Monday, March 23, 2015

The Passing of An Era :: Mr Lee Kuan Yew 1923 - 2015

I didn't live through those turbulent times pre-1965 and the years that followed. There're the oral histories, the recorded history, and the books. I read them. But I don't pretend to fully understand those times, circumstances, sentiments and politics; though I didn't agree with many of Singapore's early social and manpower policies, and still don't fully agree with them now.

I certainly raise eyebrows at many of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's unapologetic opinions and management of dissent. But the one thing I know, I'm a beneficiary of the legacy Mr Lee Kuan Yew had left even before his twilight years- a stable economy, a relatively meritocratic society, an efficient public service, an internationally-envied passport and many national achievements to be proud of. I can call many cities home, but this is a passport I will never give up. Most of all, the system has provided an excellent education in-country and overseas that has shaped my thoughts, formed beliefs, questions and outlook. I lead a privileged life of relative affluence in a country where peace prevails instead of civil strife and unrest. What is there not to be grateful about?

Mr Lee's indomitable spirit has led the way, along with many other pioneers, including dissidents right and left wing, they shaped this city-state to what it is today. It is now in our hands to preserve what we will of this legacy (in the noun's full definition and as an adjective) in order to navigate that delicate balance between paternalistic politics and liberal democracy. Are we now mature enough to shape our own policies? We should be. We must.

He is a remarkable man. This is the respect we will accord this day of his passing and during the period of mourning. In a collection of interviews in 2011, then 89 years of age, he said,

'I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it… but a lot was at stake and I wanted the place to succeed, that's all. I have no regrets. I have spent my life, so much of it, building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.'

Goodbye Mr Lee. You were a respectful and devoted husband, a firm father, a committed man, a formidable mentor, a visionary, and most of all, even as you had resisted the label, an inimitable statesman of the 20th century, because that is what you are. Rest well, Sir.

Once, when she [Kwa Geok Choo] was asked on his 80th birthday in 2003, what was the most misunderstood thing about Lee, she replied, "I read somewhere that 'few elder statesmen can command as much respect and condemnation simultaneously as Lee'. I will leave it to these writers to argue which one has most misunderstood Kuan Yew." 
~ From 'Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths: To Keep Singapore Going', 2011, published by Straits Times Press.