Lee Kuan Yew, Dictator or Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-man?

Right now I’m reading the memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of independent Singapore and politician extraordinaire. He took control of the country in 1965 when independence was declared and only relinquished power–sort of–in the late nineties. Nearly thirty years as a single party dictator, but the world loved him.

He and his party, the People’s Activist Party, or PAP, controlled the country for decades–and still do. Some people have tried to create an atmosphere where dissent and opposition could thrive, but they fail due to the great grip on the media and on criticism controlled by the regime.

I do not intend to criticize Singapore’s leaders. They’ve done a swell job of moving the country from third world undeveloped to first world developed. They fought off the Communists–after using them to come to power–and created a non-Communist, independent Singapore, which, if you read Lee’s memoirs, was the point the whole time. This may not be the case, but Lee states it at least once every two chapters.

I’m only half way through the first volume–both of which land in the six hundred page territory–but I have found the reading interesting. It’s a good break from my writing. And it’s actually research for my writing. I’m trying to understand the politics of Singapore, something that I’ve never had to do as I’ve only pushed the edges of the envelope of research and never spent more than a few weeks at a time in the city state.

And what have I found? That Singapore is as autocratic and controlling as any other state in the region. And perhaps the country most similar–in my mind–is Cambodia. Both countries offered ostensibly free elections over the years, though it was understood if you voted for someone else, there may be repercussions. Both Lee and Hun Sen (Cambodia’s prime minister) created an environment where dissent is unaccepted. Either by imprisoning or banishing or illegalizing or disappearing the opposition.

But I get ahead of myself. There are single party countries all over the map. China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, North Korea, etc. I don’t mean to criticize these parties, but except for perhaps Singapore and China, the one party system doesn’t work. And why does it work in Singapore? Because of the strict rules set out, and the educational goals established, that restricted the behaviour of the people. From the rules against spitting, corporal punishment, and an artificial nationalism, Singapore’s government has decided its path clearly from the beginning.

China, though, seems more of an accident founded on population. They would have faltered or failed long ago if they didn’t have the population to depress prices and thus provide a low wage working class. This in turn enriched those who owned the companies and they in turn got richer through corruption. (China internet wall, please censor me.) And corruption is a disease best served at another meal.

I admittedly don’t have much to say about Lee Kuan Yew as a leader, though it surprised me when I learned he died in 2015–I must have been totally out of world affairs that year. Probably struggling to get sober, or to stay drunk. I’m not sure which. But that’s what craziness does. It destroys brain cells. .  .or is that alcoholism? Anyway, more insights into Singapore as I discover them.





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