I consider myself a child of the ’80s. Born in 1975, I first became conscious of the world around me in the 1980s.
Even by Singapore’s standards, there were a lot of changes in that decade. Many of these changes have gone on to become integral and fundamental to what Singapore is today.
Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) were introduced in 1988. Much of the foundation of today’s transport system were laid, with the AYE, BKE, ECP and PIE being opened throughout the decade and the MRT being officially opened in 1988 (after a soft launch in 1987 with just five stations – I still remember my dad taking me to ride the train from Ang Mo Kio on its first day!). Even the hotly-debated topic today, the Elected Presidency, was first mooted in the 1980s.
Echoes from the darker events of the ’80s still resonate today as well. The much-hated graduate mother scheme has reared its head again in the pre-campaigning for the Elected Presidency, with questions have been asked whether Dr Tony Tan had supported or opposed it. The likes of Teo Soh Lung and Vincent Cheng, as well as others involved in social enterprise Function 8, have continued to raise questions about the 1987 so-called Marxist conspiracy.
One man dominated the landscape through all these developments and events: Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He was the Prime Minister through the entire decade, stepping down only in 1990. Mr Lee’s dominance of the 1980s was all the more reinforced with the retirement of his colleagues from the First Generation leadership throughout the 1980s, starting with Toh Chin Chye in 1981, continuing with Goh Keng Swee in 1984 and culminating with S. Rajaratnam in 1988. In comparison, Mr Lee took another 21 years more to leave the Cabinet, which occurred only this May in the wake of the General Elections.
What then were the 1980s like? If we had to identify one single theme from the decade, what would it be?
Unfortunately, I would have to say: repression. The scars of the 1987 detentions lasted for 30 years; it is only in recent years, that the former detainees have felt able to tell their own stories and ask the questions that have cast such doubt on the government’s official account. The treatment of Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, the first opposition politician to win a parliamentary election in post-independence Singapore, left a sour taste, with Mr Jeyaretnam being disqualified from Parliament despite a strongly-worded judgment in his favour by the Privy Council. The actions against Mr Francis Seow sent a warning signal to other would-be dissidents, while the muzzling of the Law Society and hence the legal profession continues today.
These events from the 1980s, followed by the defamation suits in the 1990s and criminal prosecution of the civil disobedience activists in the 2000s, did much to silence dissent and instill the much-discussed climate of fear in Singapore. It is only this year, that this climate of fear has been reduced, if not dissipated.
Mr Lee was a driving force, if not the main player in the government, in all of these events. So as I looked back at the 1980s, I could not help but think of Mr Lee. He was truly a giant in Singapore’s history. Sadly, he was also the dominant figure in this repressive decade.
– This article is part of a series where contributors were asked for their personal take on who shaped the decades.
“Repression, Sir is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love – it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack. All you have to do is to dissolve organizations and societies and banish and detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil on the surface. Then an intimidated press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises, and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done, or if these things are referred to again they’re conveniently distorted and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict.”
- Lee Kuan Yew as an opposition PAP member speaking to David Marshall, Singapore Legislative Assembly, Debates, 4 October 1956
All the repression that LKY has inflicted on the citizenry for close to 50 years in order to stay in power falls short of genocide. The world is ablaze with genocide and anything not genocide is disregarded by the International community. In today’s world his offenses pale into insignificance compared with rapacious and blood thisty leaders who prey on their own people with genocide. But LKY did some awfully bad things.If he does not now shift gears, enlarging and accelerating the machinery of oppression, nothing will happen to him like what Mubarak is experiencing now. However it is sad that after giving us so much, he has taken back so much more. If he had relinquished power some 25 years back, he will truly be a hero of the people. But our collective unconscious tells us that he is not in the ranks of the great in Singapore history. There is much in his legacy that we have to dismantle if we are to survive as a Nation for another fifty years, viz extreme concentration of power in an elite group of connected persons, oppression of the citizenry by corrupt State institutions, rampant mutualism of State Institutions and commercial interests, disregard for the citizenry in pursuit of financial gain and self aggrandizement etc. There is a hidden desperate poverty in Singapore unreported in the State records and to the world in this land ruled by the culture fear.
LKY is prominent for making Singapore a haven for the whites. They don’t get charged for any serious crimes, even when involved in drugs. For treating the white man like god, the West have given their unstinting support to him so LKY has become a despot. He is the wealthiest man in the world. It is common knowledge that LEE and LEE have been kept as retainers by the huge number of MNCs in singapore. The fees alone will be equal to the GNP of a samll nation. No wonder LKY refused to leave LEE and LEE. His law firm also had the monopoly of HBD transactions. Who dared to challenge that?
With that kind of financial incentives, who would want to give it all up? That is why he will be an MP until he drops dead – he needs to keep an eye on his pie.
MY ACQUAINTANCE, MR DAVID DUCLOS, A FORMER POLICE INSPECTOR, AND HIS LAWYER FRIEND, EYEWITNESSED LEE KUAN YEW RIGGING THE 1997 CHENG SAN GRC ELECTION. READ MORE AT MY BLOG ENTITLED "I CAME, I SAW, I SOLVED IT" :