Ismail Kassim: Tribute To Lee Kuan Yew – Part III

Part III: The guru that slip

If LKY had faded away three decades ago, I would have regarded him almost like a god, such was my reverence for him. Even 10 years ago I still retain much respect and admiration for him.

But in the last one decade his much admired mind seems to have decayed a little and he frittered away a little of the goodwill that he had deservedly accumulated over the years.

The Malays in particular felt that he was picking on them. In an interview with the National Geographic he expressed his doubts whether Malays were prepared to share their last loaf of bread with other races.

The same question could be posed to the non-Malays:For instance, would a Chinese Singaporean prefer to share his loaf with a Malay neighbour or with a new PRC immigrant?

Then there was of course other statements culminating in his claim that the National Pledge was only an ‘’aspiration’’ and not an‘’ideology’’.

I was outraged. My friends and I felt that somehow he seemed to be still carrying the baggage from the acrimonious days when Singapore was part of Malaysia.

The result was my article – For love of country, exercise your right to dissent – posted to NoHardFeelings memoirs at WordPress in Sept 2009. Here is an excerpt:

History is replete with examples of great leaders who overstayed and caused harm to their cause in the latter years of their rule.

One prime example is Mao Zedong, who held on to power until his death at the age of 83 in 1976. If he had faded into the background a decade or two earlier and spared China from the convulsions of the Cultural Revolution, China might today well be a superpower.

Great men make great mistakes. We must learn from history.

Back to our little island at the tip of the Malayan peninsula, Singaporeans found out in dramatic fashion on August 20 who is still in charge, the real commander-in-chief.

On that day, Lee took charge to change the course of a parliamentary debate that the government should practice what it preached in the Singapore Pledge.

He dismissed the call by NMP Viswa Sadasivan to the PAP government to live up to the ideals of the Pledge on such matters as racial equality and fair play as ‘’high faluting ideas’’ that needed to be ‘’demolished’’.

Lee must have felt that Viswa’s inspiring address that had caught the imagination of many Singaporeans represented a direct challenge to PAP rule in general and to his vision of Singapore in particular.

You do not need to have a great mind to appreciate that Lee’s idea of Singapore has since independence been premised on two contradictory principles: an outward commitment towards multiracialism and meritocracy to attract talent worldwide and an inward obsession with reinforcing Chinese dominance as a way to ensure Singapore’s survival and prosperity.

Lee has always made it known that it would be disastrous to allow the Chinese proportion of the population to fall below the current level of 76%. I am sure he would not shrink from taking any step,including importing wholesale from the Motherland, to make up for any shortfall.

Under the PAP, the non-Malay minorities pose no problem. As for the Malays, they are to be treated differently, not too harshly but not as equals also, because of their kinship ties with our close neighbours.   Just give them enough so as not to make them too unhappy.

Now that the dust is settling down from the Viswa controversy, it is perhaps timely to consider whether Lee did a service or disservice to Singapore and particularly to the government led by his son, Lee jr.

Just as many Chinese continue to revere Mao for his contributions, we too must always respect and revere Lee for all the good that he had done in building Singapore to what it is today.

If we love Singapore, however, we must not abdicate our right to dissent, even at the risk of being ‘’rubbished’’ or worse still,getting knuckle-dustered.  We must not forget the lesson from history.

Six days earlier in his National Day address to his Tanjong Pagar constituents, Lee had also aroused resentment among Malays when he made a pitch to Chinese Singaporeans to be more conciliatory towards newcomers from China.

It was something I never expected from a man whom I once regarded as the Bapak of multiracialism in pre-independent Singapore.

I sent a letter to the ST Editor, saying that ‘’many Singaporeans see it as a deliberate and – unnecessary – attempt to play the racial card on a peripheral issue.’’ It never saw daylight.

I was agitated to write another letter after Lee’s interpretation in Parliament that Article 152 of the Constitution on the special position of the Malays meant that the government had the constitutional right ‘’not to treat everybody as equal.’’ It too never saw daylight.

By reviving memories of Malaysia days when he felt his life threatened on a few occasions, Lee seemed to be using it to justify his policy of marginalizing the community in the military and security sectors.

Do you have to punish an entire community for the sins of Albar and a few Malay ultras? Is not 44 years of collective punishment long enough?

Lee obviously prefers not to remember how impatient and demanding he was when advocating for a Malaysian Malaysia and equality for all races when Singapore was in the Federation. He was certainly not prepared to wait.

Now he tells the Singapore Malays not to expect‘’equal treatment’’ instantly as the Singapore Pledge on equality for all regardless of race and religion was only an ‘’aspiration’’ and not an‘’ideology’’ and therefore would take a long time to realize.

As an example, he cited the United States experience on Black-White relations. He does not seem to appreciate that unlike the Blacks, the Malays did not come to Singapore as slaves.

What the Malays want they already enjoyed before Singapore was handed over to Lee and the PAP on a silver platter by a Malay-dominated government in Kuala Lumpur.

The starting point for the Malays is British rule,when all communities enjoyed equal rights and equal access to all sectors of public life. Malays only enjoy special arrangements with respect to their religion and customs.

For the record, I can say that many Malay Singaporeans want nothing more than equal rights – not special rights – just like what other Singaporeans, including newcomers and their children from China and elsewhere,enjoy.

To sum up, Lee is undoubtedly a great leader and all Singaporeans will have much to thank him for. I think his success is due to the interplay of four factors:

1.      Strength of character – he knows what he wants and he is willing to use any means within his reach to achieve it

2.      He runs a cadre party in which it is almost impossible for him to be overthrown

3.      He introduces a restrictive type of democracy which makes it impossible for the PAP to be overthrown through the ballot box

4.      A conducive external environment, both within and outside the region


Source: Ismail Kassim

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