26 Dec 2006

A Loong and winding road

Read the letter to Lee.

From OpenDemocracy
Tom Burgis
21 - 12 - 2006

A year and seventy-two nominees later, openDemocracy readers vote for and against the world's primary Bad Democrat. Tom Burgis opens the envelope.

If there is one offence that makes Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong a worthy Worst Democrat of 2006, it is the lone, corrosive idea he has peddled throughout his two decades in politics to justify his family's iron grip on the southeast Asian city-state.

The idea - which has, in one way or another, been borrowed to lend some moral bunting to some of the year's most scurrilous political acts - is pretty simple.

In a globalised world, the Lee doctrine goes, where dogs in Chicago or Brussels eat dogs Shanghai or Mumbai, there is one commodity that is simply too expensive: freedom.

Singapore therefore cannot afford democracy. Were they not so roundly marshalled, its populace would doubtless immediately down tools, slope off to the woods and indulge in all manner of unproductive behaviour. Grant them a free election and before you know it everyone's splurging the national savings on designer pets and dancing girls.

"Western-style democracy has not always delivered stable, legitimate and effective government", Lee Hsien Loong told newspaper editors - quite correctly, of course - in October 2006. With more than a whiff of sophistry, he went on to explain why this necessitates Singapore's "predictable environment", namely the dynastic rule that began when his father, Lee Kuan Yew, became Singapore's first premier in 1959. Such liberties as a "rambunctious press" or the "clever propaganda" enabled by the internet must be stamped out to ensure order and keep the cash flowing in.

It's a catchy line and has been deployed by almost all the ne'er-do-wells who have graced openDemocracy's monthly list of the men, women and institutions who have done injury to the good name of democracy.

A notorious galère

Take Kim Jong Il, North Korea's bon vivant despot. Even as Koreans starve on scraps of food aid, Kim's songun (military first) policy requires every last resource to be channelled into martial production, the banner under which the party maintains control. His defence minister explained the policy thus: "Comrades, we can live without candies, but we can't live without bullets." But the military can, we must presume, spare enough to keep the Dear Leader in choice Cognac and prime donkey, but then one would expect no less for a leader who, according to this stirring ode, descended from heaven.

Or Alexander Lukashenko, another autocrat with a nice line in rousing if rather ham-fisted musical propaganda. "Listen to daddy", trill his acolytes, "who is the master in the house." The same message was delivered less tunefully when protesters massed on the streets of Minsk to challenge Lukashenko's fraudulent victory in March's elections: keep your nose to the grindstone, or I will apply the grindstone to your nose.

And Lee's line - belied as it is by some of the bravest thinkers of the age, who point to India or Botswana, where democratic governments have slashed poverty - is wheeled out not merely by tinpot dictators, as the staggering hypocrisy with which 2006 started and ended evinces.

In January, Palestinians went to the polls to choose between Fatah, the corrupt incumbents at the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Hamas, its Islamist but more efficient rival. Ringing in their ears were the exhortations of the United States and its allies for Arab states to embrace democracy - a dream for which so many of their Iraqi brothers had so gladly laid down their lives.

When Hamas won, election observers wondered whether this was the tipping point, the moment when, like the African National Congress (ANC) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) before them, the militia would begin its transition from bloodthirsty resistance to political compromise.

They did not get to find out. Infuriated, the United States, the European Union and Israel laid siege to the PA, reducing members of the incipient government to filling the fiscal coffers by smuggling suitcases of currency into their ministries (not the direction, it's worth noting, in which cash-stuffed luggage usually travels).

The Palestinians had made one fatal error. The election was fine - the problem was the result.

It was Leeism writ large: if we the mighty few are not to jeopardise our strategic interests, you the unwashed simply cannot be left to your own devices.

Then, nearly twelve months later, with Gaza and the West Bank still in flames, Tony Blair departed an inutile EU summit to fly to Baghdad, Ankara and Ramallah to deliver another round of lectures on how to be "purer than pure" in public office.

That he made no mention of corruption, impunity or the rule of law may have had something to do with the announcement a day earlier that the UK had dropped a criminal investigation into fraud allegedly committed (who'd have thought it?) during a multi-billion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Or perhaps Blair's omission was due to the absence from his side of his trusty middle-east advisor and tennis partner Lord Levy - but then he's been terribly busy.

In any case, as the British premier spouted platitudes about safeguarding exports, the rationale was clear: justice is just too damn expensive.

It was, aptly enough, at a gathering of the global financial institutions that even those most indebted to Lee for his lesson in sophistry felt obliged to rebuke him.
The world had watched May's elections, seen opponents intimidated, dissidents chased through the courts and the media shackled, but had averted their gaze. Singapore was churning out millionaires at record rates - why shed any tears for a few woolly idealists?

But at the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in September, things were different. Even Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration hawk turned bank president, was compelled to reprimand his host when Lee went one step too far, unleashing his repressive apparatus on outlanders.

Alas, the Singapore model - waved like some map to Elysium in front of poor country governments the world over - does not look to be going anywhere fast.

That said, a fair crop of the seventy-two Bad Democracy nominees over the past year have seen their power curtailed, so we may cling to hope that receiving our shameful gong will hasten the end of the Lee era.

But then, it seems there are those who feel no shame - such as Silvio Berlusconi, the first of our Bad Democrats and entitled, as the only winner to be booted from office, to the last word, with his fabulous insight into the delusions with which the mighty prolong their power: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics", he said at the start of this year's campaign. "I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."


Anonymous said...

Hey! We won a award again, we are number one. How come the press did not report this feat. Strange

Matilah_Singapura said...

> there is one commodity that is simply too expensive: freedom.

Singapore therefore cannot afford democracy. <

Here we go once more. Democrats confusing "freedom" and "democracy", yet again.

Individual freedom is based on individual sovereignty and the right to private property

Democracy could possibly (and often does) work against freedom by usurping private property rights by the "force of the majority".

So, say I have a piece of land. It is my property, so I can do with it as I please (provided I'm not physically interfering with anyone else).

One day, someone decides that my piece of land would be a great site for a public school. However the land is not for sale.

This "political animal" whips up popular support and the majority vote to relieve me of my property.

Yes sir folks, that's how democracy works — it is the power of the mob which care sweet bugger-all for The Sovereign Individual; a mob who cannot deal rationally, and so seeks to achive its ends not by fair and free trading but by POLITICAL means.


>Were they not so roundly marshalled, its populace would doubtless immediately down tools, slope off to the woods and indulge in all manner of unproductive behaviour. Grant them a free election and before you know it everyone's splurging the national savings on designer pets and dancing girls. <

Of course there is a possibility this may occur. If you look at most "mature" democracies, you will find The State shitting all over private property rights and TAXING people to the eyeballs to pay for their "free money" welfare states.

What has ruined most "developed" countries is that the political process has trampled all over the very basic rights of humans by gradually augmenting the powers of the state, such that nearly everything is regulated: from food labelling, to where you can smoke, to what hours you may buy alcohol, the minimum amount you are to pay a worker, whether you can joke about "terrorists" etc etc.

It is not that just economic freedom which has been affected, but personal freedoms as well.

Powers of the state — especially those which trample all over individual and private property rights tend to be augmented by the democratic process.

The people can vote in anything they like, and the territorial state powers of taxation used to fund anything the rabble chooses.

The poor S'pore citizen is caught in betweeen : either the absolute "nanny-state" telling them what to do, who to be, what is right and wrong, or the democrats who favour the "rule of the mob majority" to achieve politically what can't be achieved by voluntary cooperation in a free market.

So what is the answer? My answer is MORE CAPITALISM, less politics. Singapore has no HOPE in surviving as a country if the country itself issn't returned to the private ownership of a free people.

ALL freedom begins with economic freedom. Singapore is not as economically free as, say, Hong Kong, but it certainly isn't bad either. Give credit where credit is due... the CATO Institute (cato.org) still rates Singapore as Number 2 in the world in the FREEDOM stakes.

So Singapore might "fail" in the democratic stakes, but it does alright (better than all western democracies) as far as FREEDOM goes.

So folks, you choose... DEMOCRACY or FREEDOM. Sometimes you can have both (like Switzerland — direct democracy), but most times you cannot.

Progressive democrats always forget one aspect of human nature:

Individuals like to OWN stuff.

And when there is true ownership, there is the PRIDE of ownership and the tendency of the owners to look after their stuff because if they don't, the resulting loss in value directly affects the owners.


Anonymous said...

The dictators of the World like KIM of NORTH KOREA should face the same fate as the late Saddam.......ie hang.

After Saddam, who's next for the gallows ?

Any guess ?

Hangman said...

The pariah, North Korean KIM is around because of China's double standard. China is propping up the Stalinist state - North Korea and its leader, KIM.

There will not be any nuclear standoff if China did not play this game for its own selfish reasons at the expense of world peace.
That is why our region is at high risk for war.

No use condemning N.Korea when its main sponsor can get off with 'murder'.

So, I think the dictators in China will also fit the bill besides Saddam, and Kim.

Matilah_Singapura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matilah_Singapura said...

They could have done it this way — more entertainment "impact".

The best performers in history sacrificed themselves for their audience. And the exploration of pain as a theatrical concept is always interesting.

lee hsien tau said...

There are numerous titles appropriate for this article:

Dogs bark and cats meow;
Reality of perception as dangerous as perception of reality;
Ball carrying is a no-brainer exercise;
Ex-spies shouldn't be talking economics;

Many factors can influence inflation rate
November 29, 2006
By Koo Zhi Xuan

I refer to the article, 'Fee hikes after poll: Lessons from the past?' (ST Insight, Nov 24), by Ms Chua Mui Hoong.

Ms Chua argued that 'if price hikes were severe after elections, then inflation rate should go up a year after elections. But the data shows otherwise'. This sentence betrays Ms Chua's inadequate understanding of the concept of inflation.

In the words of the late Milton Friedman, 'inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon'.

Inflation, to the monetarists, happens in an economy when the supply of money is larger than the demand for it.

Although this is still constantly being debated among economists, it does emphasise the point that many factors can influence the inflation rate.

Correspondingly, there are many ways as well to keep the inflation rate low, for example, increasing interest rates, increasing taxes, fixing the exchange rate to the gold standard.

Therefore, it is wrong to assume that just because a series of price hikes is not reflected in an increase in the inflation rate, inflationary pressures are non-existent.

Common measures of inflation, like the Consumer Price Index, should also be scrutinised carefully by observing which basket of goods and services is being used, or neglected, as a basis for comparison. They should never be taken and trusted at face value in understanding the true health of our economy.

With regard to the issue of inflation in Singapore politics, it really is insufficient for the incumbent Government, as Ms Chua suggested, to throw out figures and statistics proving that inflation has not occurred.

Moderate and stable inflation, after all, is healthy for the economy.

I believe what concerns many Singaporeans is not the issue of inflation, but why the price hikes, if deemed so necessary, are often implemented only after an election.

It is the fear of money politics which worries many Singaporeans today, and this fear, regrettably, has not been addressed.

Is the 'perception of reality', as Ms Chua suggested, dangerous? Perhaps. But similarly dangerous is the reality of the perception.

Anonymous said...

Matilah, you're hilarious. I love your sense of humour.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Egads! A fan!

(taking a deep bow)