Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has paid lip service to the need for more openness in apolitical system that is democratic in name but authoritarian in practice. But his deeds show that the eldest son of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew is following in his father's footsteps, with the same lack of tolerance for political dissent, open debate or free media -- essential ingredients of a functioning democ-racy.
Prime Minister Lee's ruling People's Action Party won all but two of the 84 seats in the country's parliamentary election on Saturday, the same number it held after the last vote in 2001. But its share of popular support dropped to 66.6 per cent from 75.3 per cent. In Western democracies, such a slippage in its overwhelming approval might have prompted the political leadership to reassess its policies and priorities. The fact that the small opposition parties made their greatest headway among younger voters who yearn for more political freedoms to go along with the huge economic gains of recent years ought to be a spur to modest reform. What Singapore's election result has prompted, though, is intensified harassment of political opponents.
James Gomez, whose opposition Workers' Party won a single seat, is being investigated by police for something called "criminal intimidation." His alleged crime: He incorrectly blamed the elections department (which is an arm of the prime minister's office) for losing one of his required polling forms, an accusation for which he later apologized. His real crime? The small party won 16.3 per cent of the vote, up from a mere 2.7 per cent in 2001, including a third of the ballots cast in the Prime Minister's own constituency. The leaders of another opposition party, the Singapore Democratic Party, face libel actions from both Prime Minister Lee and his father. This is an old tactic employed by the ruling party to silence critics and bankrupt political opponents, which in turn disqualifies them from holding elective office.
Lee Kuan Yew held the reins of power for more than three decades before stepping down in 1990. While his son, now 54, was being groomed for the top job, the elder Mr. Lee remained a senior minister in the cabinet of his chosen successor, Goh Chok Tong. After the younger Mr. Lee became Prime Minister in 2004, the 82-year-old family patriarch retained his considerable influence with the new title of "minister mentor." His mentoring is all too apparent.
10 May 2006