Death of a Tyrant

Special article on Singapore by Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Lee Kuan Yew was a repressive and corrupt leader of Singapore. His death will not be mourned by all those who believe in democracy and social justice. Lee came to power by courting the British and offering them an “anti-communist” alternative at a time when the Left were very influential in the labour movement and society in general. He used the mass base of non-communist socialist organisations to win his first election and then turned on them and destroyed and repressed the entire Left. Lee rebuilt his electoral support among civil servants instead. He was not shy to use internal security laws to detain activists without trial and torture his opponents. He was a master at using the corrupt courts to ban opposition politicians from running for office. Singapore was also a firm supporter of the Burmese junta.

Elections in Singapore were sham pretences in democracy with constant manipulation of the electorate, government spies in social housing blocks and the use of development budgets to keep people loyal to his People’s Action Party.

Lee Kuan Yew and his friends often boasted that Singapore had very tough anti-corruption laws, but high level government corruption occurred by legal means. His government manipulated elections in order to stay in power and then they voted themselves huge salaries. Singaporean politicians are paid more than U.S. politicians. In 2012 the present Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew’s son, Brigadier General Lee Hsien Loong, helped himself to an annual salary of $US 1.69 million. Government cronies and relatives of ruling party bosses gain wealth and influence from managing state enterprises or controlling those which were later privatised.

Lee and his cronies justified their repressive regime by claiming that it conformed to “Asian Values” and that so-called “Western” democracy was not suitable. This has been the excuse of tyrants in many Asian countries, including Thailand.

Despite the much publicised housing and social benefits system for citizens, many workers who work in this city state come from outside and are not regarded as citizens. Even workers who are citizens earn poor wages compared to top politicians, business people and the middle class. Singapore is an unequal society; it has a higher Gini Coefficient than India, Indonesia, Japan, and Western European countries.

The legal system in Singapore is extremely backward. There are laws punishing people for not flushing the toilet, chewing gum or performing oral sex, and school students and adults found guilty of petty crimes are regularly flogged.

That is the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew.