Developmental Dictators Who Turned Small Poor Asian Nations into Economic Powerhouses
Posted on November 11th, 2015

Kumar Moshe

Park Chung-hee – The developmental dictator who made South Korea what it is.

Chiang Kai-shek –  Taiwan.

Lee Kuan Yew – Singapore.

The rise and rise of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore was nothing short of a miracle. What is interesting is these nations were once poverty stricken and backward with no hope of becoming rich nations. The long rule of developmental dictators turned these nations around. Although people found them to be dictators when they ruled, they started to venerate them long after they are gone. In a recent poll in South Korea, 74% of respondents positively branded Park Chung-hee on the political front and have a thumping 93% approval rating for the way he handled the economy. The other duo are no less achievers for the respective nations. They all heavily compromised democracy to achieve better living conditions. Despite being Asia’s oldest continuing democracy since 1931, no Sri Lankan leader would come close.

Western democratic models rarely work in Asia. World’s largest democracy is the tenth most dangerous country in the world, the rape capital of the world, the country with the largest number of homeless people and the largest population living below $1 a day. It is also the largest importer of weapons and the only country to wage wars against nuclear-armed neighbours. Can any of these be celebrated by right-minded people?

However, there is a huge difference between developmental dictators and ruthless dictators. The latter still rule North Korea and a few parts of Asia and Africa. They cannot produce any good. The main difference is the vision and pragmatism. A developmental dictator has a vision to develop the nation. Freedoms are restricted only to achieve developmental goals, not to continue a political ideology or dynasty. The developmental dictator is pragmatic and abides by cultural and religious norms. A ruthless dictator has no vision to develop the nation, focuses on building up his dynasty and curtails freedoms to remain in power regardless of achievements. They also live above cultural and religious norms.

It is high time Sri Lankans seriously consider alternative forms of government without being restricted to what the British left them with. The British never acknowledge its version of democracy was the best for Ceylon. Democracy was introduced to Ceylon only as a means of transferring power to locals peacefully so that the British could leave their horrendous legacy behind and escape from the colony. As a nation, people should debate what is the best form of governance without restricting to self-imposed barriers.

For the past 27 years since 1988, Sri Lanka had 40 election days! That is an election every 8 months. Did that do any good to the nation? Hardly. Politicians kill each other to get elected but once elected follow their own desires into self fulfilment. Given the lucrativeness of politics, their wives and children also get into politics. There are over 2,000 elected politicians at national, provincial and local bodies level. That is one elected politician for every 32 square kilometres. If all candidates for a parliamentary election are considered, that is one candidate for every 10 square kilometres. Such is the insanity of the system. Every elected politician comes with his band of assistants, a fleet of expensive imported vehicles and makes a couple of foreign trips with family paid by taxpayers. How good to invest this money in development.

May be Sri Lankans should learn from the experiences of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore – three nations with a Buddhist majority that beat all odds to become first world nations while preserving the environment, culture and human values. On the other hand, nations that were unfortunate enough to be touched by American democracy, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Ukraine are condemned with instability, violence and poverty.

3 Responses to “Developmental Dictators Who Turned Small Poor Asian Nations into Economic Powerhouses”

  1. Independent Says:

    “the rape capital of the world” is not India, but South Africa which is considered our Mentor for peace ! Good dictators do not initiate such dealings.

  2. Nimal Fernando Says:

    When Lee Kuan Yew visited Sri Lank, circa 1979, he and JRJ, Sri Lanka’s ‘great hope’
    at the time, had taken a short ride in the latter’s official vehicle to some reception in Colombo.

    A Jayawardene loyalist, the only other occupant in the vehicle, said some years later, that a part of
    the light conversation, included this question — Mr Lee had said: “We were watching Ceylon,
    to give the lead, after independence … what happened?”

    JRJ had pointed to socialist experiments, too many short-term measures, missed opportunities et al …

    What he SHOULD’VE said was: “We were (are?) probably incapable of producing someone like you …
    or, Sri Lankans with your kind of commitment and capabilities, shun politics ” …..

  3. Independent Says:

    After working with and managing many Singaporeans ( 100% of them ethnic Chinese and some Babas) it is unfair to compare Sri Lankans with them. In fact LKY is also a Baba (mixed blood) some say.

    One “great difference” is we Sri Lankan are very much more attached to our motherland. Obviously Singaporeans are not, they came from everywhere and , I believe, around 30% are migrants). I am reluctant to think whether this is the reason for our failure.

    Most Sri Lankans are mere “salary collectors”. They want jobs, whether they sit there and look at the sky or not. Working is there secondary responsibility. Because I was different, I could fit in that society and have “good” friends who will turn up at Changi, even at transit.
    One day , when 80% of us learn to be responsible, we will prosper.

    Look at Tamils. What are they contributing to economy ?

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