Many people take a negative light to dictatorship, even though in some countries it can really help to improve circumstances. Take for example Singapore, in 1960 it was slums and poverty, but in 1965 it became independent from Britain and took on a dictatorship under the Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Lee transformed the slums into a thriving city, which now has one of the highest GDPs per person. This essay will take a look at dictatorships, in Singapore specifically, and answer the question of if they can ever be justified, and the subtopic questions the original raises.
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To understand the question one must first understand the context. The definition of a dictatorship is when one person or a group of people has absolute power, meaning that they have total control, no one can challenge them.  Dictatorships come into power when there is a weakness in government due to a financial problem or social problem. Singapore used to be full of poverty and uneducated people in the 1960s  , and when Lee Kuan Yew saw this, he saw an opportunity. He persuaded his way into power through the PAP (People’s Action Party),  and begun to implement his plans for the city. However, he used his power to greater benefit the city and all its inhabitants, and this is called a benevolent dictatorship.  The other kind of dictator is called a tyrant, and it is the one that most people think of when they hear the word “dictator”: a cruel person or group who uses his or her power for himself or herself or a small portion of the population. Dictators are basically just the modern version, or word, really, of kings. There have been many famous, or really infamous, tyrants in history, and not so many benevolent ones. For example, there has been Hitler, Stalin, and Kim Jong-Il. All of these tyrants have given a bad reputation to dictatorship. In today’s world, dictatorship is linked with cruelness and oppressiveness, but that is not always the case.
Singapore is a great example of a justified dictatorship. Singapore was ruled by Britain until 1965 when they declared their independence. However, this meant that Singapore was cut off from Malaysia’s economy and Indonesia continued to threaten them, drying up their entrepot, a port that can import or export without paying import duties, taxes on the goods.  This greatly hurt Singapore but they did not despair. Because of this economic crisis, a dictator came into power. Lee Kuan Yew quickly cleaned up the place using a number of techniques. To control birth rates he put up free family planning clinics and ran a campaign while decreeing that women who have more than 2 children would get higher hospital bills, shorter maternity leaves and less income tax relief  . Lee also gave a $5000 reward to mothers who, after their second child, are sterilized. Sterilized mothers are given better housing and education for their kids.  On the problem of poverty and economy, Lee came up with a brilliant solution. He required all workers to save 25% of their salaries, and the money can only be claimed after the age of 55.  This effectively cut down poverty so much that Singapore is now almost completely poverty-free. Almost all Singaporeans agree with these rules as well. They think that it is reasonable and they make sense. They do not fear the government either, they (most, at least) complain when they feel they need to.  The amazing part about all of this is that it was achieved through a dictatorship, something once associated with vile and cruel acts and feelings.
Nothing comes without a price, unfortunately. Although Singapore is rich economically, they are harsh politically. Is this price worth it? Singapore has a harsh death penalty, which has been criticized before, and freedom of speech is suppressed. However, Singapore has virtually no criminals due to their government, so there were only 11 executions from 2008 to 2010.  There has also been some ill treatment, namely caning. Caning is when you are beat with a rod, though human rights say that is must be covered in antiseptic beforehand to ensure that there will not be any infections.  A good number of the offences that are punishable by caning are immigration violations.  On the other hand, Singapore’s economy has skyrocketed, it has one of the highest GDPs per person in the world, and their poverty rate is 0.3%. America’s poverty rate is 20%.  Another thing to address in this question is that although these treatments are incredibly strict and unorthodox, they get their job done. They are barely ever used, and when they are, it is only enforcing the point to people. Over all, most people would agree that these unusual treatments are not without reason, they do what they are supposed to do very well, and that the huge economic benefits outweigh the ethical downsides.
Another thing to consider is whether Singapore is considered a dictatorship at all. Singapore is assumed to be a dictatorship because there is one party that runs unopposed, the People’s Action Party. There are still elections but no one wants to run against them, mainly because the way they run the country is fine with everyone as explained before. Another reason why Singapore is a dictatorship is because Lee was in power for over 30 years, while in typical democracies like the U.S. there are term limits to prevent presidents or leaders from staying in power too long and becoming dictators. Yet another reason why Singapore is not a democracy is that the people’s opinion is very important in most democracies. In Singapore people can complain to the government but that does not mean that their opinion will be taken into effect, it is always the ruling party’s decision. Nonetheless, this could have changed easily. If an opposing party ran against the PAP and won other parties may be inspired to rise up as well, turning the dictatorship into a democracy quite quickly. This is why most dictators must find ways to force their people into submission so that they will not challenge his authority. The ruling party does not need to because they have acted in the people’s best interest and therefore the people have no need to challenge their authority, they already like what they are currently doing. These are the reasons that people’s assumptions about Singapore are right, that it is a dictatorship; it is just under the guise of a democracy.
Even if Singapore is a dictatorship, what makes it a benevolent dictatorship? A few reasons have been mentioned before, but those aren’t fact enough. The problem with a question like this is that considering Singapore a benevolent dictatorship is all an opinion, it is all based on your point of view. So, to answer the question you must ask the people. In this case, the majority of people say that yes, the People’s Action Party are benevolent dictators. However, people do not consider them to be dictators because they are benevolent. They associate dictatorship with meanness and cruelty, not kindness and the best interest of the people. But what are their reasons behind their decision to support their government? As mentioned before in this essay, the PAP have done much to control birth rates and they have also made savings mandatory so that old people can support themselves and to reduce poverty. Along with that the People’s Action Party has helped to improve every apartment complex so that it either has or is near to a swimming pool, recreation centre, shopping centre, community centre, and a school. They have also helped to make sure that the apartments not be shabbily built and not tiny, either. The PAP has also practically declared war against bad habits, such as littering, jaywalking, spitting, smoking, gambling, and even anti-social behaviour. The fine for all of these (except for anti-social behaviour) is $250, though gambling in the state lottery is allowed.  The PAP has especially attacked smoking. During a certain Smoke-Free Week they put up signs everywhere saying, “Stub it Out, Singapore!” and other signs state the cities’ smoking deaths, around 10 a day back then. The best part about their campaign against smoking was not the signs, anyone can put up signs, but the People’s Action Party sent out smiling teens with baskets of apples and the teens offered to trade an apple for a pack of cigarettes. Their campaign was successful in the end, with the percentage of smokers in the population going from 23% to only 13%.  The PAP also created new jobs for people, and improved the conditions of working by simply shifting the country’s focus to technology-intensive high value industries. That was in 1989, and that same year 30% of the country’s GDP was from manufacturing alone.  These are the reasons that people consider the PAP to be benevolent, and with that many improvements plus more unmentioned it is enough to make anyone believe that they are benevolent.
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However, just because dictatorship worked for one country does not mean it will work for all. One of the worst dictators was Adolf Hitler. He was smart enough to find a way to keep people from challenging him out of power but not enough to not wage war  . He paid no attention to the state of his country, and left that up to his subordinates, who paid even less attention than him.  Another example would be Kim-Jong-Il in North Korea. He ignored his people so much that 43% of children under 5 were so malnourished that their growth was actually stunted  . He monitored everything and kept around 200,000 prisoners in labour camps where they starve and are tortured.  Many people, if asked, would say that dictatorship is very bad and one person or a group having all the power is just too much. However, Singapore clearly shows that if the right man or woman is chosen for the job, they can really use that power to change their country, and even the world. On the other hand, if the wrong person is given power they can misuse it to the point that the rest of the world has to step in to intervene. Unfortunately, this is the most common case. So really, it all depends on the person put in power.
So, in conclusion, is dictatorship ever justified? Yes, it is. It is justified in the case of Singapore, under a benevolent dictatorship disguised as a democracy. The way the dictatorship turns out depends on the person put in power. Hitler had no more power than any other dictators he just misused it more. If you can find the right person, than your country can be hugely improved and redesigned to discover new advancements, a perfect example of which is Singapore.
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