Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Singapore Sling-er

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Following the recent death of Singapore’s Premier, Lee Kuan Yew, I offer some humble insights and a critique of his achievements and legacy.


Lee Kuan Yew was a visionary,  dictator,  tactician and  shiny kingpin. He was a political force so fierce that he tamed his country men and worked his government with all the panache of a circus ringmaster cracking a whip.


Born into an affluent Chinese family, LKY was a young man going places and his first port of call was Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge. He studied Law and was admitted to the bar in the 1950’s. Having studied voraciously and feeling the pull from his homeland he thought his education would be better served (sushi-style) on Singaporeans  ( snoozing in the Oriental sunshine was the furthest thing from his mind!).


LKY was a doer and the first thing he did upon returning to Singapore ( still under British rule) was to start up his own political party and challenge the Empire. The Empire, having relinquished a great many of its colonies by that time, maintained a stiff upper lip and gave in quietly to independence. LKY was eventually sworn in as Singapore’s first prime minister in 1959.


True to his robust work ethic, he introduced urban renewal, a house building programme, greater rights for women, educational reform and industrialisation. Another initiative was the merger with the Federation of Malayasia – but it proved a bridge too far.

Growing tensions between the Chinese and Malays made Singapore’s position untenable. LKY withdrew in sadness but was ever more determined that “Singapore shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent nation, founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of the people in a most and just equal society."


However, there were seemingly impenetrable obstacles confronting LKY’s government, namely that of Singapore’s lack of resources and a limited defence capability. LKY launched a programme to transform it into a major exporter of finished goods.  He also encouraged foreign investment and and did his utmost to ensure a rising a standard of living for workers.


LKY was a skilful alchemist and changed Singapore’s fortunes. His primary focus being on prosperity and less on popularity.  With Incisive thinking and a towering ego (and no challenge from  an opposition party !) he birthed an efficiently run country  that other island nations could learn a thing or two from.

As a small islander myself now domiciled in a larger one, I admire his conviction and courage for stamping out a host of social maladies that hinder economic growth in a number of  corrupt and filth ridden colonies.


The problem I fear is that I have been spoilt and pampered by plain old human rights. I feel a society is better with them and my sensibilities recoil at the thought of  public floggings. Clean is good but I balk when it verges on an obsessive, compulsive disorder. LKY’s regime may be likened to a visit to your uncle’s home where your aunt doesn’t let you sit on the sofa for fear of creasing the cushions. Excesses can be wearing to the soul!


Sometimes "tasteful tyranny" is necessary to combat ignorance and ring in progressive change. LKY was not a man to wait for ideas to come of age  as they did in other First World democracies ((often at the cost of human life).

LKY’s “cruel to be kind” style of government reaped a rich reward. He was an unapologetic autocrat and perfectionist.  He took Singapore from Third to First world with ruthless determination and perhaps his way was the only highway.


Today, Singapore is the neat freak of the Indian Ocean and the ultimate stain removal regime. LKY waged a successful campaign on litter, grime, grease, dust, dirt, drugs, vulgarity and disrespect. Gum control is what matters here and what you put into your mouth as much as what comes out of it (spitting/profanity) is a cause for state concern. Spittle is classified as a toxic substance!

There has never been a need for a war on terror - blood and human debris are messy - and LKY would have had no truck with that.  Politeness is the order of the day and, a lack of it together with flagrant disregard of the rules will attract a public flogging. This is a society where you are named, shamed and encouraged to report discourtesy. Who wouldn’t welcome a little more civility from airport check in staff, bank tellers, shopkeepers, tax inspectors and the like?


LKY presided over a Bonsai kingdom, weeding out dissension and pruning back human rights (the ones that didn’t fit in with his ideologies!). Vibrant, out-of-the-box thinking that often gives rise to unique innovation would not be altogether comfortable in Singapore. Individualism and creativity  are a little frowned upon. Your thoughts are to be kept in check unless you have sought prior permission … think.


Singapore may shine like a cubic zirconium in Asia’s crown but this is not a pulsating, effervescent society. If there were state sponsored lobotomies then Singapore might be the market leader. However, cyclonic-turbo vacuum cleaners, shears, strimmers, electric mops, bidets and spitoons would go down a storm.


LKY was the Main Man, both feared and revered. Sweet and sour - he wasn’t everyone’s cup of (green) tea but he knew a few good tricks on how to build a country. History will remember LKY's heroic, rigid and  gum-slinging  style. Current leaders of chaos (aka third world democracies) please take note of his impressive (and shining) example.







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