By Ranga Kalansooriya –
In a frequently telecasting political commercial, popular singer Santhush Weeraman attempts draw parallels with Malaysia and Singapore on the argument of development. His logic, though never said in direct terms, is seem to be that a longer duration in power is necessary for a sustainable development like in Malaysia and Singapore.
Good argument, but in an entirely different context, and easily be counter-productive as well. Of course, both Mahathir Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew ruled their respective countries for many years guiding their nations to prosper, but can we draw parallels with Sri Lanka?
Mahathir ruled Malaysia for 22 years since 1981. He was a charismatic leader and a man of wisdom. With strong commitment to market economic policies, Mahathir dedicated most of his tenure for attracting investment and also developing local industries. Before China came into market as a mass scale production house, it was Malaysia that produced our house-hold electronics as well as some auto mobiles. The well-read medical practitioner made his country the market leader in palm oil and rubber products as well. He always respected professionals and promoted ethnic harmony to make Malaysia – Truly Asia. After completing his mission, Mahathir said good bye to politics while many were requesting him to reconsider his decision.
Lee Kuan Yew, the father of modern Singapore, was a visionary who always wanted Singapore to be Ceylon in 1960s. His dozens of books – mainly the Singapore Story and From Third World to First – explains his vision and strategy in bringing the city-state to a strong global model predominantly in the economic development. In fact the Temasek Management Services Private Limited which is being criticized by the Rajapakse camp is one of the success stories of Lee Kuan Yew regime in early 70s which brought Singapore up in the economic ladder. In that context Maithreepala camp should be happy about the claims by Santhush to make Sri Lanka a Singapore.
On the other hand, some political analysts identify both these leaders as authoritarians that curbed multi-party democracy, press freedom and political liberalism in their respective countries. Both countries are under one-party rule since independence. Many identify both these countries as ‘Guided Democracies’ which do not practice basic values of democracy but mere name-sakes. Both state and private media houses have no room to be critical towards government – rather they should be mouth pieces of the regimes.
The main ruling parties would ensure comfortable victories at every election. Nevertheless, interestingly, both United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in Malaysia and Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) in Singapore had narrow escapes at their last respective elections. Specifically they never allowed room for defection and if anybody dared to dissent, that person would face with severe physical and political punishment. When Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim started revolting against Mahathir following the Asian economic crisis in 1997, Anwar was brutally beaten up – both physically and politically – and kept behind bars for many years. Until recent years he was on a wheelchair thanks to the ‘physical treatments’ he received. Anwar is still struggling with many court cases which were ‘doctored’ by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
Thus, there exists this popular argument that true democracy would never bring economic prosperity. Hence, I am bit confused about the message by Santhush.