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Sunday, February 18, 2007

RH: The Unchanging Nature of Dictatorships

From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
Subject: RH: The unchanging nature of dictatorships
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Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore
Date: 2004-09-27 20:50:59 PST


1. From mankind's earliest days, dictators are a pretty common lot.
They act and behave in almost identical fashion. First, they get into
power, some by the gun, others by trickery, yet others by legitimate
vote. However, once in power, they set about jailing opponents,
stifling dissent, muzzling the media and converting them into
mouthpieces for his adulation and worship, also subverting and
corrupting every major institution of the state in the process, then
these dictators become very, very rich by converting their influence
into affluence, enriching their family and relatives by the way, after which they ease their family, children and some necessary cronies into top jobs and finally pass on their dictatorships onto their children.

2. If that seems a description of Lee Kuan Yew, then you are right.
He falls into this description of dictators and therefore, is a
dictator and Singapore, a dictatorship. He is, in short, a common
dictator, no different from Kim Jong Il or some other common despot.

3. Dictators also rig elections, LKY no exception. For example,
Saddam held regular elections in which he won over 90% of the votes.
The question is, why should dictators bother to hold elections at all, since they rig it anyway? The reason is legitimacy. Even dictators need to give an impression of legitimate rule and not rule by fiat although one writer wrote that LKY's reign is "thinly disguised rule by decree".

4. To understand why even dictators with absolute power need
legitimacy, consider what happens when a dictator has no legitimacy.
The moment he has no legitimacy, his rule instantly becomes subject to overthrow by either the people, or more likely, those close to him and also wielding some power, since no dictator, no matter how closely he holds the reigns of power, can govern alone without assistants. If a dictator has no legitimacy, those close to him also become imbued with the right to rule, as much [or as little] as the dictator himself.

Thus, there will be much jockeying and plots to remove him and take
over power for themselves. Thus, some semblance of legitimacy or a
rubber stamp parliament such as in Singapore, is necessary for
legitimacy. The dictator thus holds elections, not so much for show or a need to fool the people and the world, but to forestall any attempts to remove him and take over themselves. Thus, legitimacy means less challenges to his rule and therefore a longer and less disturbed rule.

5. If legitimacy is the first requirement for a dictator, then
stability is the first value in a dictatorship. Almost everything is
subordinated to this need for stability. Again, there is self-interest in this for the dictator. Most societies want stability, even democracies, although in democracies, there is always the dynamic of controlled change including a total change in government. In a dictatorship, where legitimacy is the first requirement and stability the first value, the first virtue would be loyalty. Thus, dictators always hold themselves up as the embodiment of the state, and of course, everyone is expected to be loyal to the state, defending it to the death if called on. Thus, the PAP, by blurring the line between itself [the Party], and the State, thus by sleight of hand, confuses the citizens of Singapore into being loyal to it [the PAP party] by insisting on the age-old virtue of being loyal to the State.

6. If legitimacy is the first requirement of a dictatorship,
stability the first value, and loyalty the first virtue, what is the
first evil of a dictatorship? That would be change.

7. In the Singapore dictatorship, change is frowned upon. Especially
in the corridors of power. That is why all the 3 Prime Ministers
Singapore ever had are all 3 still in the Cabinet. That is why when
Goh Chok Tong took over, ostensibly and nominally, as PM, his Cabinet
was almost exactly the same as LKY's and why now, Lee Hsien Loong's
Cabinet is much the same as GCT's! Again, the reason why change is bad is that, if there is no change, there can be no dynamic that could force a change in leadership, or even policies. Thus, no-change means that all the old policies can continue, all the strictures LKY
promulgated remain in place and why there cannot even be questioning
of LKY's policies and beliefs.

8. I once read some philosophy that explained why "tradition is how
the dead control the living". Meaning that through the strictures of
tradition, all the old policies promulgated by the previous chiefs
continue to 'guide' or rather, control the living, who, by obeying
these traditions, thereby continue to be controlled by those who had
promulgated them but have passed on. Until the living breaks free of
these traditions can they then hope to redefine their lives. In
Singapore, we are all held captive to LKY's strictures and even his
son and heir, LHL, cannot break free to redefine or reshape policies.

9. Thus, change is one way to spot a dictatorship from a democracy.
This does not mean that change is necessarily and always good. It
simply means that change is a good indicator of whether a society is
free to rethink and reshape policies or whether it is rigidly bound by an old man or even one who has passed on. To conclude, you can spot a democracy from a dictatorship by whether it has the capability for change. Singapore has not and does not. So, it falls into the category of the unchanging nature of dictatorships.

Robert HO
28 Sep 04 1146