SINGAPORE: One freak election result is all it will take to wipe out Singapore’s success in building up the city state, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew warned on Wednesday.
This could happen if voters became bored and decided to give the “vociferous opposition’ a chance - out of ‘light-heartedness, fickleness or sheer madness”.
“In five years, you can ruin this place and it’s very difficult to pick up the pieces,” the elder statesman told 650 participants of a dinner forum at the Shangri-La Hotel.
Lee was responding to a Bangladesh delegate who asked if Singapore would continue to thrive in his absence.
In his reply, Lee returned to themes he has spoken on often - the need for a system to ensure good leaders emerge, and the danger that voters plumping for more opposition MPs might end up with an unintended change of government.
Larger countries rich in resources can survive such a freak outcome, but not Singapore, he said. “When you’re Singapore and your existence depends on performance - extraordinary performance, better than your competitors - when that performance disappears because the system on which it’s been based becomes eroded, then you’ve lost everything”.
“I try to tell the younger generation that and they say the old man is playing the same record, we’ve heard it all before. I happen to know how we got here and I know how we can unscramble it.”
He said a country needed three elements to succeed. First, a government that people have confidence in and will trust when tough decisions need to be taken.
Second, leaders who are above board, who make decisions based on necessity, not how they will personally benefit. He said Singaporeans know they have such leaders because, over the years, “We have not got richer, Singapore has”.
Third and most importantly, a country needs able men in charge.
The problem with popular democracy, he said, is that during elections, candidates are not judged on how well they can govern, but on their persuasive power.
The forum, chaired by Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, was a highlight of the first World Cities Summit and International Water Week.
In his opening remarks, Lee spoke for 20 minutes off the cuff, recounting his 40 years of striving to build up Singapore’s independent water supply. He was determined that Singapore would not be totally reliant on its neighbours for water.
He also presented the first Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize to Dr Andrew Benedek, a pioneer in the field of membrane technology for water treatment.
A key outcome of several sessions held yesterday was the setting up of an informal network of 16 countries - comprising the Asean 10, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand - to share ideas and expertise on how to go about pursuing sustainable development. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network