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The toxic legacy of Lee Kuan Yew

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"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing."

"- Malcolm X-

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When the strongman of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew(LKY), died at the age of 91 at the Singapore General hospital, the flood gates of tear jerking, sycophantic tributes opened up to torrential proportions overwhelming critical scrutiny of the man and his achievements. Obama, the President of USA, described LKY as a 'true giant of history' which is perhaps a ridiculous endorsement given the fact that his campaign promise of "Hope" and "Change" soon dwindled, during his own unremarkable presidency, to no hope and no change for most of those who voted for him.

David Cameron, the prime minister of Britain- which is less of a democracy and more of a corrupt oligarchy noted without irony "Lady Thatcher once said that there was no Prime Minister she admired more than Mr. Lee for 'the strength of his convictions, the clarity of his views, the directness of his speech and his vision of the way ahead". His gift for black humor should not be underestimated as Maggie went on a wrecking spree by breaking the working class and entrenching the financial elites on the top of illegitimate wealth pyramid.

Other sobriquets tossed in the air like confetti by the world leaders were "legendary figure in Asia"(Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations- a largely failed world body given to vacuous and long winded debates instead of stopping wars waged by its powerful member states),"great leader" (Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who presides over a zombie economy), "visionary statesman" (Ms Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, IMF under a cloud of financial scandal during her tenure as Finance Minister in former President Sarkozy's cabinet).

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The unmeasured hyperboles of the world's worthies praising the Iron Man of Singapore should not blind us to the fact that Singapore under Lee was (and still is) a brutal one party dictatorship where any opposition to his regime meant exile (if you were lucky) or a permanent guest of the notorious Changi prison (if you weren't).

But the spanner that was thrown at the nonsensical LKY hagiography was a hard hitting documentary film titled 'One Nation under Lee' which revealed LKY as a brutal despot addicted to power mongering and self aggrandizement. The film was directed by a courageous Singaporean Seelan Palay who came under the unwelcome attention of the Singapore Police who interrogated him for hours under duress. The private screening of the film was disrupted by the police and the officials of the Media Development Authority seized the video and prevented the screening.

The film charts the career of LKY who employed guile, cunning and ruthlessness to grab power. His exploits would have made a hardened political cynic like Machiavelli to blush with shame.

When the People's Action Party came to power in 1959, Lee Kuan Yew used the Internal Security Act to deadly effect. A colonial legacy from the British, Lee used ISA in 1960 to round up around 130 of his political opponents whom he could imprison indefinitely without trial. Some of the notable political opponents locked up under ISA were Lim Hock Siew (19 years), Said Zahari (17 years), and Chia ThyePoh (32 years) five years more than Nelson Mandela.

Freedom of speech and the freedom of press are actively denied by imposing fines and instituting politically motivated defamation action. Political opposition is subject to libel action for expressing any opinion against the interests of the ruling party (PAP). Some of them were also imprisoned under national security legislation. The right to lawful assembly is severely curtailed and freedom of expression in public without police permit exposes the citizen to the severe penalties of criminal action.

A human rights document titled 'Singapore: Asia's Gilded Cage', the Asia --Pacific Human Rights Network says, "Human rights violations in Singapore are rife: the country detains conscientious objectors to military service, has mandatory corporal and capital punishment for many offences, has some of the most draconian security legislation in the world (and uses it) and institutional discrimination against ethnic Malays results in their poverty and often imprisonment."[1]

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The combined onslaught on democratic rights and civil liberties of political parties opposed to PAP could be seen in the bleak political landscape of Singapore where an emasculated opposition was practically decimated paving way for the one party rule of Lee and his cohorts.

Very early in his political career Lee realized that to control the mind of the citizens he had to control the media. He took hosts of measures to close down independent press like UtusanMelayu, Nanyang Siang Pau, Singapore Monitor, Singapore Herald and the New Nation. By 1980 all the local presses came under the government controlled Singapore Press Holding. Lee also planted spies like Chua lee Hoong who was attached to the Home Ministry to be the eyes and ears of his internal security. The domination of the press was complete when The Straits Times was made a mouthpiece of the Ruling Party.

In his ruthless quest of power LKY left no stone unturned and quickly turned his attention to place pliant judges in judiciary who were docile and ready to serve the interests of the state under Lee. Explaining how seriously compromised the judges were during Lee's dictatorship, Francis T. Seow in his book 'Beyond Suspicion- the Singapore Judiciary' says that in politically sensitive cases which involved the interests of Lee and his ruling party, the Singapore judiciary has "repeatedly demonstrated a singular facility of bending over backwards to render decisions favorable to the Singapore Government and its leaders." Their judicial contortions acquired such an international notoriety that Human rights organizations like Amnesty International have sent their Legal representatives to observe the trial proceedings at first hand to see if trials were fairly conducted.

If trampling on political freedom and clamping down on the freedom of expression were not bad enough, more shocking disclosures followed which dented the anti-corruption credentials of LKY's Singapore. The Nation in its article titled 'Singapore's Blood Money-hanging drug couriers but investing with their suppliers'- disclosed the sordid details of the cozy relationship of LKY with Burmese drug lords-"The Nation has learned that the highest levels of the Singaporean government, using the New York-based Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, a subsidiary of J.P. Morgan, as a custodial operative, are engaging in joint business ventures with one of the world's most notorious drug lords and with the drug-backed military dictatorship of Burma (Myanmar). This has been confirmed by corporate, government and legal documents from four countries and was contended by high-ranking US narcotics and government officials in private interviews."[2]

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C R Sridhar is a lawyer from Bangalore,India.He writes for the Economic and Political Weekly and has contributed to the Monthly Review.He's a fan of music,movies and websites with alternative views.His writings are available at sapientpen.blogspot.in

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