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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Singapore: The Cardinals of the Kremlin

Episode 32: The Cardinals of the Kremlin

"Can you believe the hypocrisy of Lee? He is the one who suggested and pushed for the subversives clause, and he lied about opposing it, and now he is not just campaigning as the person opposing the clause, but attacking Marshall as the champion of the clause! What an utter amoral basket.

Lee attacked the subversives clause, declaring ‘the fight is not over’ and pledging to carry the fight ‘back to London, when necessary.’ It is amazing how hypocritical Lee is. But you can see his political skill. He thoroughly outmanoeuvred Marshall in parliamentary politics...

It is one of the paradoxes of the PAP’s narrative of history that Marshall and the PAP left had almost the same outlook and the same political agenda but are depicted as polar opposites. Both Marshall and the PAP left opposed the ISC, demanded its abolition, demanded the release of political detainees, and wanted the independence of Singapore as soon as possible either on its own or with the Federation of Malay as an equal state.

But Marshall is painted with adjectives like ‘bold’, ‘principled’, ‘passionately anti-colonial’, ‘firmly anti-communist’ with a ‘firm commitment to liberal democratic values’ and ‘playing by the rules’ but at the same time ‘unrealistic’, ‘naive’; and yet the same set of policies espoused by the PAP left, with similar directness, boldness of action, and principles, is declared to be evidence of their ruthless efficiency, and an almost fanatical devotion to communism.

The history peddled by the PAP is full of flaws and contradictions like this...

When the PPSO – the law which permitted detention without trial - came up for renewal, Lee carefully contorted himself into a position that enabled him to be on both sides of the argument. He said he was in favour of it, that it was necessary because of the importance of keeping the Federation happy to enable reunification and merger. But he said he was against the law because it was in the hands of the unelected officials. He then voted against its extension.

In his response, Lim Yew Hock parodied Lee, saying: ‘This law is all right, if we operate it. This law is not all right, because the other side is operating it. We will support any such law because the situation in the Federation demands it, but we cannot support it now because it is still a semi-colonial administration that is running it.’ Lee replied, ‘it is true.’

So the PAP left were sick of Lee’s shenanigans. The party membership knew that Lee was talented and capable, but he was also following his own agenda that conflicted with the party’s...

Voting rights within the party were limited to a new class of “cadre members”, who would be chosen only by the CEC. The origin of this structure is disputed. Lee Kuan Yew says he came up with the idea on a visit to Vatican City. Toh Chin Chye says it was his idea, his suggestion.

But I think there is also another influence which neither man wanted to admit, an influence much much closer at hand. And that is the Malayan Communist Party. Remember, at this point the MCP still remained a feared opponent. Even Special Branch, for all the evidence that the MCP is broken and dysfunctional in Singapore, won’t believe their own evidence and remain convinced that somewhere out there the MCP is plotting, plotting, plotting to destroy them all. Likewise, there’s no doubt Lee and Toh are terrified of the myth of the MCP.

And Lee gives this away in his own autobiography when he says that he was learning from the communists and adopting and adapting communist techniques in how he ran the PAP. One of the examples he cited was to fix the outcome of meetings beforehand. Another, probably, was to fix the leadership of the party to ensure complete control. Why is part of the reason, I think, why he adopts the language of communism, and calls the inner circle, cadre members. It was a combination of the Cardinals and the Kremlin.

It was an action which would presage Singapore’s own future. Because the conflict between Lee and the PAP left was not just about the party. It was about the future of Singapore. It was not just about how you organise and run a party, it was also about how you would then organise and run a government.

Do you believe in debate, constructive criticism, working by consensus and committee, in transparency and accountability, and democracy? Or do you believe in authoritarianism, in the enlightened despot, in one man imposing his will on the people without checks and balances and accountability for his mistakes? That was really what this conflict was about.

And we can see how it happened, twice.

First in the PAP. Once Lee’s rivals were arrested and he had unchallenged control, he rewrote the constitution to ensure that he had total control and could never lose, no matter how wrong or misguided he was.

Then, likewise, in the government of Singapore. After independence, once Lee’s rivals were arrested and he had unchallenged control, he would rewrite the constitution to ensure that he had total control and could never lose, no matter how wrong or misguided he was.

And perhaps you can make the argument that Lee has been, overall, a positive force for Singapore. But you cannot make that same argument about his successors, who have made serious mistakes that could have been avoided through proper oversight and checks and balances. And so the system that Lee imposed has been, sadly, to Singapore’s detriment."
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