“Araldited to the seat”

Lee Kuan Yew’s got words for those upstart youngsters who want to ruin his grand experiment with their fluffy notions of “democracy”…

His responses to questions showed that he continued to be concerned that younger Singaporeans take what has been built here for granted and ‘believe that this is a natural state of affairs, and they can take liberties with it’.

‘They think you can put it on auto-pilot. I know that is never so,’ he told correspondent Seth Mydans in the Sept 1 interview, a transcript of which was released to the media yesterday.

The Minister Mentor made those comments in the interview for this cracking NYT profile piece, which you absolutely should read if you haven’t already. It’s good to see the MM doesn’t let a few little lawsuits get in the way of his dealings with the press.

This is the fundamental tension at the heart of Singaporean politics. The country’s been run for fifty years by a bunch of iron-fisted technocrats who’ve convinced themselves that they’re the only people capable of running the country. A critical part of that mythology is that “taking liberties” with their creation would inevitably cause chaos and rioting and all that undesirable stuff. (That only happens to “them over there” in Malaysia and Indonesia and Thailand.) Spake the man, in the NYT article:

The kind of open political combat they demand would inevitably open the door to race-based politics, he said, and “our society will be ripped apart.”

The younger generation of Singaporeans know this isn’t true.

They’ve been overseas. Frequently, they’ve worked or gone to university in Australia, or the USA, or the UK – something their parents never would have imagined doing. They’ve seen that governments can work just fine with more than one party. And they’ve seen what it means for a country to have a functional opposition.

Lee Kuan Yew is 87. He freely admits that he doesn’t have much time left – but he also maintains that he’s going to stay in parliament (on a $3 million salary) until he’s lowered into the grave.

His presence in Singapore is such that there probably will not be any moves toward liberalisation while he’s still alive. But when he passes away, he’s going to leave behind a less than effective ruling party and a population that increasingly understands that one-party governments aren’t the only way to run a country. And when that happens, things could get mighty interesting.

(The post title, by the way, comes from former Aussie prime minister Paul Keating’s memorable description of his successor, John Howard, as a “little desiccated coconut… araldited to the seat”. JRE hastens to note that LKY is not a dessicated coconut.)

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