On democracy & human rights in SE Asia: PM Lee

On democracy & human rights in SE Asia: PM Lee

PM Lee: I think different countries have different perspectives. America, with your history, with the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, you put these high up on your scale of values. In Southeast Asia, the countries do value human freedoms and welfare, but they also have other priorities and political imperatives. And if you look at the way the countries are developing, whether it is Vietnam, whether it is Indonesia, whether, for that matter, it is Myanmar, I think people realise that if you run a regime which does not further the welfare of your people and does not enjoy the support of your people, whether by elections or not, you are on a dead end. The Vietnamese may not have elections like you do, but they are very sensitive to ground pressures. And when an issue comes up, they have demonstrations and objections which they find not so easy to put down — objections not just to foreign issues like their dispute with China, but domestic issues like corruption — and they have to respond to that. In Myanmar — you call it Burma — the previous military regime changed, partly maybe you pressured them from externally, but I think substantially also because the generals themselves knew that where they were, they were headed into a dead end. There was no future. The people knew there was no future and hated the status quo. They had to change. And so they are onto a new path which is going to be a very difficult one, because when you go into democracy, new demons are let loose. Suddenly, you now have Buddhist populists fighting Muslims — not just Rohingyas in Rakhine State, but Muslims in the body of Myanmar. And even Aung San Suu Kyi, who is a saintly person, cannot easily stand up and say, “This is wrong”, because then you will antagonise 95 per cent of the population or more who are Buddhists. So it is going to be a difficult path for them. If you look at Indonesia, they went from the Suharto New Order regime to one where elections are held. They have had quite a number of changes of presidency since Suharto, and quite a range of individuals and governing styles as President. The last 10 years have been stable because with President Yudhoyono, he brought in a technocratic team and a measure of stability and predictability, and restraint which enabled Southeast Asia to be stable and not to be shaken by problems within Indonesia. And I think that has been good for the population of Indonesia and we are grateful for that. And we hope that with this election now under way and polls going to be held on 9th of July, the next Indonesian President will continue the good work. So I would look at democracy and human rights like that — what does it deliver for the welfare of the people, for the stability of the country, for the opportunities for the next generation of the population? And if you can deliver that, well, that is more important than the forms and the precise way the rules are expressed.

2 Comments on "On democracy & human rights in SE Asia: PM Lee"

  1. You have to find a balance between preferring means or ends. Fanaticism of good can also turn out to be bad.


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