7-day Period of National Mourning for Lee Kuan Yew:
Friday evening. The last night to join the long queue to pay last respects to Lee Kuan Yew, lying in state at Parliament House.
At about 10.45p.m. at City Hall MRT, Exit B was closed off to people coming to the Padang. The Priority Queue (for the elderly, disabled, people with young children) was still starting from the vicinity of the steps of the old City Hall building. The normal queue started at Exit A, just outside Starbucks and McDonalds in Raffles City.
The lady holding the waiting time board, not finding anywhere to stand, was perched on the MRT parapet. “10 hours” it read:
At about 11p.m., the queue was temporarily suspended for the safety of the crowd. Fortunately, there wasn’t any pushing that might lead to the horrific stampede that killed many in Shanghai over the New Year.
Remembering Lee Kuan Yew – Lying in State at Parliament House for up-to-date details
And here in true Singapore form is a live telecast of the room in which LKY is lying in state:
We felt no fear at the crowds; just amazement at the sheer number of people who would wait through the night to demonstrate their gratitude to this man. And somehow, sweating it out in solidarity with fellow Singaporeans and sympathetic visitors seemed a form of catharsis.
Loved how people commemorated Ah Kong (grandfather) in their own way, demonstrating the rarely-seen diversity of Singaporeans: the Singapore Botanic Gardens named a new orchid breed after him (Aranda Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀蜻蜓万代兰)), Teo Ser Luck dedicated a new work out to him, and Christopher Pereira made figurines which he put on display outside Raffles City: Is all this idolatry? Well, Paul the apostle who spoke out strongly against the worship of anything other than Son of God himself had this to say:
7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. (Romans 13:7)
And as I read more about the man I never bothered to know other than the “authoritarian”, “dictatorial” prime minister, senior minister, minister mentor others said he was, I understood that respect and honour was due to him.
As a “global statesman” he did not try to be the star of the show, instead he had only one interest – the good of Singapore. What a wonderful thing to say about any person, not to say any politician!
First of all, I learnt not to be ashamed to be a patriot. To the young, as I then was, the term carries a vague, undefinable whiff of unfashionable mustiness. But to serve the Republic of Singapore in any capacity is no mean profession because if Singapore does not survive, no other value can be realised in this vale of tears we call the world.
You may think that all diplomats or all statesmen must obviously serve their own countries’ interests. Well, they certainly ought to. But as I grew more experienced in the craft of diplomacy, I observed that this was all too often the exception rather than the rule; that too many leaders and diplomats, from too many countries, too often confuse personal interests with national interests, or convince themselves that these are synonymous. There is no creature more susceptible to self-deception than certain types of diplomats or erstwhile statesmen. The worst types believe that whatever they do is necessarily important simply because they do it – they and no one else, because, of course, they are the centre of the universe. Mr Lee was never like that. He is often described as a global statesman, and so he was. But I doubt Mr Lee ever set much store by that appellation or any of the many formal honours he was given by foreign countries. These were means, not ends. His laser-like focus – his “universe” if you like – was always Singapore. He operated on a global stage, but only for Singapore. He won many friends and was personally greatly admired around the world. But this was always deployed for Singapore. He spoke his mind and never hesitated to do what necessity dictated for Singapore’s interests, even if it put his personal friendships at risk.
Second, I learnt that the pursuit and defence of Singapore’s interests must be grounded in a clinical and clear-eyed, indeed cold-blooded and intellectually ruthless, understanding of the environment in which a small country operates. Small countries cannot afford illusions. Mr Lee never mistook the necessary politesse and hypocrisies of statecraft and diplomacy for reality. He took as the starting point the world as it is; a world as full of promise and opportunity but a world also inevitably flawed and, so, often perilous. Mr Lee invariably cut through all the fluff that usually conceals the hard realities of international relations. He zeroed in on the very core of any issue or situation. His analysis was always holistic, enriched and given depth and breadth by his realistic understanding of history, of different cultures and, ultimately, of human nature in all its rich variety. He pursued what was possible in practice, not what was desirable on principle. He wanted to get things done. He always dared to try – Singapore would not exist otherwise – but was not given to chasing chimeras. This is again rarer than one might expect. Mr Lee never stopped learning and was never too proud to seek information even from the most junior, and certainly never too proud to change his mind whenever the situation warranted.
Third, I learnt no leader, however talented, can achieve much alone. Mr Lee was undoubtedly a great leader, but he was the great leader of a great team and of a great people. Leadership is not a matter of intellect alone. His sense of mission, his dedication to and passion for Singapore inspired an entire generation of Singaporeans from all walks of life to defy the odds and to serve some cause larger than themselves.
(Bilahari Kausikan, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was ‘a complex man who evoked many emotions’, Straits Times, 27 March 2015)
As a prime minister, his government was remarkable not for oppression, but for using democratic institutions to ensure there would be no oppression:
But the Singapore model, as China’s rulers understand it, never existed. To emulate Lee’s model of government – rather than its cartoon caricature – would require allowing a far more democratic system than the CCP would ever tolerate.
The true secret of Lee’s political genius was not his skillful use of repressive practices, such as launching lawsuits against the media or his political opponents; such tactics are common and unremarkable in semi-authoritarian regimes. What Lee did that was truly revolutionary was to use democratic institutions and the rule of law to curb the predatory appetite of his country’s ruling elite.
By holding regular competitive elections, Lee effectively established a mechanism of political self-enforcement and accountability – he gave Singaporean voters the power to decide whether the PAP should stay in power. This enforcement mechanism has maintained discipline within Singapore’s ruling elite and makes its promises credible.
Regrettably, most of the rest of the world has never given Lee proper credit for crafting a hybrid system of authoritarianism and democracy that vastly improved the wellbeing of his country’s citizens, without subjecting them to the brutality and oppression to which many of Singapore’s neighbors have resorted.
(Minxin Pei, The Real Singapore Model, Project Syndicate 26 March 2015)
As an elected member of parliament, he was more interested in what was right for the country, rather than being popular with the people:
We in Government and as MPs on the ground know how difficult it is to carry unpopular policies, even if they are right. Why did Mr Lee and his Government choose to persuade Singaporeans to do, again and again, what was necessary but painful? Mr Lee himself provided us the answer. He said in 1968 in this House ‘If we were a soft community, then the temptation would be to leave things alone and hope for the best. Then, only good fortune can save us from the unpleasantness which reason and logic tell us is ahead of us. But we are not an easy-going people. We cannot help thinking, calculating and planning for tomorrow, for next week, for next month, for next year, for the next generation. And it is because we have restless minds, forever probing and testing, seeking new and better solutions to old and new problems, that we have never been, and I trust never shall be, tried and found wanting.’
“Mr Lee refused to be swayed by ideology that could not work. He dubbed these as ‘highfalutin ideas that misled Singaporeans’. (‘A nation cries out in mourning’: Dr Ng Eng Hen on Lee Kuan Yew, Channel NewsAsia, 26 March 2015)