Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lee Kuan Yew Resigns

Singapore has a special place in my heart. I spent a significant amount of time growing up there, and have a lot of fond memories. It also is the reason why I take all of my civil liberties very seriously. Five years in a place that doesn't have them is enough to make you appreciate what you have, a lot. But for the sake of my fond memories, I will always find the time to criticize Singapore because, to paraphrase Baldwin, I love the place.

And inevitably this means that I've got to talk about LKY's resignation from government. On the one hand, I'm not surprised that the grand old man of Singapore is retiring. He said for many years that there was a definite point where he realized that the younger generation needed to take over, and he reiterated that on his farewell. On the other hand, I'm wondering what his departure signals.

Anyone with half a brain knows Singapore isn't a true democracy. Sure it counts its votes fairly, but all credible opposition is sued for defamation into a smoking hole. Vicious self-censorship follows. Candidates that dare run against the old statesmen are ruthlessly attacked by the local media in the name of journalistic integrity while the excesses and failures of the party stalwarts are ignored.

The PAP's support has dropped to 60% of the electorate (despite this, their system of voting rules makes it so that there are maybe 6 opposition candidates that got elected out of 90 voting members). LKY resigned after this relative electoral drubbing (considering that support for the PAP reached 90% in the 80s).

So does LKY's resignation signal that his brand of authoritarianism is coming to a slow and gradual end? Is Singapore moving towards actual accountable democracy? Or is it simply a convenient time for an octogenarian widower statesman to retire and live a quiet life?

I don't know. It's entirely unclear to me what the move symbolizes, even if it is the last of the old guard leaving power. Telling is that LKY is leaving power to his son, the face of the present political dynasty, albeit one that is nominally democratically elected. Additionally, what the PAP has done in the past in response to electoral signals like this is use its formidable majority in parliament to strong-arm through popular programs - not really democratic accountability, but some accountability nonetheless. On the other hand, Singapore has gone through a relatively slow trend of media and electoral liberalization, but whether this is from the aforementioned tendency to placate the plebs is unclear.

Time will tell.


In other news, I finished my thesis this past weekend, and am now going to spend my remaining time in Ithaca with my brother, who is currently passed out on the futon. Our contract is that I cook tasty foods and he stays amusing. It works out well.

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