Lee Hsien Loong unanimously elected? So was Kim Jong Il

June 4, 2004
Singapore Democrats

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Unanimity is a funny word. It denotes total support or endorsement of someone or some idea. It conjures the image of accord and, better yet, the lack of strife. Surely this is a good thing. Isn’t it?

In real life, unfortunately, unanimity also means the lack of dissent. In politics, absence of dissent can mean one of two things: one, individuals are in complete agreement with each other all the time or, two, they are too afraid to express their disagreement (or have no means to do so). Scenario number one is humanly impossible.

Unanimous support for a political leader can, and often is, a sign of weakness rather than strength, insecurity rather than confidence, fearful conformity rather than intelligent diversity.

You dont think so? Here are a few examples to clear up your doubts (a la Sam Leongs Kopitiam internet forum):

PYONGYANG, October 8 (KCNA) – …great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il has been elected to be General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea…
The conferences discussed On Recommending the Great Leader of Our Party and People Comrade Kim Jong Il as General Secretary of our Party and adopted resolutions on recommending him as General Secretary of our party with unanimous approval…
As was unanimously pointed out at the conferences, Comrade Kim Jong Il is the most faithful successor to the Juche revolution, the Supreme Commander of our revolutionary armed forces and the great leader of our party and people…

In Cuba, Fidel Castro was re-elected to a sixth term as President:

Fidel Castro was re-elected by parliament Thursday afternoon to a sixth term as Cuba’s President of the Council of State, Cuba’s supreme governing body.
After re-electing parliamentary leaders, the National Assembly unanimously chose Castro, 76, to the post which he will serve until 2008. Castro was elected by the National Assembly deputies to his fifth term five years ago…

In another election a few fateful years ago, a report entitled Saddam gets perfect poll result stated that:

BAGHDAD, Iraq –Iraq has declared Saddam Hussein the winner with 100 percent of the votes in a referendum granting him another seven-year term, bringing bursts of celebratory gunfire in Baghdad’s streets…
“Our leader President Saddam Hussein, may God preserve him and look after him, has won 100 percent of the votes of eligible voters,” said Saddam’s top deputy Izzat Ibrahim, reading official results at a news conference in Baghdad. Saddam was the only candidate in the referendum…

In contrast, consider the following:

Margaret Thatcher was unceremoniously dumped as party leader and prime minister when her leadership was met with strong resistance both by Britons and Tory members,
Tony Blairs position has come under increasing threat by Labour MPs in his insistence of taking his country to war in Iraq,
Indias Sonia Gandhi declined the prime ministership when faced with widespread antipathy from the Indian people,
Primary elections in the US regular pit presidential hopefuls from within the parties against each other: most recently George W Bush vs John McCain in 2000, John Kerry versus Howard Dean in 2004,
Taiwans President Chen Shui Bian emerged as the presidential candidate for Democratic Progressive Party only after hotly contested elections within the party itself,
Germanys leader, Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder, undergoes regular and intense debate during his party conventions where support for his leadership is far from totalthe list goes on.

If you had to wager your very last dollar on which countries will continue to be prosperous and stable five years from today, which group of countries would you bet on: North Korea and Cuba on the one end or Britain, India, US, Taiwan and Germany on the other?

And yet, right here in our own home we have the Straits Times reporting MPs endorse DPM Lee as next PM:

Yesterday, Mr Wong said the ministers unanimously nominated DPM Lee to be their next leader.
During what MPs described as a ‘short and business-like’ meeting, Mr Goh gave them the opportunity to have their say on the selection process and to propose alternative candidates for the post of prime minister.
No one did. MPs then applauded DPM Lee, who thanked them for their support. Although there was only one name put up and MPs ‘unanimously supported’ the choice, as the party statement said, the MPs were pleased with the process.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with PAP MPs wanting Mr Lee Hsien Loong to lead them. Its just the way that its done, at a closed-door short and business-like party conference with no MP proposing (would anyone dare?) an alternative candidate or even questioning their future leader.

Worse, as with everything else, the intellectual ghost town that our country has become has neither seen nor heard any public discussion on the issue of Mr Lee assuming the throne.

The authoritarian position is that dissent is unproductive and even destructive. This is a puerile and self-serving way to interpret debate and dissent. Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan wreaked the havoc they did only through the absence of dissent within their countries. On the contrary questions, disagreements, and intellectual conflict has always led to stability, innovation and progress in open and democratic societies.

Let Singaporeans approach the change of its prime minister, especially with the all the power, political and economic, now concentrated in Messrs Mr Lee Kuan Yews and Lee Hsien Loongs hands, not with celebration but trepidation.