When people say Singapore is undemocratic, we shouldn't defend it or get all defensive. We should agree. "Yes it's undemocratic. There's no freedom. You won't like it here. Don't come. But it's ok for tourists. Just don't come here and try to get a job."
When they ask, "is it true chewing gum is banned in Singapore?" Say yes.
Then say, "can you imagine a place that doesn't allow chewing gum? It's inhumane! You can't possibly live in a place that doesn't allow chewing gum! That's like a Basic Human Right!"
If they ask if it's true that there is no press freedom in Singapore? Say yes. All you read in the Straits Times is how good the SG government is. Instead of how horrible the US government is, like what a truly free press should be doing. In the US.
If they ask, is it true that the media in Singapore is controlled by the government, answer truthfully. Say yes. Tell the Americans that Rush Limbaugh would be sued or arrested in Singapore if he'd said things about the government like he does in the US. Tell them Fox News would be sued until they close down. If they were even able get a license to operate in Singapore in the first place. Tell them Megyn Kelly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and their ilk would not go a week without being sued for slander, defamation, and/or arrested for sedition eventually.
[For Singaporeans not familiar with the US news "personalities" mentioned above, they are sort of like Amos Yee... except they get paid to spew their vitriol and stupidity on TV/Radio/Social media ... And they don't get arrested because, well, America.]
If they say Singapore has no freedom of expression, agree with them! There are just too many examples and evidence of our intolerance of alternative views and perspectives - scholar strolling naked in the street, performance artists drinking their own urine, snipping their pubic hair in public (or is it their public hair in pubic?), 'tubers (potato?) not mourning LKY's death and in fact insulting him and Christianity. We have laws to protect racial and religious harmony which is just an excuse to limit freedom of expression. We would never have allowed a magazine like Charlie Hebdo in Singapore with those laws!
Speaking of Charlie Hebdo, we are in awe of the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression that is practised in a matured democracy like France. Just two days after Charlie Hebdo, the news media, during their live coverage of another terrorist attack at a supermarket, revealed the location of 6 persons hiding from the gunman. If the gunman had been watching the news on TV, he would have learned that there were people hiding from him and either killed them or take them hostage (to be killed later). Now THAT is true dedication (by the news media) to freedom of the press and freedom of expression! Those 6 persons subsequently SUED the media/news station for revealing their location while they were still hiding from the gunman, while their lives were still in danger. That is an example of VERY SELFISH people who simply do not appreciate that Freedom of Expression and the Freedom of the Media are FUNDAMENTAL (emphasis on "mental") Freedoms for which sacrifices have to be made! They should gladly have given their lives for such Freedoms, just like the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. They should simply accept that the media was doing their jobs and exercising their God-given Freedoms, and if their lives were lost, it is a VERY SMALL PRICE to pay for FUNDAMENTAL (again, emphasis on "mental") Freedoms.
Suing the Media for the exercise of Media Freedom is JUST NOT DONE in a democracy!
Speaking of lawsuits...
If they say, Lee Kuan Yew was a dictator, say, yes he was. But not a very good one. Other dictators kill their opponents, or their opponents "disappear", never to be seen again, and never to cause the dictators any further trouble. You know what LKY did? He SUED his opponents. Like some legal nerd. Oh yes, he talked tough - like knuckledusters and hatchets in his bag - but has anyone ever seen this fictional hatchet? Has anyone ever seen him whip out the ole hatchet or knuckleduster?
Heck we don't even have bareknuckle brawls in Parliament like in Taiwan! Now THAT'S a democracy! Apparently, if you are serious about your democracy, you must be wiling to put up your fists and literally fight for your point of view. And if the other side doesn't see your point of view, just hit him over the head a few times until he sees your point of view. Or stars. It is the democratic way!
Look at all these examples: Greece, South Korea, even Alabama, USA! We should be emulating these democracies! Although, it seems Taiwan is closer to emulating the WWE rather than Democracy. (At least, according to one online news media. The problem with Freedom of Expression is the media can print anything - true or not - and we won't know. If it's fake and we believe it, and we find out and we confront the media, they'll just say it was a spoof piece and we are idiots for believing them. Which is a GREAT argument for freedom of the press: It helps us separate the idiots from the rest of us in a matured democracy!)
When it came to the exercise of dictatorial powers, LKY was a wimp. Lawsuits and legal solutions instead of extra-legal solutions (like C-4). So yes. If they say, LKY was a dictator, say, "Yes he was, but please don't mention it again. He is kind of embarrassing as a dictator. In fact, we understand his membership in the Dictator's club has been suspended as he has not killed or disappeared any political opponents for years! Or ever!"
[Note: some may say, but he did "disappear" people under the ISA, and detention without trial. Please! Those people were NOT "disappeared". Their friends and families KNEW that they had been taken by the ISD, and they even knew what the trumped-up charges against those so-called dissidents were. Their families knew the government had them. True "disappeared" people just disappear, with no word as to their whereabouts, no explanation, and the government would ensure that they had "plausible deniability" and deny all knowledge of the whereabouts or welfare of the "disappeared". Chia Thye Poh was detained under the ISA for 32 years. People KNEW he had been detained under the ISA. He did not "disappear". ]
One political opponent - J. B. Jeyaretnam - was sued as many as 13 times (by my count, it might be more) by Lee and other PAP members. I mean what kind of lousy dictator sues his opponents? You sue him, you win, he pays, but then he can return and attack you again! A proper dictator would take the fella to the backroom, there would be a muffled gunshot and next thing you know, there will be a letter from the opponent from Phuket or Chiangmai saying, "for reasons of my health, I have decided to retire from politics. Goodbye and thanks for all the fishhead!"
If they say, Singapore does not have parliamentary democracy because effectively, it is a one-party state, again, agree. Disagreeing simply shows that you are deluded. Say, "Yes. Singapore does not have TRUE two-party democracy where power oscillates between Republican/Democrats, Liberals/Conservatives, or two ideological extremes and government gets gridlocked, or bills get watered down, compromised, hijacked, diverted, subverted, converted, or even inverted, if they even get passed. Where politics is an endless cycle of thesis-antithesis, thesis-antithesis without EVER coming to synthesis; where the game of democracy is more important than the function of government; where people UNDERSTAND that having the ability and means of Choosing a Government is more important that having a functional/functioning government, because with democracy, if the current government doesn't function, you simply wait, and get to choose another one in a few years time (probably as dysfunctional, but hey, it would just be an incentive for you to vote again in the next election! And again! That's what democracy is all about.) And you have the wonderful opportunity to argue about the merits of Big Government and Small Government, without realising that you should be arguing for GOOD government. But at least you have the choice between Big Inefficient Government, and Small, Corrupt Government like a true Democracy."
Just ask the Philippines.
Singapore only has ONE party (albeit competent, efficient, clean, focused government - which is the ONLY reason it has managed to survive 50 years without a TRUE democracy.) Singapore obviously has a lot to learn from a TRUE, matured democracy like the US - to learn to NOT pass laws, to learn to SELL political influence to campaign donors, to give CORPORATIONS the right to buy politicians, to campaign campaign campaign for their entire term in office to get another term (so they can campaign campaign campaign). Singapore's Government actually tries to WORK to improve the lives of citizens. The PAP is soooo politically naive, it's embarrassing! From 1965 to 2013, they ACTUALLY improve Singapore's per capita GDP by 12 times (i.e. 1200%)! It is NOT right for a democracy to be so... Capitalistic! So Mercenary! So-so-so... EFFICIENT and Effective! A True Democracy should be more... inefficient. Preferably, less effective! Like the US.
Take Healthcare for example. A TRUE democracy consults everyone as to what is best for everyone, so that is why the US healthcare costs the US 17% of their GDP in 2009. (Note: "Everyone" includes the Medical Industry, the Pharmaceutical Industrial, the Healthcare Industry, the State Government, and maybe, if they have time, the public, who are the users of the healthcare system. A.K.A. the "rube".) Singapore, in contrast, is not a TRUE democracy so the Government efficiently, and effectively but UNDEMOCRATICALLY spends only 4% of our GDP on healthcare. The embarrassing thing is with just 4% of GDP spending, Singapore still does better than the US, the True Democracy. It's embarrassing, I tell you.
[Comparison of Healthcare Costs and Efficiency by Countries.]
With Lee Kuan Yew's passing, the same old same-old uncritical, superficial, ideological, idealistic, armchair critiques of LKY and Singapore has resurfaced.
Like Singapore banned Chewing Gum. And with that act, the country is irredeemably lost. Really, if the critic of Singapore has nothing better to indict Singapore than that we banned Chewing Gum, it's best not to argue with such a small mind. Offer him a banana, and back away slowly.
Other critiques are a little more substantial, but presumptive, biased, and ideologically-inflexible, and culturally and historically conflated. If you have a few years, argue with the person. It's good exercise - gets your heart rate and blood pressure up. Makes you feel alive.
But really, what is the point of arguing with such people?
You could ask them to come see for themselves, and they would say, "I could NEVER visit a place with so little freedom!"
Then good. Singapore is too crowded anyway.
Calvin Cheng wrote a piece defending SG and LKY against criticism that SG sacrificed fundamental civil liberties in pursuit of economic success. This is perhaps the gist of what he wrote:
Freedom is being able to walk on the streets unmolested in the wee hours in the morning, to be able to leave one’s door open and not fear that one would be burgled. Freedom is the woman who can ride buses and trains alone; freedom is not having to avoid certain subway stations after night falls. Freedom is knowing our children can go to school without fear of drugs, or being mowed down by some insane person with a gun. Freedom is knowing that we are not bound by our class, our race, our religion, and we can excel for the individuals that we are – the freedom to accomplish. Freedom is living in one of the least corrupt societies in the world, knowing that our ability to get things done is not going to be limited by our ability to pay someone. Freedom is fresh air and clean streets, because nothing is more inimical to our liberty of movement than being trapped at home because of suffocating smog.Donald Low rebutted Cheng's piece - pointing out that those examples of "Freedom" were actually examples of security. "That only by conflating 'Security' with 'Freedom' can Cheng claim that there was no trade-off of Freedom for Economic success."
Erudite, that Donald Low (he is after all the Associate Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy).
But the distinction is only of semantic value.
We can argue whether one is necessary for the other, or if one without the other is meaningless, or if conflating one with the other is intellectually honest.
Semantics, and good for Philosophy 101.
This is Real Life. It was what LKY dealt with. And the real life issues people have are security issues. Those are more pertinent, more germane, and had a real impact on their quality of life. Abstract ideas like Freedoms were for philosophers, ideologues, and academics to argue.
For Lee Kuan Yew, the question is always, what does it mean to your life to have freedom or security. And the pragmatic answer is always, I need to feel safe, I need to feel secure.
Calvin Cheng's answer may not be academically correct, may have conflated "security"with "freedom".
The freedom he wrote about are the "freedoms" Singaporeans understand and enjoy.
As for "trade-offs", again Cheng is correct. There were no trade-offs. There is a trade-off only if one values the intangible, the academic, the insubstantial, the impractical ideal. We are a practical people. This may be an insult from some perspective. From our perspective it is simply descriptive. Perhaps because we are a practical people.
So it comes down to values. The western critics trying to impose their values on Singapore, arrogantly assuming that there were some trade-offs. We just don't even realise what we have traded off.
It is what Lee Kuan Yew was fighting against:
"...to tell people not to foist their system indiscriminately on societies in which it will not work."We do not need to defend Singapore or our ways or our values. It is what it is. We do not seek to foist our ways, our values. We are not that arrogant.
We simply need to understand that our success is.. an inconvenience.
It is inconvenient to Malaysia (for example) because our meritocracy was more effective than their race-based politics.
It is inconvenient to Western democracies because our modified, hybridised democracy (or hobbled democracy, or bastardised democracy) succeeded so much better than their Pure/True Democracy, and so they need to find some flaw, some fault, some way we had "cheated" to get ahead. They needed an explanation, not for our success, but for their failure, for pure Democracy's inability to deliver.
Once we understand that, we can smile when some erudite scholar points out the bastardised democracy that we practice, agree with him, and leave.
It was inconvenient for his critics to see almost half a million people queue up for hours just to pay their last respects to someone they deemed unworthy of respect, whom some call monster, dictator, and tyrant. Such a display of respect if not affection was contrary to what they would have expected if LKY was all those things they believe him to be.
It was inconvenient to hear that people still joined the queue despite being told how long the wait would be.
It was inconvenient to hear stories of selflessness and sharing, and community action, to hear that businesses of their own accord provided refreshments for those in the queue. This would not be if the people were forced to pay their respects.
It was inconvenient to hear that people had to be stopped from joining the queue when the queue was too long.
It was inconvenient to see the hundreds of thousands of people who lined the streets in a tropical thunderstorm to salute LKY as his cortege passed. And just as inconvenient to hear what they were chanting.
So they HAVE to believe that it was staged. That people were forced or compelled to queue up, or line the streets in a thunderstorm. Or chant his name. They have to believe that it was all faked so that they can cling onto their silly little conspiracy theory. They may even need to believe that the storm was arranged to show the world how much Singapore and Singaporeans respected her founding father. Or if people freely did all this, it was some version of the "Stockholm Syndrome" that caused LKY's "victims" (i.e. Singapore Citizens) to identify with their captor.
It was inconvenient for his critics to see global statesmen like Henry Kissinger eulogise LKY. I mean, you can explain the "victim's" actions as coercion or Stockholm Syndrome, but someone like Henry Kissinger?
It was inconvenient for his critics to see New Zealand, Australia, and India mourn his passing officially. Why would these countries do this? For a dictator-monster-tyrant? Of a small island-city-state?
There will be those who will believe what they want to believe, because they need to believe the world is how they think it should be (instead of seeing it for what it is). They will believe that LKY is a tyrant-dictator regardless of the facts you present. They will have some way of interpreting the facts you present that will accord with their faith.
But if you were one of the 450,000 who queued to pay your last respect to LKY as he lay in state, you will know why you did so. If you lined the streets for his cortege to pass, were drenched in the storm, chanted his name, and stood in solidarity with other Singaporeans, you know why you did so, why you didn't change your mind when it started to rain. And nothing an armchair ideologue, who doesn't believe anything that he can't pull out of his arse, says will change what you know.
Similarly, nothing you say can change what they believe MUST be true of Singapore and LKY.
We value the practical and we are pragmatic. There is nothing to gain by engaging in debate with an ideologue (and they are all ideologues).
So smile. Give him a banana. And back away slowly and unthreateningly.
See also "Democracy First!"
And "Freedoms, Liberties, and Democracy".