...and I have to comment! In the grand scheme of things, does any of this matter? No. Would I rather read my fascinating book on superstring theory instead? Yes. But I'll spout my own spiel anyway like this guy:
Pic via expatatlarge
Alright, it's not any old someone who said something. It's an interesting article titled "LeeKuanYew-istan Forever" in the influential Foreign Policy magazine. While the writer makes many valid points, he glosses over or does not mention certain things that are obvious to the casual observer and even makes a few outright errors.
What does he get wrong?
- Singapore's national health insurance does not provide full coverage. Certainly can't be compared to free universal medical care as available to many Europeans.
- While top-tier jobs and education may have been some of the issues underpinning voter frustration in the recent elections, I hardly think they were the main issues. These revolved more around stagnant income growth for lower and middle-income citizens in the face of inflation, rising property prices, very quick population growth over the past few years (mostly via immigration) which has stretched Singapore's transport infrastructure, boo-boos such as letting an incarcerated terrorist escape and vastly exceeding the budget for the Youth Olympic Games, the perceived arrogance of incumbent ministers and MPs, and even ministerial salaries. Also, although I have no hard data to back this up, many voters don't like the unfairness of the political system in particular (every Singaporean knows what the numbers 60% and 93% refer to) and, more generally, how the spoils of economic growth are divvied up. Many voters were able to express all these frustrations at the ballot box for the first time this year since most constituencies were contested unlike in the past. A few of these and other frustrations may have been brewing for several years, possibly since even before the GRC system was introduced. None of this finds mention in the article.
- The parliament has "three significant parties"? We had no idea! Who is the mysterious third party? Does he mean NCMPs? Also, do 6 parliamentary seats out of 87 constitute significance? Do (or will) opposition MPs have "real influence in Parliament and policymaking"?
- Singapore isn't "already attracting leading biologists and pharmaceutical talent from around the world" to its research institutes. This has been a trend for over ten years now due to long-term efforts by the government.
- Lee Kuan Yew's son is "moving to the side"? Another astounding revelation! I thought he was supposed to be coming to the fore.
- Gum-chewing has always been allowed in Singapore. Only its import is regulated. But this is a common misconception. Forgiven!
- The title is catchy and all that, and this comment is only stylistic and a wee bit pedantic but surely Khanna knows that the "istan" suffix is used exclusively by Muslim countries?
Too many errors for a publication of Foreign Policy's repute. This other short piece from Time is more perceptive and discerning, and certainly doesn't have any glaring errors.
Of course, I can take no issue with any of the praise Khanna lavishes on LKY as it is all factual and completely deserved. (As he points out, younger Singaporeans may have less of an appreciation for this though this is just a consequence of their youth.) The simplest test I apply for whether praise is deserved is, could I have even contemplated the enormity of the task ahead of me if I had been in LKY's shoes? Of course not. Even asking the question seems silly.
Some of Khanna's other points are definitely spot on too, such as Singapore's "near-perfect degree of efficiency" and penchant for long-term planning (recent unexpected flooding and stretched transport infrastructure notwithstanding). Many Singaporeans complain about inefficiency (self included!) not realising what a superbly efficient country and government we have, probably because they've never lived anywhere else. I've talked about this anecdotally myself here. We certainly don't hear of horror stories like this. However, as I said earlier, this is all pretty obvious. Saying that Singapore is efficient is about as novel as saying that ice is cold.