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Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, first Prime Minister and the most influential politician of the country passed away on Monday, March 23. He was to a politician par excellence and also the closest example we’ve had to a benevolent dictator who didn’t let power corrupt him. In fact, it has often been argued that had ‘Harry’ Lee had been born in a different nation; we’d talk about him in the same breath as the most influential politicians of the planet. He helped Singapore become one of the most vibrant economies on the planet, without being too bothered about democracy, liberty and human rights. In his opinion, it was all for the greater good. Also Read - Singaporean Pleads Guilty to Spying For China on American Military And Government Employees
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had once lamented: ‘The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.’ It is often said that the wartime British PM would’ve preferred a benevolent dictatorship. A benevolent dictatorship is one where someone’s in total control and does everything that’s good for the people. It has none of the hassles of a democracy where it’s all about negotiations, perceptions and compromise. Also Read - Singapore Reports 136 New COVID-19 Cases in 24 Hours, Total Tally at 44800
Just look at how people vote? It’s usually based on superficial characteristics like ideology, religion, looks, upbringing, etc. when all we should be voting for, are better administrators. On the other hand, a benevolent dictatorship has a leader who is firm and works for the good of the people without worrying too much about criticism or public opinion. Sadly, most benevolent dictators, don’t remain benevolent. But Lee Kuan Yew, along with Josip Broz Tito and Park Chun-hee, might be one of the few exceptions.
Who was Lee Kuan Yew?
Lee is often touted as the guiding hand that transformed Singapore from a sleepy fishing village with no natural resources into one of the most successful economies in the world. And he did it with an iron fist. He once said: ‘We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.’
Born in 1923, he was the son of third-generation Chinese immigrants and graduated in law from Cambridge. The founder and first general secretary of the People’s Action Party (PAP) of Singapore, his party never lost an election. He helped forge a Singaporean identity and got the people together to build a grand nation. And he was very clear about the Western notions of freedom of expression, press freedom et al.
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He famously said: ‘Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore.’ He often contended that the West’s concept of liberty and democracy would only hinder Singapore’s growth and unlike his contemporaries in Western nations, he didn’t even have to pay lip service to human rights. He even supported corporal punishment (in fact one of my abiding memories of Singapore is the fact that you can buy canes in stationery shop), saying: ‘I have never understood why Western educationalists are so much against corporal punishment. It did my fellow students and me no harm.’
‘We were called a nanny state,’ Mr Lee once told the BBC. ‘But the result is that we are today better behaved and we live in a more agreeable place than 30 years ago.’ It’s hard to argue with that, even though a free speech fundamentalist like yours truly would probably have gotten on his wrong side.