It is ordained that ‘nations get the type of rulers they deserve’ – it is in the Land of the Pure that this phenomenon manifests itself in all its starkness. No matter how hard we condemn political leadership, this particular category of individuals (irrespective of their party) appears to have lost their conscience and sense of honor. The irony of it all is that election after election, the same set of people are brought back into power, setting in motion a cycle that has eroded national character. There have been brief flashes of hope, which sooner or later turn out to be mirages. It is thus that we see no light at the end of the tunnel – no leader, who can perpetrate the rule of law and merit.
We are sick of hearing again and again that martial laws and resultant dictatorship have derailed democracy four times. This pronouncement does not highlight the fact that on each occasion, these political entities created conditions ripe for these illegal takeovers and some of them even became willing beneficiaries of military rule.
My political guru is a Harvard Professor, who in one of his treatise sums it all up succinctly. According to him “Democracy is the worst form of Government, while Autocracy is the best – but how does one find a benign autocrat”. This notion is amply proved by two case studies – Singapore and our next door neighbor – India.
Founding father and first Prime Minister Dr Lee Kuan Yew, governed Singapore for more than three decades from 1959 to 1990, including the period of the Independence struggle from Malaysia in 1965. After Lee chose to step down as Prime Minister in 1990, his successor, Goh Chok Tong, appointed him as Senior Minister, a post he held until 2004, when his elder son, Lee Hsien Loong, became the nation’s third Prime Minister. Dr Lee then assumed the advisory post of Minister Mentor, until he left the Cabinet in 2011. This amazing individual led Singapore for a total of 56 years before passing away in 2015, setting a record for raising the country from the ranks of the Third World to the elite membership of the First World, in his lifetime.
What some readers may not know is that the good doctor’s tenure was totally autocratic – or better put, benignly autocratic. The enforcement of rules, merit and accountability was done without favor or mercy in a manner that would have been termed by our politicians as dictatorial. For example, small acts of vandalism, such as scratching a parked car were punished promptly by a conviction to perform public service. Within hours, the culprit found himself suited in a coverall, the color of which showcased the crime, sweeping a major road clean of trash.
In the case of our Eastern neighbor, it was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister who, while maintaining a façade of democracy, followed his autocratic road mapto success for seventeen years, till his death in 1964. One of the reforms under his leadership, hitting large agricultural holdings, abolishing them and in doing so, making an enemy of India’s powerful feudal culture. Nehru’s daughter and grandson lend continuity to the roadmap, which envisioneda regional and global role for the country. In spite of being touted as the world’s leading democracy, Indian governance was intolerant in many ways. One example was religious prejudices with regards to its largest minority and hostility towards its neighbors – Pakistan in particular. Nonetheless, it was its first Prime Minister’s autocratic disposition that turned India into a success story.
The two case studies lead some to spawn the notion that the current form of a bicameral parliamentary democracy may be unsuited to our national psyche. It may even suggest that perhaps a more suitable form would be a Presidential Democracy based on adult franchise. Such a system will ensure that the top slot holder does not become hostage to the goodwill of the two houses. Whatever, our political dispensation, the crucial question is, where to find a leader, who instils the virtues of Unity, Faith and Discipline by setting an example.

The writer is a freelance columnist.