Monday 16 September 2013

Lee Kuan Yew turns 90

Mr Lee: 'I am lucky to reach 90'
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2013

AHEAD of marking a significant milestone in his life today, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew told The Straits Times: "I am lucky to reach 90."

Asked in an e-mailed interview what gave him the greatest satisfaction when he looked back on an illustrious life, he replied that it was "to see Singapore's progress".

He will be celebrating his birthday with his family at a private dinner.

Several world leaders sent birthday greetings to Mr Lee, including Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and China's former vice-premier Li Lanqing.

Mr Lee was born on this day in 1923 in a house in Kampong Java Road. He was the eldest son of a Shell employee and a housewife.

In nine decades, he has lived through the Great Depression, the Japanese Occupation, the Malayan Emergency, merger and separation, and Singapore's journey from Third World to First World.

He played a key role in the major events of his day from 1959, when he became Singapore's first prime minister, and came to be well-respected around the world as a perceptive statesman. He stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990 and from Cabinet in 2011.

Speaking to The Straits Times ahead of Mr Lee's birthday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said his father's greatest achievement was building a nation "nobody believed possible".

"Nation building is never complete, but Singapore would not be here today but for Mr Lee."

What did he think was the most important lesson to be learnt from his father's life?

"You must know what you want to do, and not just follow what other people suggest or what the crowd says," he said. "He was also very good at persuading others to follow him, so that in the end we achieved together more than we imagined that we could."

A series of public events have been held to mark Mr Lee's birthday. Earlier this month, the Chinese community paid tribute to him for his contributions to bilingualism and Singapore-China relations. A fund-raising drive saw $200 million donated to the National University of Singapore and the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Today, a one-day conference is being organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at Shangri-La Hotel. The school's dean, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, said the conference would discuss Mr Lee's ideas - such as the rule of law and building a first-rate civil service - which had "touched the lives of Singaporeans in many dimensions".

Mr Lee himself, in his book published last month, One Man's View Of The World, summed things up this way: "As for me, I have done what I had wanted to do, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied."

Parliament pays tribute to Mr Lee on his 90th birthday
His wish? That Govt stays clean and honest, with highest moral standards
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2013

AGAINST his doctors' advice, Singapore's longest-serving parliamentarian returned to the House yesterday on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

He blew out the candle on a cake shaped like the number "90", and then told them his wish: that Singapore's Government continues to be clean and honest, and they all do their part to uphold the highest of moral standards.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's birthday party in parliament (16 Sep 2013)
Singapore's founding Prime Minister and former Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew, received a standing ovation from Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers in Parliament's Chamber on Monday on the occasion of his 90th birthday.After the Parliament sitting on Monday, Members of Parliament took part in a birthday party in the Members' Room to celebrate Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthdayVideo and articles by ChannelNewsAsia
Posted by People's Action Party on Monday, September 16, 2013

Reflecting on how different the Parliament House they were in was from the simple building he first entered in 1955, Mr Lee said that Singapore then was a far cry from what it has become today.

It was 50 years of clean and honest government that made this transformation possible, and he told MPs that all present had the responsibility to keep it this way.

While frail, Mr Lee spoke with his characteristic conviction at the simple celebration that lasted a mere half hour.

He had been advised by doctors not to attend, and there were reports that he planned to mark his birthday at home with his family.

But a sense of anticipation built during yesterday's parliamentary sitting as news spread that he would join them.

After parliamentary business was concluded, Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen delivered a tribute that was capped with a standing ovation from the House.

"Mr Lee, with his singular mission and dedication, steered this country to independence and laid the very foundations that transformed Singapore into a modern and thriving metropolis," he said.

"He led and forged a nation which today is admired worldwide for its prosperity, harmony and stability. In lifting an entire nation and improving countless lives of Singaporeans of several generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has left a lasting legacy to all of us and achieved greatness."

Birthday wishes and gifts poured in from elsewhere.

The Australian Embassy sent him a set of autographed photographs from all the Australian prime ministers he has met over the years, from Mr Gough Whitlam to Mr Kevin Rudd.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Russian President Vladimir Putin sent letters of congratulations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping conveyed his wishes verbally when he met Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong in Beijing last month.

On his Facebook page, President Tony Tan Keng Yam wrote that "generations of Singaporeans have benefited from Mr Lee Kuan Yew's lifelong contributions towards creating the peaceful and prosperous Singapore that we know today. Mr Lee reminds us that Singapore is a constant work-in-progress as he continues to work tirelessly to secure our future, even after more than five decades of public service".

MPs yesterday said that they were moved by the simple parliamentary celebration.

"He is a man clearly befitting of much grander celebrations on his milestone birthday, but he chose to celebrate in a simple gathering among colleagues in Parliament," said Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

"There was a certain sadness that he is not as strong as before," said Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC). "But we are all celebrating that he has reached 90."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he and his family were deeply touched by the many birthday greetings for his father.

Mr Lee takes the spotlight - with no pomp or fanfare
Parliament honours his singular mission, dedication in forging S'pore
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 17 Sep 2013

FOR more than a week, Members of Parliament had tried their best to keep news of a special tribute for former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew under wraps.

Yesterday, the cover finally came off, and it happened in a way befitting of Mr Lee's strict standards.

A simple tribute with no pomp or fanfare, and then from Mr Lee himself, a clear message for the future - continue to keep the Government honest and clean, he told his colleagues.

With the help of his security officers, he made his way to his seat. All eyes were on him and it seemed as though everyone was holding their breath collectively in respectful silence.

The handful of people in the public gallery strained their necks to see what was going on below.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing paused midway through his speech, before resuming.

When he finished, Dr Ng Eng Hen, as the Leader of the House, rose to read a short but stirring tribute to Mr Lee.

Singapore was not born into greatness but hardship and poverty, Dr Ng said. But Mr Lee, with his singular mission and dedication, forged Singapore into a nation which today is admired worldwide for its prosperity, harmony and stability.

He said: "In lifting an entire nation and improving countless lives of Singaporeans of several generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has left a lasting legacy to all of us and achieved greatness."

For the many who were in Parliament, it was an emotional moment. They were there to honour Mr Lee, and yet, it was painful for them to see him slowed by time, needing help to walk and stand.

Dr Ng pointed out that Singapore's first prime minister has been a member of the legislature since 1955, when he won his first election. He has not looked back since and today, 58 years later, he is still holding the fort in Tanjong Pagar GRC.

In his heyday, Mr Lee was a daunting figure in Parliament. He put his mark on many laws and policies, and set the tone for politics, forcefully taking down opponents who challenged him without giving any quarters.

In his first speech in the then Legislative Assembly, Mr Lee, who was one of three People's Action Party members in the opposition, was at his fiery best.

He wasted no time in attacking the Labour Front government led by David Marshall, focusing on the future of Singapore as he railed against the shackles of colonialism and pushed for full self-government.

Yesterday, at the age of 90, he came out fighting once more - attending Parliament against his doctors' advice.

Some men are so important in a nation's history that they eventually rise above politics.

And yesterday, the House stood united to give Mr Lee a rousing ovation. Members from all parties went up to him, one after another, to wish him a happy birthday.

Tellingly, one of the first to do so was Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang.

A long line formed after him which included other WP MPs and Non-Constituency MPs, and also Nominated MPs.

The final handshake came from Mrs Lina Chiam, the wife of opposition veteran Chiam See Tong who locked horns many times with Mr Lee from the 1980s.

Leaning in close to speak to him, her head bowed, she said: "May God bless you with good health."

The day's session began ordinarily enough with ministers answering questions to a sparsely filled Chamber.

There were some tell-tale signs of what was in store, such as Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC) who entered the Chamber with a giant white envelope - Mr Lee's birthday card.

Then by 4pm, more and more MPs began to arrive, eventually filling up almost every seat in the House before Mr Lee's entrance.

And as it has been many times in Parliament's history, the day was Mr Lee's.

Birthday wishes

"Yours has been a most eventful life, inextricably interwoven with the history and development of your nation. It is notable that this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence from the UK and I am delighted that the links between our countries remain so strong."

- Britain's Queen Elizabeth II

"For over 50 years, you have been a decisive figure helping to shape Singapore's destiny and leading your country to peace and prosperity... You can look back on your achievements with pride."

- German Chancellor Angela Merkel

"I would like to offer my sincere congratulations... and express my deep respect to you for your outstanding contributions to the independence and prosperity of Singapore, and the friendship between China and Singapore."

- Mr Li Lanqing, former vice-premier of China

"(The) modern history of Singapore is marked by great successes in economic, social, scientific and technological development. These achievements are closely linked with your name. Through several decades of service as Prime Minister of Singapore and in other high governmental positions you have commanded... prestige in international political and business circles. One can hardly overestimate your personal contribution to the development of friendly relations between our countries. I am sure that these ties will be further strengthened in future for the welfare of the peoples of our countries, for the sake of stability and security in the Asia-Pacific region."

- Russian President Vladimir Putin

"I would like to express our deepest gratitude (for) your friendship, attention and valuable recommendations for Vietnam in the reform process as well as the consolidation and promotion (of) close and trustful relations between Vietnam and Singapore... Our bilateral relations have been growing steadily and (we) have become strategic partners during the visit to Vietnam by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently."

- Vietnamese PM Nguyen Tan Dung

President Tony Tan Keng Yam sends birthday greetings
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2013

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and his wife, Mrs Mary Tan, sent their birthday wishes to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who turned 90 on Sept 16.

Dr Tan wrote on his Facebook page that generations of Singaporeans have benefited from Mr Lee Kuan Yew's lifelong contributions towards creating the peaceful and prosperous Singapore that we know today.

"Mr Lee reminds us that Singapore is a constant work in progress as he continues to work tirelessly to secure our future even after more than five decades of public service," he wrote.

He added: "Mary and I wish Mr Lee joy and continued good health on his 90th birthday."

His conviction and personality shaped Singapore

On his 90th birthday, Mr Lee Kuan Yew can look back with some satisfaction at what he has achieved. An independent, thriving Singapore transformed beyond recognition from the one he first led in 1959. Two successful changes in prime ministers since he stepped aside in 1990. These were his two lifelong projects, which he has largely accomplished.
By Han Fook Kwang, The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2013

No need then to, as he famously put it years ago, leap out while being lowered into his grave if he saw something not right?

Or is there?

Was there a hint of regret at a job not yet complete when, at an interview last year for the book One Man's View Of The World, he spoke about the younger generation's lack of understanding of what made Singapore succeed?

Where is the miracle, he had asked, mimicking the question younger Singaporeans pose when they see today's successful Singapore, but without experiencing the difficulties their fathers and grandfathers experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.

He had read out loud a letter from an admirer thanking him for making the country what it is.

"My family is deeply grateful and has benefited from your magnificent leadership and solid contributions that have enabled our nation to achieve peace, happiness, progress, prosperity, solidarity and security all these good years," the writer noted.

How wide the gap between the writer's generation and the one that now took Singapore's success for granted, Mr Lee had lamented.

At 90, when he should be past worry, Mr Lee frets still.

But, in fact, he needn't.

Singapore's younger generation embodies many of the values he tried very hard to instil in this young, fragile nation when he led it to independence and to a brave new world.

Those nation-building years laid the foundation for today's young, not just the physical infrastructure which has been renewed to a fault, but also, more important, the cultural and social DNA.

For Mr Lee, the Singapore he strived for wasn't just so that it could boast the best port or public housing or export competitiveness. Ultimately, it had to be about Singaporeans, as a people, whether they had the wherewithal to make it as a country.

And so he was relentless in wanting to imbue them with the values he believed were necessary for success, urging, sometimes cajoling and, occasionally, scolding them to do better.

If you read those early missives, they were always values-laden: No one owed Singapore a living, it had to be exceptional or it wouldn't survive, there was no place for idle passengers in this journey to excel, and so on.

An entire generation felt the force of his conviction and personality, and it shaped its thinking.

The young today, brought up by the product of those times, cannot but have been influenced - by their parents, in the schools and wider community. The qualities they possess - their capacity for change, their modern, outward-looking mindset and cosmopolitan outlook - embody Mr Lee's vision of what a forward-looking Singapore is like.

(On the flip side, critics might point to the political apathy, materialistic outlook and lack of civic consciousness as negative traits that rubbed off on them as well.)

But these attributes also mean they are more open to new ideas, questioning of authority, unafraid to upset the status quo and critical of the ruling party's dominance.

It could not have been otherwise.

Indeed, it would be a negation of everything Mr Lee stood for if young Singaporeans thought and behaved like their fathers and grandfathers, and Singapore stood still as a result.

Even though he might have doubts about whether they will continue to keep Singapore secure and prosperous, he must know a large part of the DNA survives.

He himself had acknowledged in the book Hard Truths that no leader can influence a country's future beyond a decade after his departure.

Even the tightly controlled Soviet Union could throw up a Gorbachev who would be responsible for breaking up the mighty superpower.

For the People's Action Party (PAP), the best thing that has happened to it lately has been the pressure it is facing to meet the demands of a changing electorate.

Imagine if it were not the case and the PAP carried on in autopilot mode - how much more likely would it have become complacent and, perhaps, ultimately corrupt, as has happened to many other long-lived incumbent parties.

But if it is able to respond to these new challenges, it can make a successful transition to a post-Lee era.

Mr Lee can take pride in his part in shaping a Singapore that is on the move, one which, at this turning point in its history, isn't lacking in what it takes to succeed. He can look back with satisfaction at the pivotal role young Singaporeans are playing in forcing the pace of change.

They may not fully understand the Singapore he tried to fashion, but they are living proof of how well it has turned out.

Happy birthday, Mr Lee.

Lee Kuan Yew's life in brief


Born in a house in Kampong Java Road, the eldest son of Shell employee Lee Chin Koon, 20, and MsChua Jim Neo, 16.


Start of Japanese Occupation. He narrowly escapes execution during the Sook Ching massacre.


Secretly marries Kwa Geok Choo during Christmas holidays when both were studying law at Cambridge University.


Graduates from Cambridge with two first-class honours and a star for distinction.


Returns to Singapore to begin work as a lawyer.


Forms the People's Action Party.


Elected first prime minister of Singapore.


Campaigns successfully in referendum to take Singapore into Malaysia the following year.


Singapore separates from Malaysia. He breaks down while announcing the news at a press conference.


Steps down as PM, handing over the baton to Mr Goh Chok Tong. Remains in Cabinet as Senior Minister.


Appointed Minister Mentor after Mr Lee Hsien Loong becomes Prime Minister.


Steps down from Cabinet along with Mr Goh after general election.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew celebrates his 90th birthday today. Elgin Toh speaks to Singaporeans from all walks of life to find out what Singapore’s first prime minister means to them personally and what they consider to be his lasting legacy.
The Straits Times, 16 Sep 2013

'Devoted to doing the best for the country'

Mr Sidek Saniff, 75, is a former senior minister of state for education and environment.

IN THE lead-up to the 1976 General Election, I was approached to stand as a candidate for the People's Action Party by Minister of State Yaacob Mohamed and PAP MP Lawrence Sia.

The invitation surprised me as I had been a vocal critic of the PAP Government. I believed they had not done enough to uplift the Malay community, especially in education and in ensuring that Malay students left school with a decent grasp of English.

"Why would Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew ask someone who has been attacking his Government?" I asked.

Haji Yaacob remarked that I did not know the man well. Mr Lee, he said, had a problem if you were criticising for the sake of it. If your motivations were right and you wanted the best for the country, he would work with you.

I would later find this to be true of the man throughout my 25 years in politics.

Some in the Malay community at the time saw my joining the PAP as a betrayal. For them, I had been "bought". But one who is bought has to compromise his beliefs and principles.

Instead, I stayed honest to myself, fighting for the same causes that I had been doing previously on a different platform. This was only possible because Mr Lee listened seriously when there were differences of opinion and could be persuaded to absorb them.

Six years after I entered politics, self-help group Mendaki was formed after strong lobbying from Malay leaders, myself included. Mr Lee supported us and attended the opening ceremony.

In the Education Ministry, where I was senior parliamentary secretary and later senior minister of state, I remember a move by Mr Lee in the 1980s to disclose the breakdown of PSLE and O- level results by ethnicity.

Mr Lee was aware that this might be a sensitive issue for the Malay community and gave instructions that if I could not announce it, a civil servant could do it instead.

I turned down the offer and decided to do it myself because I believed it was the right thing to do.

It was much easier to hide the problem by lumping statistics and pretending that all was fine.

But Mr Lee was not interested in what was easier or more popular. He wanted to confront the problem.

In the 10 years after we started announcing results by ethnicity, Malay grades improved significantly, including in mathematics.

As I recall these stories on Mr Lee's 90th birthday, I pay tribute to a man whose whole life has been devoted to building up this country and doing what is right for it. And how well he has succeeded. Happy birthday, Mr Lee.

'He worked to help nobodies like me'

Mr James Ow-Yeong Keen Hoy, 75, is a retiree. He wrote a thank-you letter to Mr Lee last year. It was reproduced in Mr Lee's latest book, One Man's View Of The World.

I WAS born in 1938 and grew up in Chinatown, which used to be known as "Chicago" because it was a messy part of town, rife with gangsterism.

I lived in a cramped room in an old, three-storey wooden house in Neil Road with my parents and six siblings.

It was a crowded house. Each floor had 10 rooms, and each room housed a family like mine. That meant as many as 40 people shared one toilet and one kitchen. Imagine the living conditions!

In 1966, I became the proud owner of my first home. It was a three-room flat in Toa Payoh, one of Singapore's first satellite towns. I was earning $300 to $400 at the time and the flat cost me just $7,500.

I felt I was living in heaven. The roads were clean and the surroundings were green and spacious. For the first time in my life, I had access to running water and sanitation at home and didn't have to use soil buckets. It was very gracious living indeed.

But above all, my wife and I had privacy. It was our very own home, and we didn't have to share it with anybody.

When Mr Lee Kuan Yew became prime minister, he vowed to make every Singaporean a house owner to give us a sense of ownership over the country. When I moved into my flat, that was how I felt. I had something solid in hand, and I belonged to this place.

So much that we enjoy in this country is a result of what Mr Lee worked his whole life to build.

Last year, I wrote to him to say "thank you". I was surprised that he wrote back within five days. It was, to me, a sign of great humility. I am, after all, a nobody.

That's the kind of man Mr Lee is, the kind of man we celebrate today, on his 90th birthday. A man who has achieved such great things, but who would reply to a nobody. Because it was precisely for millions of nobodies like me that he has been labouring all his life to help.

'My loved ones are testimonials of his legacy'

Ms Stefanie Sun, 35, is a singer-songwriter.

I AM a product of the late 1970s. At the edge of Gen X, not quite Gen Y.

Those in my generation have parents who are part of the "grateful old" - a term I coined not to offend, but in recognition of the fact that they had witnessed the transition from what was to what is under the rule of the PAP.

But my peers and I grew up in a different era. We read English literature and watched American sitcoms. For us, leaders are not idolised, change is openly embraced and alternative opinions are often taken to be "cool" and to be a sign that one has personality.

As we entered the workforce, we heard phrases like "Lee dynasty" and "false democracy".

Suddenly, it was deemed intellectual for one to have another opinion about the man behind the Singapore Story.

Human rights and freedom of the press were pressing issues of the day for my generation - not wealth or capitalism. Mr Nelson Mandela won universal reverence, as did Ms Aung San Suu Kyi. What about Mr Lee Kuan Yew?

In the midst of this, I remembered my father's advice, that I should always strive to have a mind of my own.

I believed it took special insight, otherwise known as wisdom, that comes only with time, to pass judgments or form opinions. More so on a man. I remained circumspect then.

Today, I do not see myself as a direct result of Mr Lee's exceptional accomplishments. I do, however, look to the people whom I love the most as living testimonials of his legacy.

My mother once lived in what was effectively an illegal opium den, but later moved into a beautiful HUDC apartment by working long hours and walking home to save on 25-cent bus trips.

My father washed dishes to pay for his doctoral studies, but later could afford to take us on holidays to Malaysia and eventually New Zealand.

Eventually, my son will have a shot at making it to the best university in Asia.

He will be able to afford an HDB flat on his own and will enjoy beautiful greenery and waterways wherever he chooses to work or live in Singapore.

He will not have to worry constantly about air pollution, clean water and two-hour-long traffic jams. And he will be secure in the knowledge that hard work, good ethics and a good education will get him somewhere.

Perhaps these have come to be taken as basic expectations of many of my fellow Singaporeans. But these are needs that I have decided are important to me and my loved ones, now and for the future.

I remember vividly my meetings with Mr Lee. Some were formal and austere, rather quiet and awkward - or at least in my imagination. But there were also fleeting moments of intimate friendliness and genuine warmth.

It was hard to not be in awe of this man. I remember thinking to myself: This must be what it feels like to be a fan.

I remember one incident when we were to be photographed together. As I kept a respectful distance, he impatiently asked me to move closer to him.

Another time, he was in good spirits and asked me jovially who was the lucky man whom I was married to.

I like a smiling Harry. (This is how I address him - a rather rude way, I know, to speak to the founding father of Singapore, and therefore, I do it only in private.)

It felt like a very precious moment for me.

I remember singing his wife's favourite song, Que Sera Sera, at the Business China Awards in 2011, not long after her demise. (Senior Minister of State) Josephine Teo later told me in private that she saw tears in his eyes. That was probably one of my proudest moments as a singer.

Happy 90th birthday, Mr Lee. May your days be filled with smiling moments.

'Straight talker who is honest with people'

Mr Choo Wye Foo, 76, started volunteering with the PAP in 1954 and joined the party in 1955. A lifelong resident of Tanjong Pagar, he was a pioneer of the PAP branch in the ward.

IN 1963, everyone thought the People's Action Party (PAP) was going to fall at the General Election. Many of my friends from Barisan Sosialis told me to cut my losses and leave the PAP.

But I continued to support the party because of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Lee was honest, upright and straight with people. He had never let the people down. I felt he could do things for the country.

Two occasions stand out in my memory. One was when the first two Housing Board blocks were being built along Cantonment Road in 1963. That's where The Pinnacle@Duxton now stands.

Some PAP committee members said they should get priority for the new flats. But Mr Lee said no. He said: "These flats are not built for the PAP. They are built for the public. If we do that, we will immediately lose our authority as the government of the day."

The other incident was also in those early years. Grassroots leaders then had to take a test on their skills in organising events and their knowledge of current affairs. If you failed, you were kicked out.

I was in the second batch to take the test. Another person from Tanjong Pagar was very nervous and asked Mr Lee: "What happens if we fail?"

Quoting a Chinese saying, Mr Lee said: "Life is a constant struggle. You just have to work hard."

A normal person might try to comfort you and say, try your best, if you fail, we talk again. But Mr Lee did not offer false hope. He is straightforward like that - if you fail, he cannot help you even though he knows you personally.

That was the spirit he brought to the 1963 campaign. From 1962 to 1963, he visited every constituency in Singapore, even the Barisan strongholds. He would walk till the wee hours of the morning. He wanted the people to see him and to listen to their problems.

Some people told him to hold more rallies in Tanjong Pagar and look after his own ground. But he said, "No, I am the Prime Minister. I have to look after the whole of Singapore, not just myself."

On polling night, Mr Lee knew very early on that he had won with a handsome margin. But he wanted to wait for the results from the other constituencies and he was analysing them as they came in. Dr Toh Chin Chye was fighting for his life in Rochore against Dr Lee Siew Choh. Finally, Dr Toh won. It was only then that Mr Lee announced his win.

Before that, he told us: "If PAP loses the war, what meaning is there if I alone win my battle?"

I wish Mr Lee good health on his 90th birthday.

'Bold vision put S'pore on path to fast growth'

Mr Dinesh Senan, 51, is chairman and CEO of sustainable clean technologies firm VIA Group Holdings.

I WRITE not to deify Mr Lee Kuan Yew nor to suggest that one needs to agree with everything he has said and done. I write instead on his 90th birthday to reflect on his sheer dedicated effort over his entire adult lifespan, on his vision and his accomplishments.

History, I predict, will carefully assess and consequently enlarge further the full impact of his weighty legacy. The man has transformed a very troubled colony (troubled by communist insurgencies, triads, illiteracy and poverty) into a vibrant nation whose global influence is out of proportion to its tiny base.

Underlying his accomplishments is the tremendous force of his authenticity. What he feels and thinks, he says and does. This often meant bluntness of expression and political incorrectness.

Authenticity won him global influence. Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher said "he was never wrong". Mr Lee has earned such respect through a lifetime of consistent inner alignment, raising Singapore's image in the process.

His other key attribute was pragmatism, even as he pursued a grand vision. The odds in the 1960s were against us succeeding at all, let alone at this pace. To a huge extent, it was his audacious yet pragmatic vision and his wilful determination that put us on this path to rapid development.

He chose a bold vision: to leapfrog the traditional path of import substitution into export-oriented activity. His formula: Paint the vision, then build infrastructure to support the best global companies, while educating our workforce to meet their demand. The result: Thousands of multinationals set up regional headquarters here.

Above all, he has been a teacher who rolled up his sleeves and took the mantle of leadership of, and accountability to, the people.

We learn from him that tough times demand tough-minded leadership; that we should always dare to dream, but have our feet planted firmly on the ground; and that no one owes us a living.

Most of all, I thank you, Mr Lee, for leaving me and my children a Singapore we are so very proud to be a part of in this world.

'He's proof one man can make a difference'

Mr Sim S. Lim, 55, is Singapore Country Head for DBS Bank.

I WAS born in Malaysia, but became a Singapore citizen in 2008.

Immigration officials who processed my application were surprised by it, since I was stationed in Hong Kong at the time.

"Why do you want citizenship?" they asked.

Before the posting to Hong Kong, I spent 3 1/2 years working and living in Singapore. I had tremendous respect for the government and the country.

I replied without hesitation: "Because I choose Singapore as my home. I know I want to spend the rest of my life here."

I moved back to Singapore in 2010.

Born and bred Singaporeans sometimes may not come to appreciate Singapore the way immigrants do - simply because immigrants have seen how bad things can get in other countries.

The only competitive advantage this country has is a good government, which has spawned good schools, the rule of law, meritocracy and corporate governance, which have in turn brought high-end investments here. These investments have raised the standard of living for all.

At the heart of good government, of course, is Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Through his brilliance and sheer tenacity, he has proven that one man can make a difference. He took the poorest country in Asean (by gross domestic product per capita) and made it the richest.

I watched the National Day Parade this year from my new office on the 46th floor of the Marina Bay Financial Centre, which has a breathtaking view of the bay. The development of the bay area is a story in itself - of how Singapore can create value from little more than air, water and earth.

When Majulah Singapura was played, I sang it with my right hand to my chest. I sang it with pride because I love my new home country.

On Mr Lee's 90th birthday, I want to say: Mr Lee, you are one in a billion. Thank you for building this great nation.

'Differences in opinion, but strong respect'

Mr Soh Yi Da, 24, is a fourth-year political science student at the National University of Singapore.

YOUNG Singaporeans have less of an emotional connection to Mr Lee Kuan Yew than do their parents or grandparents.

By the time I was in my formative years, Mr Lee had long stepped down as prime minister. I came to know him better through books, articles and videos.

But the assumption that we therefore are less appreciative of his contributions to this country can sometimes be overstated.

I know many young people - myself included - who are excited to see Mr Lee at public events and at National Day Parades.

I don't agree with Mr Lee on every issue.

For example, he thinks dialects complicate the learning of Mandarin. I believe reviving dialects will in fact raise Mandarin standards while strengthening our cultural roots.

Yet, differences in opinion do not affect my respect for him.

I met Mr Lee in a closed-door dialogue with young Singaporeans at the Pyramid Club in 2006.

I was struck by the speed at which he responded to questions. His intellectual horsepower and the firmness of his views were also a breath of fresh air at a time when leaders globally tend to be well-spoken lightweights who frequently flip-flop or repeat crowd-pleasers.

In recent years, some young people have shown a desire to rebel against the conventional narrative of Singapore's history, which is centred on Mr Lee and his People's Action Party team.

They believe history's underdogs - such as the leftists of the 1950s and 1960s - have not been duly recognised for their contribution to the Singapore story. I fully agree with the thinking behind this revival, which has spawned books and films featuring alternative accounts of history.

But in their eagerness to correct what they saw as wrong, some have cynically gone to the other extreme by attempting to erase what Mr Lee and his team have done. There is no historical basis for that. Would not the second injustice be at least as grave, if not more grave, than the first?

History has a place for everyone. In my mind, Mr Lee will always be a most distinguished trailblazer with visionary foresight.

'Rare leader who lived by his convictions'

Mr Robin Chan, 30, is a political correspondent at The Straits Times.

AS A journalist just beginning to cut my teeth in the profession, I had the rare opportunity to interview Mr Lee Kuan Yew for the book Hard Truths.

I remember the feeling of dread when I first met him, a man with a reputation for ripping into people who opposed him.

As an idealistic and naive fresh graduate, I knew I was highly vulnerable.

But I survived the first few encounters.

And as the interviews progressed, I gained more courage to ask him questions, sometimes taking views that I knew he opposed, sometimes asking deeply personal questions I hoped would shed more light into his personality and character.

One moment that is still etched in my mind was when I asked if he had ever felt like giving up.

It must have been tiring and frustrating dealing with the criticisms to what he believed in constantly, I thought, and to have challenges placed in front of him time and time again.

The room fell silent, as he clenched his fists, his eyes locked upon me.

"The more we're being tested, the more I have to be around to make sure we pass the test. This is a life-long commitment," he said.

His voice was quiet but firm, his fist pounded the table and a fire burned deep in his eyes. He was 86 then.

I felt a shiver as he spoke. It was not in fear, but because his words had such force and purpose behind them.

I could feel at that moment just a little slice of how hundreds and thousands must have felt when he spoke to them at the rallies in his prime, telling them to believe in a better future.

It became clear to me, too, that what made Mr Lee the rarest of leaders of his time was his deep convictions.

I learnt that to be a transformational leader, one must have convictions and be prepared to live and die by them, which requires courage and determination.

To be a transformational leader, one has to work for a greater purpose and not for one's own personal gain, and that requires vision and discipline.

For Mr Lee, that conviction, that larger purpose, was to keep Singapore going, to keep it exceptional.

He has Singapore flowing, no, coursing, through his veins.

He has had remarkable achievements and also more controversial beliefs.

But Singapore is fortunate to have had a transformational leader in Lee Kuan Yew.

Happy birthday, Mr Lee.

Lessons on the Singapore Spirit

FORMER prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father, celebrates his 90th birthday today.

We owe him a debt of gratitude for Singapore's success story - our nation is what it is today because of his energetic passion and prophetic vision. His foresight, courageous leadership and pragmatic policies decisively transformed Singapore.

In his early years as prime minister, he rallied a team that epitomised clean, competent and committed leadership. Together, they laid a strong foundation for an inclusive, multiracial, harmonious and meritocratic society.

Consistently hailed as one of the world's top leaders, Mr Lee has impacted, influenced and inspired generations of local and global leaders.

He will go down in history as a leader extraordinaire, who made history rather than became history. Even his most vocal critics acknowledge this, albeit grudgingly.

His views, intellectual acumen and strategic thinking are captured in his books and have merited significant attention. A few quotes from his recent books capture his thoughts on leadership:

"I am the captain of the team. Whether we score a resounding

success does not depend on the captain alone. Each member of the team has a decisive role to play. And no team ever wins without good teamwork."

"I think you are a born leader or you are not a leader. You can teach a person to be a manager, but not a leader. They must have the extra drive, intellectual verve, an extra tenacity and the will to overcome."

"Do not try to impress by using big words; impress by the clarity of your ideas. I speak as a practitioner. If I had not been able to reduce complex ideas into simple words and project them vividly for mass understanding, I would not be here."

"I put myself down as determined, consistent, persistent. I set out to do something. I keep on chasing it until it succeeds."

"I am not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honourable purpose."

Thank you, Mr Lee, for teaching us through words and deeds the Singapore Spirit - one person with courage, compassion, conviction and commitment from a small city-state can make a big difference on the world stage.

I wish you a happy and blessed 90th birthday.

Johnson Lim Teng Kok (Dr)
ST Forum, 16 Sep 2013

From Third World to First - in one generation

MR LEE Kuan Yew is a politician extraordinaire who dedicated his life to Singapore's cause. He is a respected world figure whose counsel is much sought after.

In 1959, he led his party to a landslide victory in a historic general election for a fully elected self-government.

With wisdom and foresight, he established good governance, the rule of law and meritocracy that enabled Singapore to grow and prosper, and become a global manufacturing, research and development, trade and financial hub.

He elevated Singapore from a Third World to a First World nation in one generation.

Singaporeans today enjoy a high standard of living, and a stable and peaceful environment to live, work and play in.

Mr Lee moulded Singapore, a non-homogeneous nation, into a cohesive, multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious society.

He rallied Singaporeans to excel. He shaped them to become literate, bilingual, intelligent, efficient, confident, law-abiding and worldly-wise.

This is just a glimpse of the colossal accomplishments of our founding prime minister, who celebrates his 90th birthday today.

Happy birthday, Mr Lee, and thank you for making this little red dot such a spectacular success.

Anthony Oei
ST Forum, 16 Sep 2013

Lee Kuan Yew: A life examined
Global media dissect his achievements, leadership style as Mr Lee turns 90
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2013

IN THE week of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthday, international media outlets from The Economist to the South China Morning Post dissected his achievements and leadership style, lauding the elder statesman's commitment to long-term planning but singling out his use of repressive laws.

After attending a Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy conference on Monday on his "big ideas", The Economist, in its Asia blog Banyan, wrote that Mr Lee's leadership was "less about big ideas than a big personality". The former prime minister was a pragmatist and empiricist who always went with what worked and was prepared to change his mind when the facts changed, the writer added.

Mr Lee's "big ideas" were that social order and the rule of law were necessary elements for the success of the country, said the blog, which is published without naming the writer.

"So Singapore's (law) imposes harsh punishments - including caning and the death penalty - for some crimes, and retains a draconian act allowing detention without trial of those deemed a threat to national security," the writer said. But whether Mr Lee was right in using such repressive laws, and bringing defamation suits against political opponents, remains an open question, he suggested.

However, he acknowledged that the praise Mr Lee has attracted this week is understandable.

"Singapore is, by almost any reckoning, a success story: prosperous, stable, orderly, efficient, clean, largely free of corruption and playing an influential international role out of all proportion to its tiny size and a population of just 5.3 million."

"And even Lee Kuan Yew's fiercest critics would find it hard to argue that none of this is thanks to his leadership."

Mr Lee's legacy, said the South China Morning Post in an editorial on Tuesday, is the success story of modern Singapore.

But the Hong Kong newspaper signalled disagreement with "the authoritarian limits on personal liberties he saw as being for his countrymen's good".

"He still makes no apology for them, citing integrity, a sense of duty, no abuse of power and meritocracy as basic principles of Singapore's success," it wrote. "He admits Singapore is 'loosening up' under younger leaders. We trust he is wrong when he expresses fears this may come to no good."

Mr Lee's uncomfortable relationship with those espousing civil liberties and human rights was also a topic American journalist Tom Plate touched on in a post on the Asia Media website, which is hosted by the Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where Mr Plate teaches. "Lee had been known to despise Western journalists whose sole homework for the interview would be to review negative human-rights reports and dreary old clips about caning and chewing gum," he wrote.

Mr Plate related how, when Mr Lee was asked why he bothered to sit down for interviews with him, the Singaporean responded with a look as if he was crazy, telling the American that it was his job to "influence the people who influence people's opinions about Singapore". "The response was telling," he wrote. "For all his enormous towering and sometimes-scary ego, he cared most about making his little country look good and important."

In Brazil, former central bank governor Henrique Meirelles wrote in a weekly column that apart from New York City, Singapore "is another good example of management by results". It was long-term vision, focus on results and search for administrative excellence "even with short-term political losses" that led to its success, he wrote.

Singapore's future after Mr Lee was also broached, with The Economist grouping it, along with the low birth rate, as among the difficulties the country is up against. It wrote: "Even now, more than two decades after he stepped down as prime minister, and even though his own son now holds that office, people worry about what Singapore will be like without him."

Regional media on Mr Lee

The Economist, in its blog on Asian politics and culture, Banyan

"Mr Lee has always eschewed a personality cult - even when he was prime minister, his photograph did not adorn public buildings - and he long refused to allow any building or institution to bear his name.

He said he had visited too many countries where the names of former leaders were being erased from public places. But he relented after he turned 80. So it was perhaps also appropriate that the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy should mark its ninth birthday and Mr Lee's 90th by holding a day-long conference on his 'Big Ideas'.

His leadership, however, was less about 'big ideas' than a big personality. He is, as many speakers noted, a pragmatist and empiricist. Like (former Chinese leader) Deng Xiaoping, he is interested less in theory than in what works, and has often been prepared to change his ideas when the facts change."

"Faced with the challenge of a lack of natural resources, Lee launched a programme to transform Singapore into a major exporter of finished goods and attract foreign investment.

He has his detractors, especially for the authoritarian limits on personal liberties he saw as being for his countrymen's good. He still makes no apology for them, citing integrity, a sense of duty, no abuse of power and meritocracy as basic principles of Singapore's success.

He admits Singapore is 'loosening up' under younger leaders. We trust he is wrong when he expresses fears this may come to no good."

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