Lee Kuan Yew
| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
“”I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today.
Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) was the first Prime Minister of Singapore and held that office from 1959 to 1990.
After he finally stepped aside, fans of chewing gum may have thought they were safe but LKY wasn't for quitting. His successor promptly appointed him as Senior Minister, a post he held until 2004 when his eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, became PM and shuffled dad into the invented post of Minister Mentor. He grumpily mentored away until 2011 and died aged 91 in 2015. In total, LKY held successive cabinet positions for
over 9000 56 years.
Singapore is a nominally democratic nation but LKY showed some of the typical traits of contemporaneous neighbouring dictators like Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Indonesia's Suharto, although he was not nearly as corrupt as the former nor as bloodthirsty as the latter.
Often citing the old chestnuts of the need to maintain
his dictatorship political stability, law and order, and racial harmony, LKY held a suffocating grip on public protests and control of the media. Hardly surprising then that it was not until 1981 that a member of the opposition finally won a seat in the Singapore parliament.
He can lay claim to the dubious record of being responsible for the incarceration of one of the longest serving political prisoners of all time. Chia Thye Poh was jailed without trial in 1966 and did not regain even partial liberty until 1990.
Under LKY's authoritarian rule, Singapore became somewhat comically known internationally for the nationwide ban on chewing gum… chew at your own peril. Corporal punishment by means of caning was (and is still) a favourite remedy for a whole range of offences from graffiti to showing a lack of public modesty. LKY deemed not flushing a public toilet worthy of a significant fine..
For a period in the 1960s and 1970s, LKY's disdain for all things western and decadent manifested itself in a law which forbade both male Singaporeans and visiting male tourists to wear their hair over their collars.
In a notable stopped clock moment in 1998 he was asked about LGBT rights and stated that it was not for him but for Singaporean society to decide. He did slightly spoil it though by adding that he did not think an "aggressive gay rights movement" would change people's minds on the issue.
LKY certainly had a penchant for using Singapore's defamation laws to sue the media and, most insidiously, his political opponents. This pattern has continued with his endorsed successors.
The Wrath of Lee was felt particularly strongly by the first elected member of the Singapore opposition and human rights lawyer, J.B. Jeyaretnam. He was first locked in 1986 up for allegedly misreporting his party's funds, a travesty which was overturned on appeal by the British Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with the unusually strong words: "Their Lordships have to record their deep disquiet that by a series of misjudgements, the appellant and his co-accused Wong, have suffered a grievous injustice. They have been fined, imprisoned and publicly disgraced for offences of which they are not guilty. The appellant, in addition, has been deprived of his seat in parliament and disqualified for a year from practising his profession". After this reprieve, the persecution of Jeyaretnam continued with numerous defamation suits resulting in his personal bankruptcy.
In 1999, the former Singaporean President (a largely ceremonial role) Devan Nair remarked in an interview in Canada that LKY's technique of suing his opponents into bankruptcy or oblivion was an abrogation of political rights. He also remarked that Lee is "an increasingly self-righteous know-all", surrounded by "department store dummies". In response to these remarks, Lee sued in the Ontario courts before withdrawing his claim after Nair counter-sued.
Lee Kuan Yew's death in 2015 was promptly commemorated by the arrest of a teenage blogger, Amos Yee. Though not charged with libel since Lee was dead, Yee was charged with "deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings" and "threatening, abusive or insulting communication".
Race and religion
LKY ensured that people of different races lived side by side in Singapore, to prevent the race riots which previously had occurred when there were ethnic enclaves.
In 2011, Wikileaks published diplomatic cables in which LKY was quoted as saying Islam was a "venomous religion". This was during a meeting with US Senator Hillary Clinton in July 2005. He responded by saying his remarks were taken out of context: "I did talk about extremist terrorists like the Jemaah Islamiyah group, and the jihadist preachers who brainwashed them. They are implacable in wanting to put down all who do not agree with them. So their Islam is a perverted version, which the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Singapore do not subscribe to".
In his book Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going, he stated that Singaporean Muslims faced difficulties in integrating because of their religion, and urged them to "be less strict on Islamic observances".
- Lee Kuan Yew, Asian statesman - obituary
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- A Persistent Opposition J. B. Jeyaretnam (1926-2008).
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- Teenage blogger who called Lee Kuan Yew a 'horrible person' is arrested by Singapore police by Lucy Clarke-Billings (Monday 30 March 2015) The Independent>
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