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The problem with God-Kings

I’ve often said it but Singapore is one of the hardest places to discuss political commentary because of the surface of things, everything looks relatively good. Even with Covid exposing gaps in the government’s basic operations, things still look relatively good when compared to most parts of the world. It’s not just the people from the developing world of India, Vietnam, China and Bangladesh who are singing our praises. Its now reached the state where people from the advanced nations of the USA and Western Europe who look at us with the “what are you complaining about,” look whenever we, the natives imply that our native land is less than perfect. Covid death rates seem to support that. Singapore has reached a record high of 142 deaths. Everyone who dies of Covid or Covid related issues makes the news. In the USA and Western Europe, the death rate has long since become a statistic and they talk about comparing the death rate to the number of people killed in wars.

To give credit where credit is due, much of the success we enjoy is due to competent and honest government. Whilst Mr. Lee Kuan Yew did make a few mistakes a long the way, one cannot argue against the fact that he did get many things right, such as his insistence on keeping government honest. I think of the Emirati businesswoman who told me, “Singapore washes the face of the Oriental.” When it comes to things like government competence and honesty, we rank alongside the world’s best like the Scandinavian countries instead of our regional neighbours (which inevitably means we need be judged by higher standards).

There has, however, been a problem with all our past successes, which is the fact that its lead to an unhealthy political culture of “father-knows-best.” Sometime in the early 1980s, Lee Kuan Yew got his colleagues to retire in the name of “Leadership Renewal.” Instead of being the “first amongst equals” or the man who took care of the politics so that intellectuals he respected could get on with the business of nation and institution building, he rebranded as “Father-of-the-Nation,” or as a former president alluded to – “God.”

Mr. Lee became a consultant to the developing world in national development, a contributor to Forbes Magazine and “Senior Minister,” in the cabinet of his successor and later on “Minister-Mentor,” in his son’s cabinet. As old adage went, we were a very Christian nation run by the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Goh. As far as the rest of us were concerned, Mr. Lee was running the show till the day he died – let us not forget both former President Tony Tan and former Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong recalled how he told them not to come to him but to allow him to come to them because their respective offices needed to be respected.

As a “God-King,” Mr. Lee had one failing – he wasn’t a god and he died. Whilst Mr. Lee had proved effective enough, he left behind an unhealthy political culture that one can only called “deference to the God-king.”

In way, this hasn’t been much of a problem. Things were relatively smooth under his successor Mr. Goh Chok Tong and to an extent, still are. However, Mr. Lee’s status of being a “God-King,” came from his ability to deal with issues of the 1960s and 1970s,” which by his own admission were relatively simple. Our neighbours were really under developed and so there was no competition. Information was easy to control – the cost of a long-distance phone call was a luxury expense.

This isn’t the case today. Problems are more complex. Information or misinformation travels at a click of a button. Our neighbours are also rising up and the competition of investment actually exist. The problems of 2021 cannot be solved by the solutions of the 1960s “God-King.”

Yet, we have a political “God-King” culture, which implies the public has to ultimately defer to the “God-King.” I take the consistent debate on Section 377A, the section that criminalises annal sex between men. The government takes a position of keeping the law but promising not to enforce it. Our Prime Minister states “Legal Ambiguity” is best, which is runs contrary to the concept of “Rule of Law.” One merely has to rely on the benevolence of the “God-King.”

A more recent example, was the run up to the reading of the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act or “FICA.” Much was made about the ten-hour debate in parliament. However, the real debate ended up on Facebook between an academic group and the Ministry of Home Affairs, in which the Ministry stated that it was simply not possible for the bill to be abused in its current form.

Mr. Remy Choo, Director of Peter Low & Choo LLC and a qualified lawyer with over a decade of experience, underlines the key problem with the Ministry’s Facebook position – it’s non-binding. Guarantees of non-abuse through public pronouncements and Facebook pages are dependent on the integrity of the person making them.

Singapore should look at communities that have a tradition of “God Kings” as an example of how to manage a “God-King” culture.

First there was Bhutan, which was founded by a Tibetan monk called “Zhabdrung.” He was by all accounts a very brilliant man. However, he believed that he would rule forever because as per Buddhist belief, he could reincarnate and keep himself in charge. The system didn’t work and the Penlops of Trongsa had to establish the modern Bhutanese monarchy as we know it today. Bhutan’s fourth king took things even further when he imposed democracy on the population and insisted writing a clause that allowed parliament to sack the King.

A brilliant political unifier of a nation – however, failed at reincarnating to rule in perpetuity

Then, there’s the 14th Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan people in exile. As with Buddhist belief, the Dalai Lama is a “reincarnation” of successor and for centuries, ruled Tibet as a “God-King.” Whilst His Holiness (as a matter of disclosure, I am Karma Kagyud buddhist) has gained fame for his teachings in the Western world and earning the Chinese Communist party’s ire, his main achievement has been to impose democracy on the Tibetan community in exile and to remove himself from political administration.

Born to be a “God-King,” but understood dealing with God and Men were separate issues

So, here’ the point – if “God-Kings” in cultures that have venerated “God-King” for centuries are making moves to separate “God” and “King,” shouldn’t we be doing the same instead of enforcing the culture of the “God-King?”

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

yyy
READER COMMENTS BELOW

13 Responses to “The problem with God-Kings”

  • Harder Truths:

    We can forget the semantics and legalese. The reality is if they think that somehow you are a threat (like holding up a smiley) then you are doomed to a fate meant for bona-fide terrorists. Because in their eyes that is what you are.

    Your ‘crime’ does not matter. Neither do your ‘rights’. Bot hare illusive and fluid, to be used against you as and when necessary to reach the outcome already decided, rubber stamped and expidited before you eve nset foot in a Marsupial Court.

    Read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” or George Orwell’s “1984″ if you want to know what $G’s future is going to look like. Unless of course the island collapses like the Soviet Union – which is the only real possibility the Regime is trying desperately to avoid.

    Subjugation is the last refuge of the incompetent.

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  • xoxo:

    Its not a religion,its just a CULT.
    Dont mix God with the Devil.

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  • opposition dude:

    The problem with Lee Kayu is that he let all his successes get to his head. He completely forgot that the government is accountable to the very people who voted them in the first place and became arrogant, talking down to us and getting away with it time and again. He wanted to rule by fear and he succeeded but as time went on he became old and frail like any other human. Perhaps in his twilight years he realised this and didn’t talk so much or threatened/sue people so frequently anymore.

    His comeuppance came in 2011 when he threatened Aljunied to repent on the basis that he was the #1 guy on the island and people would fear him because of what he said. His plan backfired and for the first time in a long, long time the bully was shocked that his tactics didn’t work. He is now gone forever and his party has lost 2 GRCs in the last 3 elections. Just watch PAP lose more in time to come.

    Every puppy has its day. No matter how powerful you can be when you are young one day you will also grow old and die just like everyone else. And when you are gone no one fears a dead man.

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  • Yawn:

    So much boot licking. Can’t bear to read the rest of it.

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  • MarBowling:

    Great article by Tang Li.

    For Donkey Years, DAFTS May Have WORSHEEP Lee Kayu as a God-King.

    NOW, It’s CLEAR AS THE BLUE SKY IN SInKapore that at least 62.14% of SinKaporean WORSHEEP his DSon as their Goondu-King!

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  • The Real Problems are.....:

    The Real Problems SG is facing now are Unemployment & UnderEmployment.

    The older generation is clinging on to their posts thus depriving the younger generation of jobs which are supposed to made available for new entrants.

    When will the young ones be able gain experience and build their career.

    By shifting the goalpost of retirement age
    the Unemployment and UnderEmployment of our precious youth aggravates into an enigmatic social teardown.

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  • Singapore son the best critic!:

    Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, son of a court interpreter and a washerwoman from Hainan rose to become Singapore’s top civil servant and later an outspoken critic of the public service and the Government, had passed away on Thursday Aug 20, 2020). A great founding father figure, a natural aristocrat.

    In an interview with The Straits Times in 2003, Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow said Singapore is “larger than the PAP”, and talent should be allowed to spread throughout society.

    “So far, the PAP’s tactic is to put all the scholars into the civil service because it believes the way to retain political power forever is to have a monopoly on talent. But in my view, that’s a very short-term view,” he said.

    He credited the EDB for its hands-on approach to public service. “Investment promotion then was all about hard foot slogging and personal persuasion, which teaches you to be very humble and patient,” he said.

    “I learnt to be a supplicant and a professional beggar, instead of a dispenser of favours. These days, most civil servants start out administering the law(leegalese). If I had my way, every administrative officer would start his or her career in the EDB.”

    https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/ngiam-tong-dow-former-top-civil-servant-and-later-critic-dies

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  • Yawn:

    Great perspective.

    xoxo:
    Its not a religion,its just a CULT.
    Dont mix God with the Devil.

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  • Fire:

    God dont want to do, do king.

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  • Reject Foreign Interference:

    It is strange that some people who love God kings like Xi Jiping, criticize other God kings!

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  • Realistically:

    @ Tang Li

    When are you and your ilks going to face the REALITY of SINKaPOOR under the emperor without clothes?

    Just try to decipher the sombre message of the emperor without clothes preferred seat warmer, ki chiu, aka XO chai tao kuay Chan Chun Sing last October………..more pertinently the epic mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic……..resulting in 132205 cases and 183 DEATHS as of 12/10/21 (& counting)besides the miseries, sufferings, small biz closing; etc and the adverse negative impact to the economy while the emperor without clothes and his kaki’s continue to more than luxuriate in their multi-million $ pay; and that the wayang-party MPs also continue to luxuriate in the ill-gotten but legal $16k monthly MP allowances…….

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  • Xia Liu PeopleTohYi Coffeeshop:

    The Bible said that man cannot be like God. That’s what Satan tempted Eve. Satan ask Eve if she wanted to be wise and knowledgeable like God.

    There lots of Xia Liu people at center Toh yi coffeeshop near the ATM. That coffeshop is the worst and dirtiest looking one among the three along blks 19 to 18. .

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  • TangLi & monkey-king:

    Yawn:
    So much boot licking. Can’t bear to read the rest of it.

    ‘Journey to the West’ glorification on being ‘botak’?

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