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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Singapore: Comfortable Model by John Kampfner

"Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first call promising." - Cyril Connolly

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Singapore: Comfortable Model by John Kampfner

"“SINGAPORE IS QUITE SIMPLY THE MOST SUCCESSFUL SOCIETY in the history of humanity”... I am sitting in the office of Professor Kishore Mahbubani...

The views of most people I know in Singapore range from mild disapproval at the state of affairs to something a little stronger. But they do not agitate publicly. The most risqué course of action tends to be sending emails, without comment, with links to opposition activities on the internet...

Seah Chiang Nee, a veteran political commentator... wrote of a recent, tiny, rally in favour of Burma’s pro-democracy movement. “I cannot foresee 2,000 students carrying Armani handbags and iPods marching around Orchard Road throwing Molotov cocktails.”...

The appointment as Prime Minister in 2004 of Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s oldest son, was portrayed as playing well to Confucian values. “Familialism”, as it is called, or guan xi, the Chinese notion of personal relationships or connections, do not, officials say, equate to cronyism...

Lee has frequently insisted that the Singapore model is not available for export as it is applicable only to small countries or city states. In the detail, he is clearly right. Obviously no system can be ordered off the shelf. He contradicts himself, however, by making the case for “Asian values”...

Uri Gordon... likens Lee’s Asian values to Machiavelli’s virtù. “Just as Machiavelli set Roman Virtue in opposition to his contemporary Christian morality, thus Lee can be seen as having chosen Asian values for Singapore as an alternative to the West’s liberal democracy. Subduing the population to a comfortable life of self-censorship, Lee and his aides can be seen as devout disciples of the Florentine”...

What does it say about the fragility of a regime if it goes into paroxysms of fury about any old blog? Regimes on the verge of falling are often the most extreme in their response to criticism, so maybe change is on its way. It might be, but from all that I have seen such change will be confined to the private realm, and not the public. That seems to be what most people I spoke to are seeking...

Most people – Singapore citizens, international businesses, foreign governments – had a vested interest in preserving the status quo. Why else, he suggested, would Singapore have done so well for so long? For me, someone who has spent much of his career seeking to cause trouble for politicians, this was an unpalatable thought.

Even more horrifying is the thought that plenty more people around the world, irrespective of their political culture, have also been contentedly anaesthetised. Singapore may be the home of the trade-off in its purest form, but are we all more Singaporean than we realise?



I always wonder where some of these 'facts' (e.g. on familialism) come from.
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