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Dynastic Meritocracy vs Meritocratic Dynasty?

By Law Kim Hwee

Back in Jan 1999, William Safire, he with the sharp pen, asked late Mr Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) pointedly about nepotism: ”Would your son be Deputy Prime Minister if he were not your son?” He snaps: ”If he were not my son, he would be the Prime Minister. He came up faster than any of the others, but I told him it would do him no good.”

Mr Safire helpfully concluded, ‘The scion must await his time.’

Fast forward to Apr 2016, the subject has morphed from ‘nepotism’ to one of ‘dynasty’ and what was, at most, an impolite question has mutated into an outright accusation of “the power that be wants to establish a dynasty”. And in place of pensmith William Safire, we have a daughter denied her right by her Mainstream Media (MSM) editors to express her deceased father’s wishes the way she felt best suited. Perhaps, she was reacting to being publicly insulted that ‘reading (her) unedited writings was like sailing through a fog’.

Regardless, 70% of Singaporean voters (at least on) 11 Sep 2015 confirmed LKY’s claim of his son’s right to premiership was more than correct. Now, LKY is no longer here to discuss nepotistic or dynastic politics – which he was expressly dead against.

Still, the queasy overhang of nepotism or dynasty persists. It is indeed ironical that it should be his own daughter, his last-days caregiver who should raise the matter anew and so publicly. Then again, perhaps, she must know more than anyone else of what may well be lurking around the corner – or behind close doors, among cold-calculating minds in conference.

It is very fortunate for us that Dr Lee Wei Ling has insisted that she always ‘try [sic] to stick by the truth’. That’s because it’s only when we know the truth that the truth will set us free. Good on her. Good for us. Good for Singapore.

Back to the lurking unease of possible dynasty establishment. In his brotherly, sad, if rebuking response, PM Lee Hsien Loong took a strong stand in reply to the dynasty accusation;

‘The idea that I should wish to establish a dynasty makes even less sense. Meritocracy is a fundamental value of our society, and neither I, the People's Action Party (PAP), nor the Singapore public would tolerate any such attempt.’

A very strong denial to a clearly libellous statement levelled at him personally. But we have still yet to hear of Dr Lee receiving a letter from Davinder Singh even as she has taken down her offending Facebook revelation.

Since the Singapore education system and mainstream media reporting have hardwired us to think and believe – from seeing the legal actions successfully prosecuted in our own courts over hints and insinuations against the personal integrity of our leaders past and present – any non-action can only leave us wondering about the truth of dynasty.

We can understand that elder brother prosecuting against younger sister is not a Confucian thing. But Singapore’s interest is paramount. Therefore, we hope that at the very least PM Lee will send a lawyer’s cease and desist letter to sister Wei Ling and to demand an unequivocal apology. Via Facebook will do. No need to feed Straits Times any ad dollar.

Thereafter, since it’s family, he and Singaporeans can then close the case – and (do his favourite thing when something screws up bad) move on.

Would that not be the best course of action for him and, hence, the best outcome not just for him but also for Singapore’s reputation for by-the-book treatment and rule of law?

Dynastic Meritocracy vs Meritocratic Dynasty

On the other hand, if no action is taken, two questions will arise; is there some truth in the accusation and do double standards in the prosecution of libel exist (one for non-family, one for family…by ‘family’, we mean also ‘PAP family’)?

It would then also be reasonable for us to examine further PM Lee’s response, anew and more closely.

‘The idea that I should wish to establish a dynasty makes even less sense. Meritocracy is a fundamental value of our society, and neither I, the PAP, nor the Singapore public would tolerate any such attempt.’

We can agree that PM Lee has very strongly denied any ‘wish to establish a dynasty’. But that’s different from giving a categorical undertaking that none of his children will ever be part of the PAP ruling elite group going forward.

That should be no surprise. As recent as Dec 2014, PM Lee revealed that “his four children are, ‘at the moment’, not interested to enter politics”.

‘At the moment’…very interesting, isn’t it? Déjà vu? Perhaps. Like Senior Lee once telling Junior Lee. And now, Junior Lee repeating to Junior Junior Lee that “it would do him no good”. So, another scion must again await his time?

Regardless, I do believe that discrimination must not apply either way. Just as non-relatives or strangers should not be discriminated against in any consideration for a position, so blood relations or friends should also not be discriminated against. Who is best suited for a job is what matters i.e. meritocratic consideration should prevail.

Clearly, PM Lee has definitely not rule out, nor rule in, any of his children joining politics. But if any does, he/she is expected to, like him be able to – and be seen to – rise up faster than any of the others.

So, there can be no doubt that meritocracy continues to be alive and be above all else, including dynastic ambitions going forward with regard to any family in politics. That cannot but be a good thing for Singapore.

Still, to outsiders looking in, it’ll be hard to tell, if a long, long time to come in a Singapore far far away, whether Singaporeans continue be hardwired to just cannot tell if we are living in a Dynastic Meritocracy or a Meritocratic Dynasty.

The prognosis is not good. From what we see of the self-serving elites thrown up by Singapore meritocracy (all thanks and praise to the PAP), there are no eternal ideologies, no eternal heresies, only eternal self-interests.

Mr Ngiam Tong Dow is absolutely right. “When you raise ministers’ salaries to the point that they’re earning millions of dollar, every minister — no matter how much he wants to turn up and tell Hsien Loong off or whatever — will hesitate when he thinks of his million-dollar salary. Even if he wants to do it, his wife will stop him.”

Proof? PAP has ‘achieved’ perfect self-interest (they see it as perfect governance}; no minister or top civil servant has had to resign whether it’s a fearsome, if limping, terrorist who escaped or the occasional NSFer dying or a teenage committing suicide or 2 MRT trainees killed or when 8 innocent citizens who put their trust in our health workers lost their lives (those responsible were not even named, now, that’s real progress!).

Dynastic Meritocracy or Meritocratic Dynasty which? Can that be a good thing – come SG100?

Mr Law also blogs at 2econdsight.wordpress.com