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Thursday, February 15, 2007

About Safire's Article

About Safire’s Article

I refer to the essay by William Safire. While in principle I agree with what he says, I'd like to add the following:

· Lee likes to say that he doesn't have to be a dictator when he can win hands down. But Singaporeans know that he had a total monopoly in Parliament from 1965 till 1981 when Mr Jeyaretnam broke this monopoly by winning one seat. If things had taken their normal democratic course, today there would be a dozen parties and a lot more opposition in parliament. But no, Lee went out of his way to viciously cut Jeyaretnam down with libel suits, etc. The result: democracy nipped in the bud with bulldozers.

"I said the law has been on the statutes for the last 50 years. If everybody just turns up at a busy junction at lunchtime and makes a speech and runs around ... there would be pandemonium. We are not that kind of society."

· The truth is otherwise. In both Chee's speeches, the audience was orderly, polite and silent. There wasn't the slightest disorder. Don't we trust us Singaporeans?

Joseph Nye, head of Harvard's Kennedy School, suggested that Singapore set aside a place like London's old Hyde Park Corner where people gather to hear speakers sound off freely. Lee promises: "We'll probably do it."

· Chances are that when one is established, it will be inconvenient to get to, the crowd will be intimidated by 'special' photographers and the speeches recorded for future libel suits.

...... Since 1992 he has been campaigning. And now, because he has lost, and lost badly in an open, free election, one to one against one of our candidates, ....

· One can hardly say that Chee lost fairly. He was holding a full-time job in a Town Council, as well as running a political party with few resources, not much manpower and no money. In contrast, his opponent had a well-paid government job with much fewer demands, so he could campaign for most of the two years while Dr Chee was busy. Also, the PAP candidate had the Block Residents' Committees and District Citizens' Consultative Committees and other grassroot organisations working for him. And with the the usual upgrading promises to threaten voters and the delineation of Macpherson Constituency so cunningly zoned to include largely PAP-loyal districts, Chee actually did amazingly well (rather than lost badly) to score 31% of the votes!

".... he's had exposure on television, which was disastrous for him because he was caught out lying and fibbing and fabricating evidence on a health care paper ... "

· Dr Chee practically produced the healthcare report single-handedly, making one or two statistical errors. The more astute Singaporean knows what the Straits Times and local media is like in making mountains out of molehills and missing the larger picture. They blew his 'mistakes' totally out of proportion; one can only ask what about the hundreds of facts, figures, insights and ideas which he got right that we never got to hear about?

... obviously a free press bothers him plenty. "We do not own the [Singapore] press, as they do in Malaysia. Nobody is allowed to own more than 3 percent of the shares. The management of the press is in the hands of our four big banks."

· Note that the Chairman of the press monopoly is an ex-PAP minister, the CEO of the only paper is reported to be an ex-Internal Security Department Director and the only TV station is government owned and run.

"There are seven or eight parties that contested the last elections. They lost because they cannot produce an alternative more attractive to the electorate than us. Look: nobody in his right mind believes that we rigged elections."

· The opposition parties lost for more reasons than just being unable to offer an alternative. Just consider the permitted campaigning time for the elections - the minimum few weeks under the Constitution. The PAP, meanwhile, controls the media and campaigns year-round with active grassroots organisations, etc. Then, there is a certain amount of gerrymandering, a series of 'upgrading' threats, libel suits and the list goes on. Plus the fear of being sacked like Dr Chee, or sued like Tang... it doesn't take much to stop most sensible Singaporeans from going near an opposition party.

As one of the legion not in his right mind, I asked: How about free labour unions? "Nothing to stop them from forming independent labour unions. But they can't succeed, because the unions who are with us produce more results."

· All I can say is that Lee has a very short memory about how in the 60's he went about systematically destroying most of the independent labour unions with the Internal Security Act.

The determinedly irreplaceable Lee Kuan Yew is the world's most intelligent, and to some most likable despot. In our one hour's talk, he offered insights about China to be reported in a future column, ....

· How did LKY become a China 'expert'? First, he used the country's reserves to 'buy' influence. Like when he visited Corazon Aquino when she became President of the Philippines. He sweetened his welcome with millions of dollars in aid money when we could ill afford it, with unemployment high and wages low and reserves minimal. But he did get a big welcome with the cheque.
To meet the Chinese leadership, he also brought investments. US$30 billion of our reserves sunk in the Suzhou Industrial Park bought him intimate audiences with the top Chinese leadership, including Jiang Zemin. That makes him an instant China 'expert', so when the Western political leadership sees that LKY gets to talk to Jiang, THEY in turn want to talk to him. Not so difficult to become a China 'expert' after all.

· To conclude, isn't it unusual that LKY is chairman of the Government Investment Corporation with total say as to how the money is 'invested' when even PM Goh Chok Tong is not on the board.