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Lee Kuan Yew: a model for the New Authoritarians or a one-off genius?

Singapore’s hugely successful economy and stable society have made it a model for a new breed of politician, keen to marry the prosperity achieved by free market, pro-business economics with the comfortable certainties of single-party rule. It is China which is most often quoted in this context. Mr Lee, who imprisoned Communists as a young prime minister, was often an advocate for Beijing, even after the Tiananmen Square Massacre and especially in its battles with Britain’s last governor Chris Patten over Hong Kong’s political system. 1976: Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew speaking to a packed lunchtime rally crowd at Fullerton Square in Singapore (AFP/Getty) In turn, many Chinese scholars have suggested that China itself is moving in a Singaporean direction, whereby greater freedoms will be allowed but only under the “guidance” of a powerful central authority. Lee Kuan Yew, Asian statesman – obituarySingapore’s Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91Lee Kuan Yew: his most memorable quotesLee Kuan Yew life in pictures “I have never believed that democracy brings progress,” Mr Lee said of the then Mr Patten’s attempts to leave a powerful elected council behind when Britain pulled out of Hong Kong.. “I know it to have brought regression. I watch it year by year, and it need not have

been thus.” 1972: Lee Kuan Yew tours the constituencies in Chinatown to thank voters for their support The Chinese comparison is not one often made by the Communist Party itself, however. Though it is undoubtedly dictatorial in many ways, Singapore’s freedoms and rule of law go beyond anything China’s current leaders dream of. Rather, it is with the collapse of the Arab Spring, coming on the back of the struggles of other post-authoritarian states from Russia to the Philippines, that Lee Kuan Yew’s priniciples have seen a resurgence in popularity. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai is an avowed fan, seeking his own personal mentorship on a regular basis. It is easy to see why, with Dubai having forged its own trading path to prosperity within a highly restrictive political and legal system in the last three decades. As other Middle East states fall into sectarian and civil strife, the strong sound of “I told you so” can be heard emanating from the Gulf. Now President Vladimir Putin of Russia is just the prime example of a number of world leaders casting themselves less as temporary and accountable representatives of their people than as semi-permanent guides shepherding an unruly flock in the direction of economic strength and national clout. A man reads a newspaper bearing the image of Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, at Raffles Place in Singapore (Reuters) Whether Singapore can really be a model for anywhere other than itself, of course, is another matter. Like Hong Kong, it is a city of a few million people, not a sprawling land-mass like Russia, China or India or the other teeming countries of developing Asia. Like Hong Kong, it was lucky enough or sensible enough to decide that many of the legal, economic and social traditions it inherited from the British Empire were so suited to its temperament as to be worth building on, rather than casting aside. Like Hong Kong, again, it prospered from a role as an outpost of Chinese entrepreneurialism when Chinese entrepreneurialism was banned in its homeland. Singapore is right to say that there was no-one like Lee Kuan Yew. There will never be another one like him – and the world might be wise to remember that too.


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