On March 28, ANU will give an honorary doctorate to former Singaporean PM Lee Kuan Yew. I have rather mixed feelings about this. True, he presided over significant growth from 1959-90 (Singapore is now richer than New Zealand). But his regime was a pretty autocratic one, described by the Polity democracy-raters in the following terms:
Political Participation: Restricted Competition (2)
There are more than 20 registered parties in Singapore but they are all overshadowed by the PAP. With the exception of a brief period of competitive politics between 1963 and 1965, the political landscape has been characterized by PAP hegemony. In addition to the marginalization of opposition political parties in Singapore, public dissent against PAP dominance has been minimal. The weakness of civil society combined with PAP control of the media and intimidation of opposition viewpoints has produced a classic illiberal democracy. Opposition parities and interest groups are tolerated so long as they do not threaten the position and role of the ruling regime. The PPP Government has long used the country’s liable laws to economically punish those individuals who dare to speak out against the county’s political leadership. While Prime Minister Goh initially promised a greater degree of pluralism than permitted by his predecessor, very little has changed in the past decade. Just as under Lee, Goh tolerates opposition so long as it is constructive and non-combative. In early 2001 the first opposition rally outside an election period was held in Singapore for the first time in the country’s history. Over 2,000 people turned out to raise funds for veteran opposition leader JB Jeyaretnam. Mr. Jeyaretnam was facing bankruptcy which, if declared, would automatically lead to him losing his seat in the National Assembly.
Lee Kuan Yew also abolished trial by jury, and incarcerated one opposition MP for 32 years. Singapore certainly isn’t as bad as China on the democracy front, but I hope the ceremony doesn’t gloss over his political record when talking about the many good things he’s done for his country’s standard of living.