While There Is A Furore Over Xi’s Scrapping of Term Limits, LHL’s Decision to Cling to Power Passes Almost Unnoticed
Over the weekend Chinese state media announced (see the WSJ article here) that China’s Party Congress would consider a proposal to scrap the two-term Presidential limit that was introduced after Mao’s death in 1976.
China’s Parliament, like Singapore’s, is a rubber-stamping exercise for the Executive. Both countries also have a judiciary that is just an executive arm. Singapore’s Court of Appeal said openly that their role was to greenlight the executive when they removed Singaporeans’ right to sue the Government over constitutional breaches by saying I had no locus standii over the IMF suit.
The presidency is purely ceremonial but the WSJ said it also suggests “Mr. Xi will try to flout party retirement norms and stay on as the party’s general secretary—the true source of his authority—beyond 2022.”
There are more than passing similarities with Singapore, which LKY deliberately modelled on a Communist state while gulling Western think tanks who should know better or were corruptly bought off into trumpeting Singapore as a paragon of economic freedom.
There are of course no term limits on Prime Ministerial rule in Singapore which is in many ways even more authoritarian than China since it concentrates power in the hands of one Familee. The excesses of the Mao era, which directly or indirectly led to some 60 million deaths during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution (giving Mao the dubious title of the greatest mass murderer in history, surpassing Hitler and Stalin) led his successors to impose term limits in an effort to keep power shared by an oligarchy rather than concentrated in one man.
Paying lip service to term limits, LKY stepped down in 1990, handing over the PM role to the Holy Goh, but with the clear understanding that the Son would succeed the Father, which he did in 2004. While ostensibly stepping down. LKY awarded himself the title of Senior Minister, with a multi-million dollar salary, and remained the real power behind the throne, as demonstrated when Goh declined to refer the clear case of open corruption that was the Nassim Jade scandal to CPIB. LKY was still wheeled out when necessary to scare Singaporeans and turn the tide against my dad at Cheng San in 1997 and like Xi, his trite and moronic ramblings were collected by dutiful state media sycophants and published as rare pearls of wisdom. LKY of course achieved what Xi is unlikely to achieve and had well-paid Western bootlickers and superannuated politicians publish his shockingly racist and eugenicist thoughts, which a New York Times journalist rightly described as the proof of a second-rate intellect.
Now it appears that Lee Hsien Loong is not content even with wielding power behind the throne and giving the appearance of retirement, like his dad, no matter how transparently fake. Previously it seemed to be more or less an axiom for Singaporeans that LHL would step down on his 70th birthday, on the basis of an interview he gave when he turned 60 in 2012. That would of course be in 2022, which I think the majority of Singaporeans, who top the global PISA tests for maths and science, can work out for themselves even without the benefit of the formidable mental maths ability demonstrated by Cambridge graduate BG Chan Chun Sing (see here). State media sycophant Elgin Toh has floated the idea in the State Times that there is no harm in LHL staying on past 70 as many global leaders have headed governments in their 70s and even till 80 (see my article “Will He Stay or Will He Go“). The ostensible reason is that the 4th Generation leaders are not ready or have not chosen a leader among themselves. Even given the fact that Chan Chun Sing has demonstrated that years of reading his own propaganda has rotted his brain as thoroughly as syphilis used to do before antibiotics were discovered, this sounds like hogwash to me.
The frightening thing is that LHL’s decision to stay on, presumably until another member of the Familee is ready to take over, has passed unnoticed in Singapore and almost without demur. This contrasts with China where even in their tightly controlled internet space netizens were not scared to put up images of Winnie the Pooh dressed in royal garb. Singaporeans would be much too scared to do the same after Amos Yee, a 16 year old, was persecuted for mocking LKY to the point where he was forced to seek asylum in the US.
Chinese commentators have also been remarking on the fact that the heady feeling of absolute power has already led Xi to make some bad decisions, such as banning the use of coal for heating to clear the air around Beijing which led to many rural households freezing. His mistakes have not yet reached the scale of Mao’s but it is early days yet. In Singapore the absolute power of one man has led to many bad decisions, such as the one-child population policy (driven more by racism and unscientific eugenics) and the unrestricted foreign labour policy, which have not been publicly questioned but to some extent reversed.
In a quote that could have been about Singapore, Steve Tsang,director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said (in the WSJ article) “Xi Jinping has basically surrounded himself with yes-men… As Mr. Xi continues accumulating power, it becomes even harder for his lieutenants to push back.”
Despite LHL’s hypocritical claims not to want yes-men, this describes the situation in Singapore perfectly. Unfortunately Singaporeans are too busy desperately trying to be noticed so that they can be picked to be the next yes-men (and women) to complain.