When Lee Hsien Loong was questioned by the international press over the state of freedom in Singapore, he was flustered. The Singapore dictator was caught off guard by the unscripted question, and switched to denial mode:
“Why are we so repressive? The answer is we are not…Why is the political scene like that? Because that is the way Singaporeans have voted and it is an outcome of the elections.”
The impromptu answer revealed that Lee Hsien Loong is clearly aware that the oppressive techniques he has been employing is giving him a bad reputation. The unidentified reporter was then cut off from his/her questioning Pyongyang-style, and not allowed to probe further.
Despite over two decades of promising “change from within”, the Lee Hsien Loong administration continued to engage in cronyism, legalised corruptions and abusing police resources and justice avenues to punish critics.
Some may say that politically-motivated legal prosecutions has been a hallmark of the PAP administration since his father’s times, but there is a difference: Lee Hsien Loong is a lot more intolerant than his father and predecessors.
In the past, only members of the Opposition parties were “fixed”. Today, everyone, including former PAP MPs, government university academics, former senior civil servants, former diplomats, the former editor of propaganda state media Straits Times, and even Lee Hsien Loong’s own nephew have been punished.
Lee Hsien Loong is also more ruthless and authoritarian. Last year, he openly abused Parliament resources to invalidate his late father’s last will of demolishing his family house. Like a habitual liar, Lee Hsien Loong defended himself saying his family house is an equivalent to that of a national monument and demolishing it is “against national interests”.
There is said to be an unspoken social contract between the Singapore dictatorship and Singaporeans: trading economic development for freedom. In the past, Singaporeans willingly traded their freedom away so the country could see a drastic improvement in their livelihood. However, this social contract has been breached in recent years as the country sees higher inequality and a worsening quality of life.
Already ranked the most expensive city in the world five years in a row by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Lee Hsien Loong continued to increase taxes. Singaporeans were told that they need to pay more taxes and delay their CPF retirement funds because the country is seeing an ageing population. CPF Minimum Sum was nearly-tripled from S$80,000 to S$180,000, while Withdrawal Age was raised from 55 to 65 years old. The end result is having more elderly sleeping in the streets and working in low income manual labour employment like cleaners and security guards. More people are not seeing any return of the sacrifices they made, and this became a source of bitterness behind the growing anti-establishment voices in recent years.
Today, anti-PAP sentiments is gaining traction, no thanks to Lee Hsien Loong’s self-enriching policies like giving million-dollar salaries to PAP Ministers. The fall behind the PAP dictatorship seems imminent, as more people grow disillusioned with Lee Hsien Loong’s leadership. Election result-wise, there may be a long way to go, but Singapore is at least heading in the right direction, as clearly seen from Singaporeans’ admiration of Malaysia’s political tsunami last month.