What Lee Hsien Loong Really Means When He Talks About The Dangers of Populism
I wrote a week ago about LHL’s fake history peddling at the PAP’s NTUC Delegates’ Conference. He warned about greater political awareness and democratization leading to “deep social angst” and warned if this took root here:
“It would become impossible to govern Singapore, to make and carry out difficult decisions, or to plan for the long-term good of the nation … Confidence in Singapore would be destroyed. I think Singapore would be finished.”
This has always been the Lee father and son’s fake argument to demonize any opponent to their rule as a traitor. It was his dad’s constant theme in his attacks on my father and disgustingly continued in the infamous condolence letter LHL wrote to me and my brother after my dad’s death saying that “he sought by all means to demolish the PAP and our system of government” .
LHL continued to spread his fake version of history at the Forbes Global CEO Conference held in Singapore last week. By way of background, Forbes Media used to be owned by the Forbes family but the latter have steadily sold off most of the items collected by their father Malcolm Forbes (these include Faberge eggs and Queen Victoria’s underwear). They now own only 5% of their eponymous magazine, with the rest being held by a shadowy group of Hong Kong and Singapore investors, including the founder of Asustek Computers.
The most famous part of Forbes is of course their Billionaires List that famously angered Donald Trump by saying that he was not as wealthy as he said he was. In contrast the Lees have always been concerned not to leave any footprint that will allow people to find out what assets they own or what they are worth, LKY notoriously having abolished death duties while his wife was on life support. I have long puzzled over why Forbes and other publications always leave the Lees off their list of Asian billionaire families. Now that they are (at least partially) Singapore-owned this will undoubtedly continue though there is no smoking gun to prove the Lees’ involvement in pressure to keep their wealth private unlike in the case of UBS who dropped Singapore from its survey of global cities and purchasing power after 2011 because it had allowed unfavourable comparisons showing Singaporeans were on about the same standard of living as Muscovites or KL residents.
Not letting Singaporeans find out how much wealth he and his family have accumulated or even something as basic as how much he pays his wife is crucial to his strategy to portray himself as some kind of self-sacrificing servant of the people and to convince Singaporeans that there is no difference between his opportunities and lifestyle and those of HDB dwellers. This allows him to justify his refusal to tell us what the Government’s accumulated reserves are after 60 years of austerity and annual surpluses of as much as $40 billion going back nearly 20 years and that taxes need to go up (but not taxes on unearned income or capital or even regular income but only regressive taxes like GST).
Secure in Singaporeans’ ignorance he can make irony-free statements like “if Singaporeans feel that the system works for them, they will not vote for a political team which will pull the system down” (repeating the same false assertion he made in the condolence letter) and “such a system calls for political leaders with conviction, commitment and a belief that they are doing this for a purpose, rather than to further their own careers and make a fortune“ As Goebbels said, the oldest trick in the propaganda (or Fake News) playbook is to accuse your opponents of that of which you are guilty and LHL is merely one of the most brazen users of this technique.
As with everything else he does, LHL is just copying his dad who way back in the 1976 GE attempted to deride the Opposition by saying that they were men of no substance who even in the management of their personal fortunes had been failures, implying that they would not only be incompetent but out to enrich themselves and their families. It memorably backfired on LKY when my dad pointed out that LKY was very good at managing his own personal fortune, citing his wife’s monopoly on HDB conveyancing and his brother’s swift acquisition of a banking licence (though my father paid for stating the truth by a huge libel award which forced him to sell our family home). As long as LHL refuses to declare his family’s assets or to make public his wife’s remuneration, we have to conclude that he is just using his position to continue what his father started by demonstrating his ability to manage his personal fortune well.
LHL claims that his Government wards off populism because it focuses on meeting the basic needs of the people in housing, health and education. Firstly to satisfy basic needs is a very low bar and part of the PAP campaign to convince Singaporeans that they are lucky not to be living in one of our less affluent neighbours like Indonesia and the Philippines when our per capita income puts us above most of the developed world. The Government does not subsidise anything apart from education where there is a network of elite schools for the children of the wealthy and politically well-connected and the parents of the rest are forced into an arms race of tuition expenditure in order to compete. In contrast to the rest of the developed world Singaporeans have to pay high fees for pre-school education and compulsory schooling stops at 12 or after PSLE.
Singaporeans pay for their own healthcare and receive few to no subsidies. Instead of serving citizens our taxes go to subsidise the treatment of foreigners at Government hospitals which have been turned into profit centres for the benefit of the doctors and administrators who work there.
Since the Government has acquired more than 80% of the land in Singapore at prices that were a fraction of the market value it is not difficult to provide housing of a low standard compared to other countries on our income level but Singaporeans get a bad deal having been misled consistently by LKY and his son into believing that what they are buying is an appreciating asset rather than a rental flat with a 99 year upfront lease.
Most ordinary Singaporeans have very low expectations and do not know any better. Since he controls the media this is not difficult particularly when unflattering comparisons can be erased by putting pressure on the people responsible like his Government did with UBS and its survey showing Singaporean workers about as well off as KL workers. Meanwhile LHL ensures that his family’s wealth and even what his wife earns is a state secret.
Only today an article in the South China Morning Post came out contrasting Singaporeans’ lack of freedom with Hong Kongers. Any youngsters looking to emulate Joshua Wong would face years of corrective training followed by NS, designed to crush them or force them into exile. LHL just makes very clear that “guarding against the dangers of populism” is just a euphemism for an old-fashioned nasty dictatorship and dynastic rule.