Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What we have in SEA is not Democracy II

My good friend HM, brilliant guy; have known him for 30 years had this comment on part 1 :

Which is not to say that "guided democracies"cannot yield decent economic success eg SG but will more frequently end up like Indo, Phil, Thai, Msia...where a very small number benefit heavily at the expense of the entire country (although not quite yet as bad as the dictatorships of Africa as pretences have to kept up...) and the inefficiencies inherent in such a system is a powerful drain on the country economically...

I think the founding fathers of Malaysia and Singapore (who are still around) have a very paternalistic view of the nation. Perhaps born out of responsibility since they were involved in the process of birthing the nation (for LKY directly involved). Their goal was to bring the young nations from the back waters to a successful country with strong economic growth. To ensure this, they needed “political stability” and a security in their own positions as leader of the nation. Hence, the legacies of the Sukarnos/Suhartos, Marcos, Kuan Yew and Mahathirs of SEA.

They had to strip away any elements of democracy that could see them losing a grip on power and so the journey to amending (read dismantling) the constitutions of their respective nations. They had to justify this by claiming a cause/struggle so that the end justified the means.

So in the 90s, we saw a boom in these economies, the “asian tigers” they called them. They were “guided democracies” which yielded decent economic success. They took pride in the fact that it was the “asian way”, Mahathir’s favourite song “My Way” and suddenly the world took notice. Books were written on the asian miracle. (The asian renaissance – Anwar Ibrahim) The sudden economic boom was in large part because of the privatization of government agencies in these countries. The government then handed over moneys to these newly privatized companies and conglomerates to provide electricity, water, build highways, monorails, airports and bridges and other mega projects. These privatized companies flourished with little accountability and good governance (except perhaps Singapore). Many little companies which spawned from these government projects became highly leveraged expecting the government payments to come shortly. Many political leaders themselves had vested interest and were proxies for these companies. Unfortunately, we know what happened in the asian financial crises and the rest is history…

In truth, if we could learn from the western democracies, it is better for government to do just that; govern. Ensure a level playing field and leave business to businesses. Maybe once the old guards, the LKYs and the Mahathirs have left and their influence no more, maybe there will be more acceptance of basic human rights and checks and balance and separation of powers and all the good stuff of democracy. Indonesia for example, after Suharto and ++ finally have their first directly elected President which now makes Indonesia the biggest Islamic democracy in the world.
Am I a hopeless optimist or what?

4 comments:

CHEAH WENG SUN said...

Go back to what han meng said. Fire in the belly man. Fire in the belly.

Wanna open this forum to the 85 er's on mailing list ? See how many dare speak up.

hm said...

Yeah, you are an incurable optimist...

In fact, for a long time I was a rather big fan of the stability that the "democracies"of SEA brought to the region - my view was that this enabled long-range planning, political stability, ptomoted the required FDI, intra-regional trade, exports blah blah. At the expense of "true" democracy, human rights, racial equality, separation of powers etc etc - but then, hey it looked like it was working fine economically speaking.

Being the true capitalist and money-minded babe-in-the-woods that I was then, if these need to be sacrificed to accelerate down the path to economic prosperity, then so be it... As history has shown, it was no more than a mirage. The "invisible hand" did need the background infrastructure to work properly and cannot be divorced for expediency...

So a more "legit" looking democracy mat not be sufficient and now we are paying the price for it... In a sense, we made our bed and now must lie in it. Again, how many of us think that we can change the world (or at least the country we are in) ?? Or is it easier to search for greener pastures elsewhere ?(SG calls these people quitters)

It may well be that the true pioneers (TAR, LKY) did behave altruistically and the structures and institutions were perverted by those who came later as "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

Govt and Business ? Do not mix...

7:47 PM

jules... said...

wah! y lik dat?

CHEAH WENG SUN said...

Think Jules wanted to sing the song 'Why you so like that' Singapore style and do a breakdance. KKK