Lee Kuan Yew
On 23 March 2015, Lee Kuan Yew the first Prime Minister of Singapore and former leader of the ruling People’s Action Party died at the age of 91.
There was an out-pour of condolences and grief’s from the leaders around the world for a man who was termed by US President Obama as “a true giant of history” and “…one of the great strategists of Asian affairs”. While the Chinese President Xi Jinping described him as an “old friend of China”, the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi described him as “…far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders”.
It was not only the leaders but the media as well as representatives of international capital who all were seen outpouring their grief that too for a man who was at the helm of a country just half the size of London and having a population of around 5.5 million.
Lee was not only a Prime minister of a country but was seen as the flag bearer of neo-liberalism. Lee and his party the Peoples’ Action Party(PAP) had enthusiastically adopted market-based reforms on neo-liberal lines. On Lee Kuan Yew the works of Fredrick Hayek played an important role in reinforcing his beliefs about the free market. Hayek arguably the leading intellectual figure in neo-liberal thought. According to Lee, Hayek’s book “The Fatal Conceit: Errors of Socialism” expressed with clarity and authority what I had long felt but was unable to express, namely the unwisdom of powerful intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, when they believed that a powerful brain can devise a better system and ring more…(quoted from the book — The East Asian Challenge for Democracy, Daniel A. Bell, Chenyang Li, Cambridge University Press).
So it was inevitable that on his death, there was a virtually a clamour to pay respect to a man who was “instrumental in transforming the country from a colonial trading post to an independent, thriving city state” (Singapore Straits Times). World over Singapore model has become a veritable solution for development and Lee its poster boy. In fact after the fall of Soviet Union and East European one party system, Singapore was touted as the model to follow. It is another issue that wherever the model (or its variant) was implemented it led to disaster instead of development. The international media in fact even coined the term Lee Kuan Yew ism. From Malawi to Andhra Pradesh leaders and ministers flocked to this punitive city state to learn about development. The current Prime Minister had on more than one occasion praised Lee and his “strong leadership” and “strong” leaders like Modi will always like to wield the same amount of unchallenged authority like Lee.
Yet behind all the glitters of Singapore and its leader there lays the other dark side – a facet conveniently ignored by the Imperialist powers and the corporate controlled Media. Since its declaration of independence as a city state On August 9, 1965, the new state and its leader, since beginning had no other way but to make the country a hub for attracting international capital, at any cost. These meant to have a law that completely helped the international capital, a cheap workforce, a government solely dedicated to the well being of the capitalists that kept the population under control through strict law and workforce under its thumb via a titular Trade Union organisation the National Trade Union Congress. In this venture Lee got full support from the imperialist powers and later by the revisionists of Chinese and Soviet brand.
The Singapore model is based on access to unlimited supplies of cheap labour and cheap capital, obtained through forced savings enforced by the government on every citizen, today every citizen has to deduct 40% of their income to a forced savings scheme, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) on which the Government pays an abysmally low rate of interest. The US economist Paul Krugman had predicted that this model will reach its limits pretty quickly. However Singapore, unlike China which is approaching its labour force limit, has the advantage of being a relatively small city economy surrounded by economically backward South Asian and South East Asian countries having large amounts of surplus labour that acts as a reservoir for cheap labour on which the economy sustains and grows. The Singapore government also keeps its model going by allowing employers to have almost unlimited supplies from this reserve army of labour. For many, if not most of these foreign workers, often heavily in debt to agents and middlemen, conditions constitute a modern form of slavery. Without a minimum wage, this supply of cheap labour undermines Singaporeans’ own job security and wages.
According to the opposition leader Mr. Kenneth Jeyaretnam, “The Government owns 80% of the land that it compulsorily acquired, or rather expropriated, at prices well below market in the 1960s and 1970s. It controls the supply of housing in the same way. Money in the CPF can be used to buy overpriced housing from the Government monopoly. People can also buy private property but due to the artificial shortage of land this is out of the reach of most Singaporeans. While the ruling party, the PAP, claims that 87% of people own their own homes this is a fiction. In reality 10% own their own freehold homes that they can buy and sell without restriction with all the burdens that attach to freedom. 87% of our population are on 99-year leasehold in tower blocks built on land owned by the government. Singapore’s form of apartheid, the Ethnic Integration Act, determines where you can live according to a racial quota. If you are a member of an ethnic minority you may find that you can only sell your unit to another member of the same race at a discount to what you could obtain if you sold it to the majority Chinese. This is a clear restriction of the free market and a basic human rights infringement. Giving the overwhelming majority of the population no choice but to live in leasehold public housing, allows the PAP to intimidate voters.”
Not only exploitation of labour abounds in this tiny glittering island, away from the media glare and the imperialist stranglehold international human rights organisation, have never raise even an eyebrow on the gross human rights abuse and corruption in the country. In fact Lee is one of the founders of crony-capitalism in the world, favouring a tiny elite hierarchy empowering his ministers and top public officers from any law. Singapore today has probably the most well-knit system akin to the Chinese Mandarin, converting the city to that of modern aristocrats (capitalists) and bureaucrats. The height of cronyism can be gauged from the statement made by the opposition leader Jeyaretnam “The Government makes a surplus of $30 billion a year and has supposed reserves net of debt of around $400 billion. Yet Singaporeans are denied the most basic information about the state of the reserves and the Government Budget is a model of opacity. While Western think tanks rate Singapore as corruption-free, Singapore’s system is rife with conflicts of interest and cronyism. PM Lee, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, has never held a job in the private sector and clearly would never have been PM but for his father. The Prime Minister’s wife is CEO of Temasek while the PM is Chairman of GIC. The Government says it is not in the public interest for Singaporeans to know what the PM’s wife is paid. Many MPs from the ruling party are on the board of or head up Government-owned or –linked companies, as are members of the PM’s family and his wife’s family.”
The estimate of wealth and salary that Lee and his family received is considered a state secret and any one found dissenting is punished severely.
In the 1980s Lee had the then Member of Parliament from the opposition Workers’ Party J B Jeyaretnam, loose his seat and also become bankrupt by filing defamation suit against him. This tactics the first family has used with impunity against any opposition and stifling the voice of dissent. Recently Roy Ngerng, a blogger was sued for defamation for alleging the Prime Minister’s involvement in the massive mismanagement of state retirement funds (CPF).
In fact immediately as the death was announced simultaneously all protest were banned in the country. A 17 year young boy named Amos Yee, has been jailed for posting anti-Lee video. His fate is still awaited.
Since 1959 the man whom the neo-liberal regime and imperialists loved had been silencing the voice of democracy and dissent, but the signs of crumbling fortress are becoming more and more visible, feeble though it may be but voice of protest is growing against the Lee “model”.