Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew - Critical pieces by Washington Post

[Two of the more critical pieces by Washington Post.]


Lee Kuan Yew, the fearful visionary

By David Ignatius

March 22

BRUSSELS–Lee Kuan Yew, the man who created the modern miracle of Singapore, was one of the visionary leaders of the 20th century. But as I discovered in several conversations with him, he was also a paradoxical figure who never lost his sense of vulnerability and combativeness toward those he feared might undermine his authority.

Lee, who died March 23, impressed me when I first met him in 2001 as “probably the smartest politician I have met in more than 25 years as a journalist,” as I wrote in a 2002 column. But as respected and powerful as he was, Lee remained suspicious of critics and ready to take them to court if they challenged him or his country.

The Singapore that Lee created in his 31 years as prime minister, from 1959 to 1990, was the embodiment of the globalized economy that brought immense wealth to Asia. But Lee feared that the free-trading world he had helped build might bring instability and dissent to his ordered, prosperous Singapore. He feared the mob, in the streets or online. He was a Confucian leader, not a democrat.

I first met Lee in 2001, soon after I had become editor of the International Herald Tribune. The paper had fought a costly libel case some years before because of a story about the political rise of his son, Lee Hsien Loong, who is now prime minister. I wanted to meet Lee and make the case for free and independent journalism in the borderless world of information that was dawning in 2001.

Lee seemed to accept that the open exchange of ideas was unstoppable in the Internet world, even if he didn’t like what we wrote. “I don’t think we can stop it now,” he told me. “I don’t see any alternative. You either use the Internet or you are backward.”

I went back to see Lee the next year and pressed him on the issue of press freedom. Lee’s lawyers had just threatened to sue Bloomberg News over another article about his family. I asked Lee why he didn’t just brush off such criticism, much as George H.W. Bush might do if someone alleged that nepotism had benefited his son, George W. Bush, who was then president.

“That’s different!” Lee insisted, rejecting the comparison to the Bush family. In Singapore, allegations of favoritism or corruption were no laughing matter. “Everybody knows that if you impugn our integrity, we must clear our name. How can it be otherwise?” I pressed him why, given the wild success of Singapore, he was threatening to sue a columnist who wrote something he didn’t like.

“If he gets away, everybody gets away,” Lee replied. “More calumny is showered on us, and where do we end up?” He said that Singapore was changing, and that articles were appearing in the local press that would never have been published a few years before. But he wasn’t fully ready to relax the grip on power that had built Singapore and made it a dynamo.

Lee’s story is a reminder of the brilliance that built modern Asia — in Singapore and in China, whose leaders saw Lee as a mentor and counselor. But it also illustrates the authoritarian impulse of leaders who have seen their nations rise from ruin to prosperity and are frightened that free debate will undermine a political stability that, even to the end, they fear is fragile.

["Free Debate"? Like the free debate on the "Birther Conspiracy"? Or the innumerable attempts to scuttle the Affordable Care Act? Oh wait, that should be "Obamacare". Or the gridlocked congress? Or Sequestration? You know REAL DEMOCRACY - where everyone gets to say whatever they want to say and all views are valid because everyone has equal time regardless of whether you are arguing for evolution or creationism, or climate change or global warming, where intellectual debate consists of bringing a snowball into congress in February to dispute or debunk the idea of climate change. 

If "Free Debate" means freedom from any responsibility to think, or to provide facts, and it means to freedom to cast aspersions without evidence, where all you need is a wink and a nod so you know and I know, and sly glances are all you need as proof, no thank you.

You can keep your "free debate".]


The Post's View

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s longtime leader

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial included incorrect dates for Lee Kuan Yew’s tenure as Singapore’s prime minister. He held the post from 1959 to 1990. The following version has been updated.

By Editorial Board

March 23 (2015)

LEE KUAN Yew was the democratic world’s favorite dictator. Over the course of half a century, the Singaporean leader, who died on March 23 at the age of 91, helped propel his island city-state from a backwater British colonial trading post to one of the world’s richest countries. His counsel was sought by a succession of U.S. presidents and many other world leaders, who valued his insights about China, capitalism and what he called “Asian values.”

High among those values was a belief in strict discipline and a disregard for democracy, which Mr. Lee claimed was not suited for developing nations. As prime minister from 1959 to 1990, he created a public administration renowned for its efficiency and lack of corruption, which became the foundation of Singapore’s economic takeoff. He steered the country through independence from Britain, a painful divorce from Malaysia and multiple wars and upheavals in Southeast Asia, while forging a community from Singapore’s ethnic mix of Chinese, Malay and Indians.

But Mr. Lee also persecuted anyone who violated his hidebound notions of public order, from gum chewers to gay people, media critics and opposition political leaders. “I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial,” he told the New York Times in 2010 . One opponent, Chia Thye Poh, was imprisoned for 23 years without charge or trial beginning in 1966. More recently, opposition party leader Chee Soon Juan was bankrupted by spurious libel suits and repeatedly jailed for offenses such as speaking in public without a permit and saying that the judiciary is not independent.

[Really? Gay people are being persecuted? Cancel Pink Dot 2015!]

With his domestic media subservient, Mr. Lee frequently targeted Western news organizations that had the temerity to suggest that nepotism or dynastic politics might explain the installation of his son as prime minister in 2004 , or other appointments of family members to high positions. The International Herald Tribune, the Economist and Bloomberg News were among those hit with suits and forced to pay fines and print retractions.

None of this prevented several generations of U.S. and European leaders from seeking Mr. Lee’s counsel and offering glowing praise for his wisdom. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger has said that no world leader “has taught me more ”; former British prime minister Tony Blair called him “the smartest leader I ever met.” To be sure, Mr. Lee was shrewd in judging his giant neighbor, China, and its leaders. Beijing respected him, too, and at times he helped West and East to understand each other.

Mr. Lee was, however, demonstrably unwise about democracy in Asia. While he was touting supposedly unique Asian values incompatible with liberal Western norms, Taiwan, South Korea and Indonesia became robust democracies and prospered economically. Now Singapore’s entrenched establishment is under pressure from a generation accustomed to free expression on social media. “It’s a different generation, a different society, and politics will be different,” Prime Minister (and Lee’s son) Lee Hsien Loong told The Post’s Lally Weymouth in 2013. “We have to work in a more open way.”

[When one has to resort to untruths to support one's ideologically informed, counterfactual position, there is no need for debate. Don't turn your back. Just back out of the room.]

Arguably, Mr. Lee’s stewardship of Singapore has made it inevitable that a prosperous, globally connected society will embrace personal and political freedoms. But the country will sustain its success only if his successors abandon the dark side of his legacy.

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