23 February, 2010

The smart autocrats of Singapore & Malaysia, the two 'MM'

Dumb autocrats use the army, goon squads and guns to repress the opposition. Smart autocrats use the law courts to do it. Indonesia's Soeharto was a dumb autocrat. Singapore's MM Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia's MM Mahathir Mohamad were smart autocrats.

The Lee-Mahathir model keeps the outward facade of a functioning democracy, with elections, a parliament and supposedly independent courts. Behind it, the systems are gutted to guarantee the ruling party remains ruling.

In Singapore, where Lee's People's Action Party has been in power for 50 continuous years, the government simply sues opposition politicians for defamation. A tame court hands down ruinous damages, opponents end up in bankruptcy, jail or exile.

When a meddlesome foreigner, the deputy director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said last month that ''Singapore is the textbook example of a politically repressive state'', the government just shrugged and said: ''Singapore is a democratic state with a clean and transparent government.''

The army is in its barracks and there are no goon squads smashing through people's front doors at 3am. It's all legit, see? The foreign investors and governments play along. So what if the ruling party holds 98 per cent of the seats in parliament? It has an elected parliament, and surely that's good enough.

In Malaysia, Mahathir was never as subtle or as smooth as Lee. But Mahathir was still a smart autocrat who kept control through his puppetry of the judicial system. The pivotal moment was in 1988 when Mahathir complained that the courts were ''too independent''.

He purged the chief judicial officer, the Lord President, and suspended the five chief justices of the Supreme Court. The court system has never given any further trouble to the Barisan Nasional, or National Front, since. Together with its predecessor, the BN has ruled Malaysia continuously for 54 years.

It's infinitely smarter to use legal instruments to purge judges than to use guns against protesters. A judicial massacre makes lousy TV. You won't see one live on CNN. So it remains hidden from international view. Yet it can be every bit as repressive. So when Mahathir faced a power struggle in 1998 with his deputy prime minister and heir apparent, the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim, he naturally turned to the courts to purge his younger rival.....more here

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite true but the devil is in the details. Comparing apples and pears. http://www.oneworldtalk.freeforums.org/abuse-of-the-courts-in-malaysia-najib-not-smart-autocrat-t3155.html

February 24, 2010 7:13 AM  

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