Zakaria and Lee Kuan Yew: An Interview about Singapore

In last night’s reading about an interview involving Mr Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister of Singapore, we read about how Singapore has adapted and built itself up from nothing. In how LKY has described the solution Singapore has provided to modern problems like guns drugs, violent crime, vagrancy, and other unbecoming behavior that reflect the breakdown of society. This is best summed up as ensuring a well-ordered society so that people can enjoy their freedoms best and to the maximum. As LKY mentions, these freedoms can only best be experienced when not in a state of natural contention and anarchy. He gives the example of not interfering in the affairs of other countries but at least taking the steps domestically such as immediate drug testing of people suspected of consuming drugs. Compared to the US where it is against the rights of a person, it is done in Singapore. Such actions are oriented around ensuring the ethics of citizens and ensuring the continued survival and order of society for the future.

Next, LKY talks about maintaining social racial hegemony. So far in Singapore it has been very successful. Language-wise, Singapore has managed to unify its multi-ethnic, multi religious populace yet allow each group to retain their individuality. By having English as a first language for communication and a mother tongue, Singaporeans are able to have a dual identity – as a Singaporean and a Chinese / Malay / Tamil. For example, there exist housing policies that ensure a specific ratio of each race in Housing Development Block flats such that no racial enclaves are formed. In Group Representation Constituency election scheme, one member must be from a minority. In National Service (NS), race and religion are not a factor and fosters closer bonds between males of the different ethnic groups. There also exist race-based self help groups like Mendaki for Malays. Most importantly, under the Sedition Act 3(e)1, anyone found guilty of attempting “to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore”, “shall be liable on conviction for a first offence to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years; and any seditious publication found in the possession of that person or used in evidence at his trial shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the court directs”.

Hence, if Singapore seems to demonstrate the benefits of a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ where certain freedoms are sacrificed in exchange for stability, community, and peace with guaranteed basic freedoms, then is this an exception to the traditional vilifying of authoritarianism and deifying of democracy?

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