Is Liberal Autocracy the Optimum Form of Governance for Lesser Developed Countries?

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Is Liberal Autocracy the optimum form of governance for Lesser Developed Countries? Andre Lim, Joshua Tjahjadi
August 2011
1743 Words

Hypothesis: Liberal autocracy is the optimal system of governance for lesser-developed countries (LDCs)

Democracy at home, and abroad:
In this essay, the authors aim to compare the systems of governance in Indonesia and Singapore, as well as how their differences have led to varied repercussions in both countries; those (repercussions) that will be closely examined here are the growth/development of stable governmental institutions, as well as the just rule of law. These are relatively newly-decolonized states existing side by side, in recent years taking different paths of governance. This resulted in wildly different outcomes. What was it about their different political paths that caused the difference? Is the fault with the democratic process, or with their implementation? Is there a certain developmental threshold within which democracy is just doomed to failure? Many of these questions traverse along peripheries of political doctrine and liberal ethics. Certainly, democracy is an unpredictable, and often messy process. Only by answering hard questions like these can it be better understood, and refined. This is what the authors hope to achieve. To start off, however several key terms first have to be defined. Liberal autocracy refers to a non-democratically elected government founded on the principles of liberalism, that is a fundamental belief in the importance of liberty and basic fundamental rights. Notably successful examples include Singapore, and in the past Hong Kong, Taiwan as well as Japan. Lesser developed countries are nations exhibiting low levels of socio-economic development. Criterion include- low economic development (GNP of less than 905 USD, per capita) as well as human resource weakness (indicators include Adult literacy, nutrition and education).

Liberty vs. Democracy- Rise of illiberal democracies?
As Fareed Zakaria once brilliantly put it, ‘there today exists two strands of liberal democracy, both inextricably interwoven into Western political fabric- liberty and democracy.’ The former is floundering even though the latter is flourishing. What is the significance of this co-relation? Democracy at its purest essentially means the rule of the people, whatever it may entail. Liberty recognizes that every man is born with certain unalienable rights- rights to religion, to life, to own property and be free from unfair prosecution. These are rights that cannot be infringed upon. Thus the crux behind constitutional liberty is the construction of institutions such as an independent Judiciary and Treasury to safeguard these rights. Only with a firmly-established Constitutional Liberty can democracy become a force for good. People frequently understand these concepts in reverse. Without the restrictive tenets of a strong Constitutional Liberty, the democratic process will end up manipulated and reinforcing corrupted/tyrannical/incompetent governance, elevating mediocrity and triggering stagnation. This is made apparent with Indonesia’s example. Without the checks and balances provided by libertarian governance, elections more often than not grant victory to illiberal forces. Contrast with Singapore’s single-party rule that gave rise to political stability and little corruption. A lack of liberty turn erodes the egalitarian and majoritarian principles casted by founders of modern constitutional-democracy doctrine- Madison, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu. After all, the democratic system obviously has many admirable qualities. It allows a peaceful transfer of power, and renders tyrannical rule impossible. In both Singapore and Indonesia, this conundrum has been made apparent, time and again.

1960s to 2000:
Emerging from the upheavals of 1960s, both the LKY and Suharto regime placed utmost emphasis on stability and order. Thus a common tactic was to...
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