Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew Passes

It would be an exaggeration to say that Singaporeans are  “in a state of shock”. But they are noticeably pensive and aware that they are witnessing a major watershed in their country’s history.  Lee Kuan Yew, the man who has dominated their lives for more than 50 years has died. As a young pre-independence MP, a prime minister, senior minister and then a minister mentor until just recently, Lee transformed his country from a declining colonial backwater into a dynamic, prosperous, modern state. Only the very old can remember a time when  he was not around.
Politically Lee Kuan Yew was extraordinarily long-lived. He was there when Kwame Nkrumah, Ben Bella, Jawaharlal Nehru, Nasser, S. W. R. D. Bandaranayaka and Zhou Enlai were in the news. They and most of the others from that time have either been relegated to irrelevance or discredited. Until just recently, Lee was still being sought  out for his opinions on economics, social policy and international affairs, and Singapore still runs along the lines he set down. He was no butcher like Mao, no bungler like U Nu, not a prima donna like Sihanouk or Sukarno, and he never stuffed his pockets like Suharto and a good many of the others. He was squeaky clean, disdainful of personality cults and had the good sense to step back gradually as he aged to allow for a smooth transition of power. Lee Kuan Yew was totally dedicated to building the country he led and if any leader in the 20th century genuinely deserves to be called father of his country it is he. This is not to say that he was universally liked. He was often accused of being bullying, arrogant and intolerant and some of his critics spent years in detention without trial. But he said, and it is probably true, that Singapore would not have survived without a single vision and purpose, which is what he had and what he gave it. His suppression of communism almost certainly saved the country from that social and economic disaster. And he resolutely refused to allow religious, racial or linguistic issues to be used for political ends, thus sparing the country from bloodstained social divisions like those in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma and elsewhere. The result is a well-managed, clean, safe and decent society.
Like most citizens, Singaporeans often grumble about their politicians and the policies they enact. But after they return from trips to smog-choked Bangkok, filthy chaotic Delhi, Jakarta where there are power cuts every night, and Rangoon where only the suicidal drink the water, they generally appreciate how lucky they are. In 2010 Lee was asked how he thought he might be remembered and he answered:  “I am not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial. Close the coffin, then decide.” The coffin is about to be closed.   


brahmavihara said...

Lee Kuan Yew, was a giant of South East Asia. He managed to navigate Singapore into open country, when the unity of Malaya and Singapore dissolved in acrimony. Malaysia with all of it's natural resources economically stagnated and descended into corruption, ethnic division and repression. Singapore with no natural resources, clawed it's way out of virtual bankruptcy and became the "Switzerland " of South East Asia. The vision of Lee Kuan Yew, his tenacity and the ability of the ordinary Singaporeans to apply themselves was a clear triumph. Long Live Lee Kuan Yew.

Ken and Visakha said...

We can't agree at all with all the flattery, self and otherwise.

Isn't it telling that the most prominent tribute to LKY in the American press was written by that black-hearted, loathsome war criminal Henry Kissinger, who should have been sentenced for crimes against humanity long ago. They were great, like-minded friends, of course.

You wrote: "He was often accused of being bullying, arrogant and intolerant and some of his critics spent years in detention without trial." Right, right, and right again.

But such self-serving tyrants are always being excused by people saying that to make omelets you always have to break eggs.

What kind of morality is that? and who gets to eat the omelet anyway?

Another view, closer to home, by a dear friend of ours, can be read at:

To learn more about those times, read "Beyond the Blue Gate" by Teo Soh Lung
"Teo Soh Lung’s book should be read by all people who are interested in democracy and the rule of law. Not only is it a poignant personal account of official ill treatment, but it is a brilliant testimony to the cruelty of authoritarianism, even, indeed especially–when it comes in the guise of legal due process This is perhaps the most shocking aspect of her story: the abuse of the law in a republic which is democratic in theory, but sacrifices its most democratic citizens to the whims of the rulers."

–Ian Buruma, Henry R Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights and Journalism, Bard College

GiDo said...

The same goes for Germany. Our ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt, famous for insisting on smoking in public TV (although there are restrictions by law now), is not only fond of Lee Kuan Yew (and Kissinger), he also justified the Tiananmen massacre of 1989.