I am not surprised that our ex-PM Mr Lee Kuan Yew is still so popular among Singaporeans especially in a poignant occasion like our National Day Parade (NDP).
Even though he may have step off the limelight for quite a while, NDP will not be the same without him around.
There were many rumours of our fast-ailing elderly statesman entering the hospital due to serious health reason.
No Singapore Without Mr Lee Kuan Yew?
Even Presidential hopeful Mr Tan Kin Lian did not escape the limelight for putting up a tongue-in-cheek Facebook remark on our infamous statesman as rumours of him falling seriously ill took centre stage this week before NDP.
Indeed, Mr Lee still has many political rivals and fellow countrymen who preferred him dead than alive – probably adversely affected by his many controversial policies.
However, even his political critics have to sometimes bow and acknowledged his sterling efforts post-independence.
He has literally brought Singapore – a second-rate backwater kumpong fishing island to what it is today – a first-world country with admirable solid infrastructure and an enviable economy.
In fact, Singapore remains the number one destination for emigration for many professionals dwelling in nearby South East Asian countries.
Some have even commented that Singapore will not be what it is today without Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I must agreed with them on that.
His no-nonsence zeal in doing everything for the well-being of Singapore must be appreciated and that is probably why many baby boomers respected the elderly statesman even though some of his other policies sucked.
In fact, my 82-year-old mum voted for PAP all her life because of him as “He has given us a country and a home,” declared my mum.
This particular statement of course has caused much anger for some netizens who commented that the success of Singapore did not depend solely on one person.
However, I must declared that without the solid leadership of Mr Lee Kuan Yew steering the wheel of a rudderless ship then, we may not be as successful as we are now.
Mr Lee has governed Singapore with a fierce autocratic fist – elements that were crucial for survival then.
If he relaxed and listened to his critics too much then, the whole country will go into a tailspin of which there is no return.
He needs to seize every opportunity that presented itself and even created fresh new ones so that the whole country could prosper and forge forward.
There is nothing for us to be proud of – no land, minerals and rich hinterland.
We only have our own people and that is probably why he invested alot on education and our economy.
He also has the foresight to build up a corruption-free government and introduced the controversial scholarship system of which the government has the first pick of the top brains within the country.
Love Or Hate Him
Mr Lee is probably also someone whom you both love and hate.
To stay in power, he introduced the infamous Internal Security Act (ISA) which allowed the state to imprison political rivals without the need for a trial.
Those who stood against his party for election when he was still prime minister were routinely persecuted, sued and some were even driven away in exile abroad.
Names like Francis Seow, Chee Soon Juan and JB Jeyeretnam came to mind and soon our respect for the statesman turned to fear.
You want to respect a statesman for what he has done, for who he is and not to fear him when you step on his toes because of the fierce reprisals.
The fear of losing power is so strong in the former prime minister that this was reflected in Parliament when there were less than five opposition Members of Parliament (MP) at any one time during his reign.
Most of the time, there were only two – Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr JB Jeyeretnam.
The political dominance was difficult for the next two prime ministers Mr Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Hsein Loong to let go as the system became very ingrained into the current governance now.
Thus, the loss of the first-ever GRC last year to Workers’ Party must has felt like a stab wound to the ailing statesman as many critics have commented that the GRC system was meant to intentionally deter opposition parties from contesting in the election as it was tough to gather 4 to 5 like-minded men to contest in a single GRC.
Losing the first one meant that the GRC system is no longer effective in maintaining the status quo for the ruling party.
It will be interesting to see whether the ruling party will dismantle the GRC system as with the current tide changing, it will definitely benefit the opposition parties keen on bringing in a few candidates into Parliament with one single victory at the polls.
PAP – dominating politics for past decades
Under the rule of Mr Lee, Singapore probably has took a serious big step backward politically when it decided to turn so savagely against political opposition parties declaring their members as dissidents and enemies of the state.
Its almost political suicide and those who entered opposition politics then were declared as heroes and martyrs.
The controlled press continued their political role by painting the government as a saviour of the country and poured accolades on them for decades.
For twenty over years, PAP enjoyed unrivalled political success at the polls - unfortunately not due chiefly to their successful governance but many Singaporeans were fearful of putting themselves up for election because of severe reprisals after that.
Many seats were returned unchallenged during elections.
In fact, shockingly, I was rejected by two government-linked companies for employment weeks prior to the general election as the management didn’t want to offend the government.
News of me joining politics in GE 2011 has reached the ears of most Singaporeans by then and it was not surprising to see government-linked companies not keen to hire a opposition party candidate to work in their companies.
Politically, I must said that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has not helped Singaporeans much as we are still paralysed by our democratic-in-name governance.
Though we must salute the former prime minister for bringing Singapore to where it is today – we are still light years away from being a true-blue democratic country with proper human rights and a free press.
His prime minister son – Mr Lee Hsein Loong does not help the country by governing much the same way as his father abeit less hard-hitting and toxic.
For once, during the last election, no political candidates were sued or manhandled in any way and we must thank the current prime minister for the saving grace.
Many of us entered politics last year with shaking knees and daily prayers as we heard too much of the ungentlemanly reprisal of the ruling party.
However, much more can be done to loosen the political shackles and 40% of the electorate showed its displeasure by voting against the ruling party causing it to enjoy the lowest majority rule in history – 60.1%.
The alternative social media, well-read Generation Y and disillusioned baby boomers all contributed to the severe vote swing against the ruling party.
As many as 120, 000 Singaporeans swung their votes against the ruling party causing it’s majority vote to drop from 66% five years ago to 60.1% last year.
All books point to another shelling in five years’ time as a rejunevated Workers’ Party has enjoyed unprecendented success at the political front and the yearn for change is still the main ingredient that fuelled the burning fire in Singapore’s politics.
Controversial Policies of Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Mr Lee remained as controversial as he was successful and I remembered the controversial graduate mum scheme he advocated years prior to his retirement from prime ministership.
I was in my late 20s then and was somewhat flabbergasted at the suggestion.
The scheme was of course withdrawn after it was blasted both on and off the press.
That policy made me realised our former PM is rather elite in outlook and this was reflected in some of his other policies.
He fiercely defended the scholarship government scheme as he thought that the government should have the first bite of the best at the top.
Many critics have criticised the scheme as it robbed the private sector of the best talent and more over, Singaporeans now could afford their own tuition fees without any governmental intervention and the rich could be seen receiving many of the government-induced scholarships due to its’ obvious prestige.
The government scholarship scheme now is merely dished out not to reward those who could study but could not afford the tuition fees but more for those who merely wanted the recognition and are filthy rich themselves.
There were also other damaging policies he implemented which would have haunted us till today.
His stop-at-two stringent policy is one major reason why Singapore is now facing a population time-bomb that is so fast declining that the government has to bring in hundreds of thousands of foreigners to stop the rot.
Singapore has paid the ultimate price for Mr Lee’s policy blunder implemented three decades ago.
During his reign, Mr Lee has also relentlessly coveted after foreign investors and he tasked Mr Philip Yeo – then chief of EDB to bring in thousands of MNCs into our country.
He believed that MNCs would not only bring economic value to the country but also precious jobs to the population.
Slowly, we have evolved into becoming a tax-haven country for foreign invetors keen to exploit our cheap labour system and later packed off after making their millions a few years.
We saw the deadly result during the financial global crisis in 2008/9 when thousands of MNCs decided to relocate to cheaper countries such as China and Vietnam.
Singapore paid the ultimate price as tens of thosuands of our well-educated workers were displaced by foreign companies when MNCs moved their investments elsewhere.
More significantly, the over-dependence on foreign investors for economic advancement and employment means that our local businesses could not flourish and take off as well as it should be.
Government-linked companies also act as direct competitors to our local small and medium enterprises forcing many to go bust or remain small-scaled.
To appease MNCs, the government has no choice but to allow them to bring in cheaper foreign workers to continue the economic advancement.
Doing otherwise will mean economic suicide for a country that has no natural resources and foresight.
Many critics of the foreign worker policy has complained that the government is taking an economic short cut of which there is no return.
This also means that the local population will continue to bear the brunt of intense competition for jobs and low starting pay due to the mass labour over supply – even for professionals.
It is believed that the over-dependence on foreign MNCs and cheap foreign workers will make or break the government in future.
Foreign workers’ issue has remained the number one grouse for most local voters during last year GE and should continue to hog the highlights in the next GE.
There are of course no perfect policies and as Singapore is still in a celebrative mood, let us try to remember Mr Lee Kuan Yew as someone who has benefitted the country as doing otherwise will be most unfair to him.
He is after all human…
Written by: Gilbert Goh