Everything but a democrat: LKY in memory


Did autocrat Lee Kuan Yew really need to lock up soft-spoken Dr Chia Thye Poh for 32 years?

Kua Kia Soong, Free Malaysia Today

What I appreciate most about LKY is his choice of the unexpected response. Thus, when he was asked what he thought was the most important technological innovation by humankind, he answered: “Air-conditioning”.

Allow me then to give an atypical evaluation of LKY’s achievements. We have read and seen the gushing tributes to LKY for making Singapore what it is today. He was, of course, all of these … except he was no democrat.

The Malaysian Prime Minister seems to have picked up the wrong lessons from Lee, for soon after going to pay his respects to LKY, he confidently justified the use of the Sedition Act 1948 and other draconian laws by echoing Lee, saying “…there is no such thing as complete freedom to say or do as one pleases … we can’t be apologetic to some people who accuse us of being undemocratic. There is no complete freedom for anyone.”

Najib Razak also touched on the Prevention of Terrorism Act, saying it too was necessary to reduce crime and curb the spread of extremist groups such as Islamic State. This was straight out of LKY’s quotable quote of 1986: “We have to lock up people, without trial, whether they are communists, whether they are language chauvinists, whether they are religious extremists. If you don’t do that, the country would be in ruins.”

In fact, LKY used to say that Singapore will only have the ISA as long as Malaysia still uses the Internal Security Act. Surprisingly, squeaky clean Singapore has not kept its word to its own citizens and still clings on to the ISA even though Malaysia has repealed this draconian law, albeit “transformed” under different guises, viz. Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, Prevention of Crime Act and now the proposed Prevention of Terrorism Act.

But to be fair to LKY, his party never claimed to be a “Democratic” Party, only an “Action” Party. Boy, did he know a thing or two about swift action! The same cannot be said for Malaysia’s Democratic Action Party. In his tribute to LKY, the DAP Adviser Dr. Chen Man Hin said: “Lee will always be remembered as a great leader, who not only upheld democracy, but was an icon both in Singapore and the region for the progress he brought…”

The DAP’s deputy CM of Penang and former socialist Dr. P Ramasamy also paid to tribute to LKY. However Dr Ramasamy was not so much interested in LKY’s democratic legacy as in name dropping about his “encounter with a legend” and how the great man had helped him in his academic career in Singapore!

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng likewise praised and spoke in awe of the late LKY, describing Lee as a “moderniser par excellence” although he deftly avoided mentioning LKY’s record on democracy. I have not seen any comment from the DAP’s de facto leader Lim Kit Siang on Lee’s passing but I would be most interested in his assessment of LKY’s record as a “democrat”.