unravel when 91 year old Lee Kuan Yew dies. Although he is senile and bed ridden and useless, his very presence in the island gives legitimacy to his son, whom he made Prime Minister. Upon his death the sons legitimacy no longer exists.

Despite the state controlled newspapers publishing daily both the real and imaginary exploits of the son, as far as the people are concerned, he is simply the son of Lee Kuan Yew and nothing more.

His education, his meteoric rise in the army within perhaps 5 years to general, his winning elections and promptly made Deputy Prime Minister, then Minister means nothing to the people. He is simply not a leader. Were it not for his father, he would probably now be quietly working at the Bank of China along Battery Street, pushing a pen and looking at invoices.

I think there will be a power struggle when the 91 year old dictator dies. The son would probably be kicked out. Whoever else claims the seat is not going to be respected by Singaporeans since there are no leaders in Singapore, merely scholarship students who passed exams and then given jobs as Ministers at top salaries to do Lee's bidding. None of these characters would have the dedication, daring, courage and loyalty to run the risk of politics, especially under these uncertain circumstances. In all probability they would probably pack up and leave the country.

There are no Fidel Castros, Che Guevaras, Martin Luther Kings or Gandhis in that island. Their so called leaders would probably shiver and shudder in fear, even if it was just thunder and lightning.

I don't see much hope out there. This one man one party dictatorship style does not work in a society like this. Despite all his claim for great wisdom and foresight, Lee Kuan Yew failed to realize that in a society with greater sophistication and ability, it is not possible to run the country like they did in 1959. But it doesn't seem they are going to change anytime soon. And that would be their undoing.

Gopalan Nair
Attorney at Law
A Singaporean in Exile
Tel: 510 491 8525


Anonymous said...

For Singapore's 50th birthday, the Lees have once again bring up the old story of Lee's Tears (false tears according to M'sia late PM TAR) and the story of the struggle (Founding father of Singapore, will Raffles please step aside)

They may even push forward the election in case Singapore slip into recession again.

Hail the Great Leader Lee Con You!

Anonymous said...

Lee's kingdom will fall!

They had sold out Singapore and their fate will be like Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos and his family. Their ill gotten wealth or other connections will not save them.

Unknown said...

Look at the big picture. The earth will not end yet in a billion of years from now. The sun will still rise. It will take billions of years for the sun to be so hot to flood the entire south east Asia. I admit that there are many obvious mistakes in the li kuan yew regime. If it was wrong, what are the solutions to make it right? Li kuan yew is calculated to naturally die without foul play. When he is gone, I guess the next hand picked successors he chose will not be as powerful as him. Then, we can now place controls on who will be leader. The leader need to vacate his powerful posts with a time limit to protect himself and the entire public. If li kuan yew is one of the four elements, water, wind. Fire and earth. He is like strong fire helped by his cronies the wind but strong fire li evaporated all the water. This case it didnt work. Without water, earth will not have a job to hold water. Without water, the fire can not be extinguished.

Anonymous said...

You are right. Politics is at best a scatty business. The entire Pap team in parliament all joined a winning team and will switch to whichever team is winning or simply pack up and leave the country. None of them have the shared experiences or dangers that Lee Sr has had with Devan Nair, Rajar atam, Goh KS and Toh Chin Chye.

I wonder how many of our current millionaire ministers or all of them have parked their assets and have vacation homes overseas? Even their offsprings attend colleges overseas on scholarships. Perhaps this is the reason why Lee Jr does not want to reveal their assets publicly for fear of not only the obscene amount of loot they have stashed but where they have parked it.

Unknown said...

Disgusting li kuan yew won Moscow award. Li kuan yew hosts the annual tanjong pagar tree planting ceremony. However, he didn't solve the flooding problem

Tom Troven said...

Dear Gopalan,

[ I am from Denmark and lived in Singapore from 1998 to 2000, an unpolitical expat party life back then, but anyway I know the place. Nowadays a visit 2-3 times a year. Thanks for your insightful blog. Thanks for doing at least something. ]

I don't think, S'pore will collapse anytime soon. I can't judge closely if they have a brain drain. But for sure, they have super-amitious parents pushing their kids to learn, much stronger than any average European or American. (Asian immigrants outperform the latter at all the Ivy League universities as far es I hear).

The main thing I noticed during my past visits:

They bring in such a huge amount of people as PRs, the island won't get deserted. The statistics tell, but you don't have to look at them, you can feel the hyperurbanization from just a few years ago. Gone are the last remains of “kampung spirit”, now its just a mad, bustling place...

Anyway, what they bring in as new Permanent Residents were (what Europeans call) “good immigrants” aka “rich immigrants”. Some from Europe, more from the middle east, and probably even more from Indonesia (as far as I read, black investment money from Jakarta has been a main system pillar in the past...).

Singapore will stay a tax evasion haven, but still, those rich people will pay „a lot“ of personal taxes compared to average Jon Doe, hence make Singapore's Finances even stronger.

With that in mind, I rather see Singapore heading towards the business modell of a „swiss ski resort town“ or cote azur, that is: zero brains, zero academics, but enough people with money popping in to pay in small change whatever a town needs, including all the marble and glitter on high street...

Of course, to be realistic and fair, Singapore remains strong in various tech and even creative industries. Plus the special and unique income factor harbor remains... but there might come an econimc „cote azur“ factor in by 20%-30% adding to Singpore's economic “life”.

Local people (i.e. Students) won't revolt, just because the truth is out there. The truth is out even clearer in Europe or the US: We have eavedropping, total-surveillance governments, a highly questionable police and justice system that favors white and rich people, government agencies who evidently torture and abduct.

All of that gets written openly, as for Europe even in the most-read media. People read it, people buy a coffee, people go to work. Do you see anyone seriously protest and revolt beyond a handful of rights activists, nerds or a too-weak part of the black community?

Dim-witted, barely legitimate politicans won't change that, either. George W. Bush and Sylvio Berlusconi spend long times in service. And got reelected.

Worldwide democracy is on the retreat, as you may have watched the series of “reforms” and “security laws” in Hungary and the UK.

I only see people sharing cat videos or queueing up for the new iPhone8.

Apparently it doesn't take a “Straits Times” to bore people's political interest to death...

Gopalan Nair said...

To Tom Troven,

You claim to be from Denmark. this may or may not be true. The Singapore government following the China government practice has created a cyber brigade, essentially to attack Singapore's critics anonymously. On the other hand you may truly be from Denmark, one will never know.

Anyhow to your comment. I disagree that Singapore will continue the way it has once Lee senior dies. It is a dictatorship without any popularly elected real leaders on the ground and as with dictatorships around the world, Singapore is no different.

Perhaps you have not heard that as long as 10 years ago, the outflow of emigrants were as much as 1,000 a year. For a tiny island of just 1.5 million local born citizens this is intolerable. Today, the outflow of people is perhaps twice that number. The government refuses to release the latest emigration figures.

As for the rest of your comment, I have no issue.