Sunday 22 March 2015

Musings on Lee Kuan Yew's legacy from ordinary people he touched

People in Singapore and overseas reflect on his contributions to nation
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2015

LIKE many Singaporeans, Madam Ranjani Rangan has been closely following news of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's health in recent days.

Yesterday, the 38-year-old banker felt so strongly about the negative comments from some netizens that she wrote a heartfelt Facebook note on Mr Lee's contributions to Singapore.

She expressed the hope that those who had criticised him for what they see as a "dictatorship" will hopefully appreciate what he and his team of leaders had done for the country.

"We may not be able to afford big homes or have large cars, our country is too small for long drives, there is less freedom of speech, the work culture may not be as flexible as in the West, and the weather is a bit too warm with a lack of the four seasons - however, where it truly matters, we have it all laid out for us," she wrote, citing Singapore's quality education, healthcare, infrastructure, transport and security.

"We don't understand how good we have it here," Madam Rangan said when contacted. The fourth-generation Singaporean lived and worked in Britain and the United States for 12 years before returning home in 2008.

Like her, others have written commentaries on Mr Lee's legacy. Several mentioned that some of Mr Lee's decisions and views remain controversial, but pointed out that on balance, his leadership was critical to Singapore's progress.

Miami-based Beverly Murray, who grew up in Singapore, wrote about Mr Lee on her blog earlier this month, and titled her post The Most Brilliant Politician You Never Knew.

In her post, which has been circulating on social media, she highlighted how former US president Richard Nixon once described Mr Lee as a man who "might have attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone" were he born in another country. She also described how his push for what is the best - not just the individual's best - was an ethos instilled at school throughout her growing-up years in the 1980s, even as she and her classmates felt alienated by this focus on the practical over the poetic.

They have since relocated to Shanghai, Perth, New York and London, but she feels they too are likewise pensive about Mr Lee's impending departure.

"No display of gratitude seems excessive in (the) light of your tremendous legacy. But I'm happiest to report that your people - scattered and disparate as they may be - have indeed found poetry," she wrote. "In doing so, they may have uncovered the spirit of what it really means to be Singaporean at heart."

Mr Daniel Wagner, chief executive of Country Risk Solutions, who had lived in Singapore, wrote a piece on The Huffington Post about his time as an expatriate.

"Say what you will about the type of democracy LKY created, and nurtured, after stepping down as prime minister in 1990, the net result is an economic miracle unrivalled in South-east Asia that has punched way above its weight for decades," he wrote.

Mr Wagner noted that many people have criticised Singapore's political system, but said Mr Lee and his People's Action Party "have consistently delivered the goods - in a big way".

"If you ask me what LKY's legacy is, I would say it is a textbook case about how to make something really meaningful out of very little - how to transform a tiny island nation into an economic goliath," he said.

"How to create a safe haven in a region filled with churning waters. And how to constantly evolve in order to survive and thrive."

Extracts from three commentaries on Mr Lee Kuan Yew in recent days:

"Lee Kuan Yew's Legacy" - Daniel Wagner, writing in The Huffington Post

"Many people have criticised Singapore's political system, characterising it as a 'one party state' masquerading as a democracy.

They note the restrictions on freedom of speech, the severe penalties for criticising the government or its officials, the latent or overt discrimination of Malay and Indian minorities, and the overly paternalistic nature of the 'nanny' state. Depending on your vantage point - as a Singaporean, expat, minority or overseas foreign worker - some or much of this will ring true, or simply not be perceived as relevant or necessarily important.

It is all part of the Singapore story.

What is certainly true, however, is that LKY and his People's Action Party have consistently delivered the goods - in a big way. If you ask me, I don't particularly care if a government has a small 'D' in its 'democracy', or whether it listens to my phone calls, or makes laws against jaywalking and chewing gum...

What matters to me is whether I can live in a place that is safe, clean, efficient, and gets the job done. On that score, Singapore's government gets an A+.

Having moved from Singapore to Manila, I can tell you, I missed much about Singapore for a long time.

Even today, having been back in the States for eight years, I wish much of what works so well in Singapore could be transported to the US.

We could learn a lot from 'the Singapore way'."

"A letter to our founding father, from a returning Singaporean" - Ranjani Rangan, in a Facebook note and e-mail

"Today I feel proud to call myself a Singaporean, to sing our national anthem loudly at every opportunity I get, that my children today are citizens, when my expat colleagues rave about Singapore and want to make Singapore their home, that I am living in a little red dot First World country that is envied by so many around the world, and feel extremely proud to produce my red passport to the overseas immigration officers whenever I travel.

And all this pride is only possible because of you, our founding father, Mr Lee, and your A team of leaders who had developed and shaped Singapore to what it is today and continue to do so."

"The most brilliant politician you never knew" - Beverly Murray, who moved from Singapore to the United States when she was 16

"Singapore needed doctors, engineers, teachers, and lawyers.

There was no room for whimsy or creativity, a perspective neatly summed up by Lee's maxim that 'poetry is a luxury we cannot afford. What is important for pupils is not literature, but a philosophy of life'.

Therein lay my big unspoken conflict. As a Singaporean, I revelled in our shared destiny, fiercely protective of my beloved little country that not only survived, but (also) thrived against all odds.

Yet the writer and dreamer in me felt cast out to sea, mere flotsam in the gritty ocean of nation-building practicalities. It is one thing to speak of my American immigration experience at 16 years of age. It is quite another to realise that at 11 years old, I already felt like an immigrant in my own country of birth.

To experience this so viscerally as a child was simultaneously liberating and devastating.

It all but sealed my fate as a perpetual nomad...

Now, decades later, an old man lays dying while I - 10,000 miles away - am strangely, deeply moved. My instincts tell me that I am not the only one...

You gave us a republic, Mr Lee. No display of gratitude seems excessive in (the) light of your tremendous legacy.

But I'm happiest to report that your people - scattered and disparate as they may be - have indeed found poetry."

Places to leave good wishes for Mr Lee
By Fiona Chan And Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2015

SPECIAL areas are being set up for well-wishers to leave cards, flowers and gifts for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who remains critically ill in the intensive care unit of Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

The hospital yesterday designated an area outside Block 7 for these expressions of concern, in response to people trying to leave them with hospital staff or in the building's public spaces.

Grassroots leaders at Tanjong Pagar GRC, where Mr Lee is an MP, have also set aside the Tanjong Pagar Community Club art gallery as a space for residents to place get-well cards and gifts.

More than 100 residents have left cards at the gallery, which will be open over the weekend from 9am to 10pm.

By last night, about 80 cards and gifts had been left at SGH's designated area for Mr Lee, 91, who was hospitalised on Feb 5 with severe pneumonia.

Concern over his health has escalated since Tuesday, when the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said his condition had worsened.

Mr Patrick Ang, 41, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorised wheelchair, travelled from Clementi to leave a card. He said Mr Lee helped him move to a new flat after he was robbed in his Jalan Bukit Merah rental flat in 2012.

Mr Ang, who sells Singapore Sweep tickets, had written to Mr Lee for help through the PMO.

Within two weeks, Mr Ang was moved to a new rental flat of his choice in Clementi. He said: "If not for Mr Lee, I would still be living in the other flat."

A group from social enterprise Positive Intentions, which helps disadvantaged groups get back on their feet, came with flowers and placards covered with sticky notes. They had spent two hours outside Ngee Ann City getting 200 people to write good wishes for Mr Lee.

Real estate agent Kathy Ng, 53, left a daisy and a card for Mr Lee, saying she cried on Wednesday after seeing an announcement of Mr Lee's death, which later turned out to be a screenshot of a hoax website with the false news.

Police yesterday said a male Singaporean student below the age of 16 is suspected of having created and circulated photos of the fake website, which bore the PMO logo. The student, who is believed to have operated alone, is assisting in police investigations.

In an update on Facebook yesterday, Mr Lee's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, thanked people for their "good wishes and prayers" for his father, saying he was "deeply touched".

Posting a black-and-white photograph of himself as a child being carried by his father, PM Lee said he had been looking at old family snapshots.

"So many happy memories over a lifetime," he added.

Outpouring of good wishes for Mr Lee on social media
By Chong Zi Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2015

ONCE a week, undergraduate Doris Kwoh, 23, visits a group of elderly residents in Commonwealth to check on them.

But on Thursday, aside from keeping them company, she recorded videos of five of them with her smartphone, thanking Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his contributions to Singapore.

At home, she edited the videos into a single clip and uploaded it on Facebook, where it garnered more than 13,400 views as of 10.30pm last night and was shared by Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

"These seniors, who went through Singapore's tough times with Mr Lee, have always been telling me how grateful they are to him. I wanted to capture and share their feelings," she said.

"I hope that somehow, Mr Lee and his family will be able to see the video and feel encouraged."

Like Ms Kwoh, many Singaporeans have been expressing their good wishes to Mr Lee - who remains critically ill at the Singapore General Hospital - by using social media's multimedia capabilities and reach to convey their feelings.

Artists produced portraits of Mr Lee and posted their works online. Ms Pepperika See shared a painting captioned as her "tribute to our charismatic leader", while Mr Lawrence Koh uploaded a video of a sand painting with the words "father of Singapore".

Many netizens tweeted photos of Mr Lee taken during different stages of his life as they reflected on his role as the country's first prime minister.

"The truth is, many of us won't be able to build our dreams without him," said one tweet, which was accompanied by a photo of Mr Lee and his late wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, during their time as students in Britain.

Others simply expressed their emotions using just words.

Bangkok-based former opposition politician Nicole Seah wrote on her Facebook page: "Even though I am not in Singapore with all of you right now, I feel the same trepidation as if I was right there, refreshing all the news sites and keeping close tabs on any development. Whether we agree or disagree with what he has done, we cannot deny that this is a man of great intellect, talent and ambition to give Singapore the profile that it has and moulded it into what it is today...

"Whatever the outcome, LKY has led a full life dedicated to doing the best he could for us, and I hope that people will know better and have the sense to respect that, and to respect him for the years he has given, than to bay for blood or cast stones."

Taxi driver Ganesh Sundram's March 18 Facebook note, which reminded Singaporeans of what they can be grateful for because Mr Lee "had a vision and he went about executing it", has been shared by nearly 16,300 people.

"That man... whether u like it or not... was a key installation to the life we have today... not sang nila utama... or that tengku... or stamford raffles... The name is LEE KUAN YEW... and if he is no longer ard... i WILL feel sad..." said part of his post.

Speaking to The Straits Times, he recalled picking up a South African couple at the airport.

During the drive, he noticed the wife clutching her handbag tightly and keeping it hidden from view. "But the husband, who worked here for a few years, told her, 'Darling, this is Singapore, you don't have to do that.'

"At that moment, I felt so proud of my country and so lucky to have been born here," Mr Ganesh said.

The outpouring of sentiments online was no surprise to Nanyang Technological University associate professor Augustine Pang, who studies public communications.

He said: "Mr Lee is someone who attracts adoration and respect, and social media allows people to participate collectively and yet express themselves individually."

He said Singapore's celebration of its 50th anniversary was also a reminder that "Mr Lee's narrative has always been intertwined with that of Singapore's. It's part of the increasing participatory climate, people want to have their say and want to be heard".

Student suspected to be behind hoax
By Charissa Yong And Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2015

A MALE Singaporean student below the age of 16 is suspected of having posted a fake announcement on the supposed death of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew on Wednesday.

Police said in a statement yesterday that he is assisting them with investigations.

Screenshots of the bogus announcement, purportedly from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) website, were circulated on social media on Wednesday night. It was picked up and reported as fact by several foreign media outlets, only to be retracted later.

Police, who were alerted at about 10pm on Wednesday that multiple messages with the hoax announcement were circulating, established the suspect's identity within 24 hours. He was not named in yesterday's statement.

Police said preliminary investigations found he was believed to have modified a 2010 media statement that was hosted on the website. He then sent out a photograph of the modified content.

The statement added that he is believed to have operated alone.

Police are investigating whether the suspect committed the offence of access with intent to commit or facilitate the commission of an offence. Under the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act, anyone found guilty of the offence can be fined up to $50,000, jailed for up to 10 years, or both.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Sekher Warrier, acting director of the Criminal Investigation Department, advised the public not to spread falsehoods, saying: "The police take a very stern view against anyone who doctors a government website to spread false information to deceive the public. Individuals who do so must be prepared to face the consequences under the law."

Mr Lee remains critically ill and has been warded at the Singapore General Hospital since Feb 5.

Separately, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday denounced rumour-mongers and said people should be respectful during these trying times for the Lee family.

Speaking after visiting a Punggol mosque, he addressed the online rumours about Mr Lee's health: "These are irresponsible acts. We know that Mr Lee is undergoing a tremendous challenge now which is also affecting his family. We have to respect that.

"It is also part of our moral and religious obligation to a fellow human being, especially an elderly statesman who has contributed so much to our country. We must also respect the feelings of his family.

"I don't think that this is something that we should condone. What we can do is to keep him in our thoughts and prayers. He has led us, fought for our independence and paved the way for Singapore's success, which we are benefiting from today and are proud of. We should continue to wish him and his family well. We owe it to him and we should, in fact, protect his good name and be sensitive to the feelings of his family during these times."

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