Monday 23 March 2015

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew dies aged 91

Singapore mourns
By Warren Fernandez, Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE entered the post-Lee Kuan Yew era yesterday, with the passing of founding father Lee Kuan Yew, 91.

It was a day that had been widely anticipated, not least since Mr Lee himself had often spoken of the need for leadership succession and had pushed it relentlessly, giving up his own job as Prime Minister in 1990 after 31 years and while still robust at 67.

Yet, when the time finally came - he died at 3.18am yesterday at the Singapore General Hospital where he had been hospitalised since Feb 5 with severe pneumonia - there was a palpable sense of loss in the country, from the halls of the Istana to the streets of Tanjong Pagar.

As soon as the Prime Minister's Office announced the news an hour later, an unprecedented outpouring of tributes and messages of condolence began appearing online, and continued all day.

An emotional Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fought back tears when he appeared live on television from the Istana at 8am to deliver the news that the first Prime Minister, his father, had died. He said he was "grieved beyond words".

"The first of our founding fathers is no more. He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together, and brought us here. He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won't see another man like him," he said.

To many here and abroad, he said, "Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore. Singapore was his abiding passion. He gave of himself, in full measure, to Singapore. As he himself put it towards the end of his life and I quote, '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.'"

PM Lee called on Singaporeans to honour Mr Lee's spirit, even as they mourned his loss, and work together to "build on his foundations, strive for his ideals, and keep Singapore exceptional and successful for many years to come".

On hearing news of Mr Lee's passing, people immediately began making their way to the Istana, Tanjong Pagar and Parliament House, their numbers growing through the day. Many, both men and women, were wet-eyed.

At the Istana's Orchard Road gates, the crowd waited patiently to pen heartfelt condolence messages and catch a glimpse of Mr Lee returning to the grounds for the last time. When the silver hearse bearing his casket arrived at about 1pm, applause and cheers broke out, as well as cries of "Thank you, Mr Lee!"

Over at Tanjong Pagar, which Mr Lee represented for 60 years since 1955, thousands more turned out to pay tribute to the man some called the "father of the nation", bowing respectfully before a large portrait of him.

Retired calligrapher Seow Cheong Choon, 80, wept as he recounted how he had once railed against Mr Lee, doubting he would deliver on his promises to house Singapore's slum dwellers and squatters.

"He said he would give us all a house. Not just one or two people, but the thousands living in attap houses," he said in Mandarin. "I was angry with his promises of false hope. Who could believe him? Singapore was chaotic, muddy, full of gangsters."

He was referring to the time Mr Lee had declared at a 1965 grassroots event: "This country belongs to all of us. We made this country from nothing, from mudflats... Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear!"

That vision was to become a reality, and one of those who lived through the city's transformation was Mr Seow, who moved into a new three-room flat in Kim Tian Road in the late 1960s.

Mr Lee led a pioneer generation of Singaporeans to overcome similarly daunting challenges, including rebuilding the economy after the sudden pullout of British forces and the oil shocks of the 1970s, and a major economic recession in the mid-1980s.

Little wonder then that he came to be regarded as the man most instrumental in shaping this country, from the time he and his People's Action Party colleagues pushed for self-government in the 1950s to their quest for merger with the Federation of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak to form the new nation Malaysia in the early 1960s, and their efforts to secure the Republic's survival after independence was thrust on it on Aug 9, 1965.

He famously wept on TV announcing the "moment of anguish", when Singapore was "severed" from Malaysia. Not only had he believed deeply in a unified Malaysia as a multiracial society, but he must also have sensed the enormity of the task for the new city-state to make a living in an inhospitable world.

His decades in office were not uncontroversial. Having survived life-and-death battles with the communists and communalists in Singapore's troubled early years, he made plain that he was not averse to donning "knuckledusters" to take on and "demolish" his political adversaries. He refused to be swayed by popular sentiment or opinion polls, believing that voters would come round when they eventually saw the benefits of policies he had pushed through.

He was both a visionary and a radical thinker, and was instrumental in a host of major policies that have shaped almost every aspect of Singaporeans' lives, from promoting public housing, home ownership, racial integration in public estates and, later, estate upgrading, to adopting English as a common language for the disparate races in Singapore.

He made multiracialism and meritocracy as well as economically sound and corruption-free government hallmarks of the Singapore way. He carried over his own frugal ways to the business of government and was relentless in his fight against the "cancer of corruption", making plain no one was beyond being investigated and ejected from office if they strayed.

He pushed for ministers and senior civil servants to be paid salaries pegged to private sector rates, despite that being controversial, believing it was necessary if Singapore was to continue to enjoy good, clean government.

And if this city gained a reputation worldwide for also being one of the cleanest and greenest, it was because the Prime Minister himself took a personal interest in enhancing the island's greenery, parks and waterways, long before such environmental consciousness became fashionable.

World leaders acknowledged this track record and were lavish with their accolades yesterday. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak noted that Mr Lee's "achievements were great, and his legacy is assured", while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed him as a "far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders".

United States President Barack Obama said in a statement: "He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one of the great strategists of Asian affairs."

At home, even opposition politicians who bore the brunt of Mr Lee's no-holds-barred broadsides put aside their partisan differences, with leaders such as those from the Workers' Party and Singapore Democratic Party extending their condolences to PM Lee and his family.

Yesterday was the first of a two-day private family wake at Sri Temasek in the Istana, when family members, past and present Cabinet ministers and MPs, as well as old friends of Mr Lee and his family paid their last respects. Among them were Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, former Chief Justice Yong Pung How and Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing.

Tomorrow, his body will be taken to Parliament House to lie in state until Saturday and members of the public will be able to pay their last respects. A State Funeral will be held on Sunday at 2pm at the University Cultural Centre in Kent Ridge, followed by a private cremation at Mandai Crematorium.

Mr Lee leaves his two sons, PM Lee, 63, and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, 57, daughter Lee Wei Ling, 60, daughters-in-law Ho Ching, 61, and Lee Suet-Fern, 56, seven grandchildren and two siblings. His wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, died in 2010 at the age of 89.

He had soldiered on with his public duties after retirement, and even after the loss of his wife of 63 years, whom he mourned deeply, but mostly in private. They had married secretly as undergraduates in Cambridge in 1947, and Mr Lee is said to have instructed, in a note to his children, that when the time came, their ashes should be mixed so they might be "joined after life as they had been in life".

Summing up his life's work in his two-part memoirs, The Singapore Story, Mr Lee once revealed how he and his colleagues believed that Malaysian leaders anticipated the day when an independent Singapore would fail and be forced to appeal for readmission to the Federation, on Malaysia's terms.

"No, not if I could help it," he once declared. "People in Singapore were in no mood to crawl back after what they had been through. The people shared our feelings and were prepared to do whatever was needed to make an independent Singapore work. I did not know I was to spend the rest of my life getting Singapore not just to work, but to prosper and flourish."

'Let us honour his spirit and life's work'
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the nation on the death of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew yesterday. In an emotional speech that was broadcast live from the Istana at 8am, he paid tribute to the elder Mr Lee in Malay, Chinese and English. Initially calm and composed in a grey shirt and navy tie, PM Lee had to stop several times during the Chinese portion of his speech to gather himself before continuing.
The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015


"The first of our founding fathers is no more. He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together and brought us here.

"He fought for independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won't see another man like him.

"To many Singaporeans, and indeed others too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore. As Prime Minister, he pushed us hard to achieve what had seemed impossible.

"After he stepped down, he guided his successors with wisdom and tact. And in old age, he continued to keep a watchful eye on Singapore. Singapore was his abiding passion. He gave of himself in full measure to Singapore.

"As he himself put it, towards the end of his life, and I quote: '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.'

"I'm grieved beyond words at the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I know that we all feel the same way.

"But even as we mourn his passing, let us also honour his spirit. Let us dedicate ourselves as one people to build on his foundations, strive for his ideals and keep Singapore exceptional and successful for many years to come.

"May Mr Lee Kuan Yew rest in peace."


"I am deeply saddened to inform you that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has passed away.

"Mr Lee was Singapore's founding Prime Minister. He had dedicated his whole life to Singapore.

"He built a nation where there was none, and fought tenaciously for Singapore's independence.

"His indomitable courage and resourcefulness carried the day on many critical occasions, and laid the foundations of Singapore's success.

"We have lost the man who had led us, inspired us and united us. As we mourn Mr Lee's passing, let us also honour his spirit and his life's work.

"Let us continue building Singapore, strengthening our multiracial and multi-religious society, and standing together as one united people, something which he had fought for all his life.

"May Mr Lee Kuan Yew rest in peace."


"Today, we lost our beloved leader, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

"Mr Lee is irreplaceable in our hearts. He has a special bond with Singaporeans and was well loved by them.

"When he was hospitalised, people from all walks of life showed their care and encouragement in different ways.

"This was of great comfort to Mr Lee and my family. On behalf of my family, I would like to convey our sincere appreciation for your good wishes.

"Singapore's survival was Mr Lee's greatest concern throughout his life. He dedicated himself to Singapore, uniting us as one people and motivating us to be self-reliant. He took us from Third World to First, building a home that we can be proud of.

"His passing is a great loss to Singapore and my family.

"In this moment of grief, let us always remember Mr Lee's contributions.

"The best way to honour him would be to carry on his life's passion, and stay as one united people to keep Singapore prosperous and strong.

"May you rest in peace, Mr Lee."

His body rests near the Istana lawns he loved
Visitors from ministers to nurses pay respects - some stoic, some in tears
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

IT WAS a fitting resting place for the body of Singapore's founding Prime Minister.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's casket was laid out in a simple room on the ground floor of Sri Temasek, the official residence of the Prime Minister in the Istana grounds.

In life, he had spent many happy moments taking strolls on the Istana's green lawns with his wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo.

Yesterday, at a private family wake, the casket rested on a bed of white orchids in the two-storey detached terrace house.

More than 1,200 people paid their respects to Mr Lee, who died yesterday at the age of 91.

The mood at Sri Temasek was sombre. Staff members were dressed in crisp white shirts and black trousers, and wore a black band around their left elbow that signified mourning.

My family and I greatly appreciate your messages of condolence and support. Grateful to those who came to pay respects...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, March 23, 2015

Several visitors, including political leaders past and present, also had black ribbons pinned to their shirts.

They were received by Mr Lee's elder son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Like many of his family members, PM Lee wore a white polo shirt, dark-coloured trousers and formal black shoes.

He moved among the guests, accepting their condolences and asking after them in turn.

Most Cabinet ministers and MPs were accompanied by their spouses. Others, like Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean, also took their children along.

Mostly in silence, they filed past Mr Lee's immediate family members, who stood at the entrance to the hall.

What caught their eye was a black-and-white portrait of Mr Lee. Dressed in a dark suit with a mandarin collar, he gazed to the side, hands clasped contemplatively together.

As they approached the casket, some bowed their heads. Others said a simple prayer.

Several, like Dr Lily Neo, who was Mr Lee's fellow MP in Tanjong Pagar GRC, could not hold back their tears as they left the hall.

Mrs Lee Suet Fern, who is married to Mr Lee's son, Hsien Yang, comforted her.

Tables were laid out on the verandah outside the hall, where guests lingered for a while and spoke in hushed tones among themselves.

Many of Mr Lee's old comrades, who had fought alongside him in the politically tumultuous decades past, were there to catch a final glimpse of him. They included Mr Ong Pang Boon, Mr Othman Wok, Mr S. Dhanabalan, Mr Chan Chee Seng and Mr Hwang Soo Jin.

The widow of Singapore's first President, Mr Yusof Ishak, Puan Noor Aishah, was also there.

Calling Mr Lee a friend and a leader, she said: "We are indebted to him... for having been a good friend to us, to my late husband and to our family. Both Mr and Mrs Lee were very gracious to us."

Among the foreign guests in attendance yesterday was Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing, who was accompanied by his son, Richard.

Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah and his wife, Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha, also arrived in the afternoon.

Just before 4pm, President Tony Tan Keng Yam visited the wake with his wife, Mary.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, President Tan paused for long stretches at a time to collect himself. His voice was strained.

Struggling to speak at points, he said: "(Mr Lee's) passing is an end of an era, and nobody can replace him.

"But we can honour his legacy by carrying on what he has started and that is to continue to make Singapore successful and a good home for Singaporeans for many years to come."

Other ministers were also visibly emotional. Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was Mr Lee's principal private secretary from 1997 to 2000, were red-eyed as they spoke to the media.

From about 5pm onwards, more grassroots groups and others representing businesses arrived to pay their respects.

There were also several nurses, dressed in their smart uniforms.

Some were from Singapore General Hospital and others were colleagues of Mr Lee's daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, who is a senior adviser at the National Neuroscience Institute.

As the sun set and the warm lights of Sri Temasek came on, more visitors headed home, leaving small pockets of family members at the tables to talk quietly among themselves and to their guests.

The private wake ends today.

Keeping Mr Lee's legacy alive
Editorial, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

LEE KUAN YEW was many things to Singaporeans: father figure, visionary, social disciplinarian and sage.

He was the man who played the decisive role in the creation of Singapore as the people know it today. "One day, this will be a metropolis. Never fear!" he once declared. The people believed in him, gave him and the nation's other founding fathers their support, and together they built modern Singapore.

He was astute enough to have surrounded himself with men of conviction who shared his vision. The original team of Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, S. Rajaratnam, Lim Kim San, Hon Sui Sen and E.W. Barker were all titans in their own right.

But as the skipper, Mr Lee gained much of the credit for the successes that were to come. He was the doer-in-chief who outlined the plans, crystallised thoughts, marshalled the talents, swayed the voters, and got things done. Singaporeans owe more than they can imagine to Mr Lee and his group of stout-hearted patriots.

He has died at the advanced age of 91, having soldiered on right to the end. He had seemed sad and somewhat withdrawn after the death of his wife, a soulmate and confidante he was devoted to. But for the better part of his post-leadership years - after giving up the prime ministership when he was at the peak of his powers - he had the satisfaction of seeing the results of a lifetime of dedication and toil. He has gone out a man fulfilled, confident in the knowledge that Singapore as an idea he crafted can endure.

Tears will still be shed at the death of a remarkable achiever and a patriot, but he would certainly not be impressed if Singaporeans became mawkish on his behalf. He was not a sentimental man, only one who was passionate about his belief in Singapore.

The Singapore of today, standing 10 feet tall despite its slight base, is a monument to Mr Lee's daring, his leadership and his capacity for self-belief. It was he who made Singapore known to the world as a byword for sensible, pragmatic governance.

What he was not was a dreamer. He was not one for grandiose speeches, elegant theories or overly intellectual discourse. His guiding philosophy, as he said often, was simply to do "what works". By almost every Singaporean's reckoning, his legacy will be this: the Singapore he led in building will endure after him.

In moments of musing, he used to say this was not yet a nation. The roots were as yet shallow, the moorings not quite firm. He was an exacting man, always worrying about the possible perils and pitfalls ahead, and seeking ways to avoid them. The values he left behind - meritocracy, racial and religious tolerance, integrity in public life, respect for the rule of law - will help secure Singapore's longevity.

Some of the self-proclaimed "knuckle-duster" methods he used to clear obstacles in his path and to counter critics - methods he said he had learnt through life-and-death struggles with communist and communalist opponents who did not believe in Queensberry rules - might be judged by some as harsh. They left even some of his admirers cold. Rightly or wrongly, he always acted in the firm belief that the fledgling nation's cause needed protecting from those whose agendas he was convinced would harm Singapore.

This tough-minded approach helped him to deliver results and improved the people's lives, thereby winning their support, respect and trust. But by the 1980s, changing times required a different approach, which he recognised and urged on his younger colleagues. His successors will have to keep pace with this evolving political landscape if they are to enjoy the same high levels of esteem and support that the people had for the first-generation PAP Government led by Mr Lee.

That there is a Singapore - secure, successful and always seeking new ways to stay relevant in an unforgiving, changing world - is Mr Lee's legacy. He would often assert that Singapore was no ordinary country. To overcome the odds and survive, this city-state and disparate society had to be "special", even "extraordinary".

Singaporeans can pay him no more fitting tribute than to strive to ensure it stays that way.

President: He was architect of our modern Republic
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE was Mr Lee Kuan Yew's passion, and he continued to serve the country until the last days of his life, wrote President Tony Tan Keng Yam in a condolence letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

"Few have demonstrated such complete commitment to a cause greater than themselves," said Dr Tan, writing on behalf of the people of Singapore.

Mr Lee devoted his entire life to Singapore, he said, from his first position as a legal adviser to the unions in the 1950s to his "undisputed role as the architect of our modern Republic".

When Independence was foisted upon the country, many doubted Singapore would survive.

But Mr Lee rallied the people, leading the Cabinet to "successfully build up our armed forces, develop our infrastructure and transform Singapore into a global metropolis", said Dr Tan.

Many aspects of daily life bear his imprint, added Dr Tan - Mr Lee set up the Housing and Development Board to develop public housing estates, giving "every citizen a stake in the nation".

He had the vision of establishing Singapore as a Garden City during the early years of urban development, and, today, Singapore River forms part of Marina Bay, a valuable source of fresh water.

"Because of Mr Lee's farsightedness, Singapore is hailed as a model of sustainable and inclusive development," said the President.

He noted Mr Lee's "lasting contributions" in building a meritocratic and multicultural Singapore, where the most deserving candidates - regardless of race or religion - would be acknowledged.

That each ethnic group learns its mother tongue, too, allowed Singaporeans to "leverage on our bilingual and bicultural edge to take advantage of the opportunities" around the world.

On top of that, the late Mr Lee "placed service before self-interest", said Dr Tan. While he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990 to allow for smooth leadership renewal with a team of younger Cabinet colleagues, he continued to serve as Senior Minister until 2004, and then as Minister Mentor until 2011.

Dr Tan said: "He had spent more than 50 years in the Cabinet and was the world's longest-serving Prime Minister when he stepped down in 1990."

And on foreign relations, "Mr Lee's brilliant intellect and candour of opinion led many international leaders and foreign diplomats to seek his views on developments in the region and around the world", noted Dr Tan. For example, Mr Lee was one of the first to recognise China's potential under its then leader Deng Xiaoping's reforms.

In a video message, Dr Tan also credited Mr Lee with building up a capable civil service.

And as Dr Tan told reporters separately yesterday at the private wake at Sri Temasek: "His passing is an end of an era and nobody can replace him.

"But we can honour his legacy by carrying on what he has started, and that is to continue to make Singapore successful and a good home for Singaporeans for many years to come."

ESM Goh Chok Tong: He gave us a country we can be proud of
By Lee Hui Chieh, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

WHEN Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong heard that Mr Lee Kuan Yew, 91, had died yesterday, tears welled up in his eyes.

Less than two hours later, he paid tribute to the man whom he described on his Facebook page as his "leader, mentor, inspiration, the man I looked up to most".

Later, in a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the late Mr Lee's son, Mr Goh said that he and his wife were "deeply distressed" by the news:

"Your family has lost its patriarch, and Singapore its key founding father. We share your grief, and can only offer you and your family our profound condolences.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew dedicated his life to Singapore. He lived and worked to build a nation and to advance the well-being of Singaporeans. For many Singaporeans - members of the pioneer generation in particular - he will forever be in our grateful hearts. He gave us a country we can be proud of, a home to bring up our family and a better life we can aspire to."

Mr Goh, 74, who took over the reins as Prime Minister from Mr Lee in 1990, said Mr Lee helped him succeed in the role: "Outside your family, I probably have benefited more than anyone from his guidance and advice."

They "enjoyed a warm relationship" and had lunch fortnightly until Mr Lee grew unwell, he said.

Mr Goh last saw Mr Lee on Feb 5, when he was admitted to Singapore General Hospital with severe pneumonia. "It pained me to see him sedated and unaware of his surroundings," Mr Goh wrote.

He recalled that Mr Lee had been devastated in 1992 to learn that PM Lee - then 41 and Deputy Prime Minister - had been diagnosed with lymphoma.

"Outwardly, however, Mr Lee braved on with little hint of his personal emotions to his hosts. His stoicism and message were clear - we must not be deterred, however daunting life's interventions," Mr Goh wrote.

"Your father's virtues, morals and habits - integrity, resilience, hard work, discipline, frugality, daily exercise, to name a few - are legendary, as are his demands of high standards of performance. Much of today's 'Singapore DNA' can be traced to his character, philosophy and values."

Mr Goh encouraged PM Lee to take heart from his countrymen's respect for and gratitude to Mr Lee, to carry on with his father's work.

"As Prime Minister, you lead a nation in mourning the demise of its greatest son, even as you grieve the passing of your father. Condolences cannot erase the pain of your bereavement. May Singaporeans' deep respect for your father and their gratitude for his lifelong service to our nation give you the strength to continue his life's work of making Singapore strong, secure and prosperous," he wrote.

Thanks to NParks for naming a new orchid in honour of my father. Transforming Singapore into a Garden City was an...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, March 24, 2015

‘All I can say is, I did my best’
True to his word, Singapore remained Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s concern till the end of his life
By Teo Xuanwei, TODAY, 23 Mar 2015

When he breathed his last early this morning, the Republic’s first Prime Minister had also been Tanjong Pagar’s Member of Parliament for six decades — the longest-serving, and more remarkably, outlasting the last of his Old Guard leadership comrades by more than 25 years.

Mr Lee died at 3.18am today at Singapore General Hospital, where he had been warded since Feb 5 after coming down with severe pneumonia. He was 91.

When Lee Kuan Yew entered the scene as a raw opposition politician in 1955, Singapore was but a colonial outpost populated by a polyglot of migrants, common only in their desires to eke out a livelihood here.

He departs having guided Singapore through the trying first years of Independence into a thriving economic miracle that is marvelled the world over for overcoming improbable odds.

Mr Lee has also elevated this fledgling nation’s place on the world stage far beyond that of ordinary city-states, partly because of its extraordinary achievements, but also because many global leaders have been floored by its leader’s astute analysis of geopolitical trends and developments — he continued this role even after handing over the reins after 31 years as Prime Minister by travelling the globe as a world-class pundit.

But Mr Lee’s enduring legacy is also the distinct brand of governance he had wrought, while the fundamental principles he adhered to in his 31 years as Prime Minister remains the bedrock on which Singapore’s steady ascension continues.

Opinions about him vary, from respect and worship, to fear and disdain, but few can quarrel with this: Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew were, are, and will continue to be indissociable. Such is Mr Lee’s imprint on Singapore.

If one had to distil the core principle of governance in Singapore, it would be meritocracy — Mr Lee determined early on that the government should equalise opportunities and not outcomes, and rewards must be allocated on the basis of one’s merits and abilities.

His firm belief stemmed from the “injustice” he saw in the 1950s when “the whites were on top” by default. “You might be a good doctor, but if you are an Asian, you would be under a white doctor who’s not as good,” he once recounted to a group of authors. “The injustice of it all, the discrimination, struck me and everybody else.”

He also wrote in his memoirs: “It struck me as manifestly fair that everybody in this world should be given an equal chance in life, that in a just and well-ordered society there should not be a great disparity of wealth between persons because of their position or status, or that of their parents.”

That governance of a vulnerable state sitting in a volatile region had to be neutral in terms of race, language and religion was buttressed by the deep misgivings the Republic’s first-generation leaders had with the Malaysian government’s politics of communalism during the brief, unhappy merger between the two from 1963 to 1965.

On independent Singapore’s founding on 9 August 1965, multiracialism was written into the Constitution — the first post-colonial state to do so.

It was the only way to forge a sense of nationhood for a people of mostly settlers, Mr Lee knew, and this togetherness was critical for a tiny island with a Chinese-majority population sitting amid far larger Malay neighbours.

“We took some drastic decisions at the beginning and shuffled the people together. Had we not done this, it would have led to a different Singapore,” he recalled in the book Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, referring to his Government’s dispersal of racial enclaves among various kampungs through balloting into public housing estates. Inter-racial mingling was key if the people were to identify themselves not only by their race, but also by their nationality, he decided.

“There must be a sense of self, a sense of identity, that you are prepared to die for your country, that you’re prepared to die for one another,” he added.

But diminishing the tendencies of communities to revert to communally-influenced behaviours was always going to be an arduous task: Racial enclaves again congregated in the various housing estate subsequently and a trend of voting along racial lines emerged in the 1980s.

Reflecting his resolve to entrench multiracialism in Singapore, Mr Lee introduced ethnic quotas for Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks in 1989 and pushed through the Group Representation Constituency in 1988 to enshrine minority representation in Parliament, despite vociferous criticisms of these moves. Among other things, opponents said the quota constraints warped property transactions and the GRC system was counter-intuitive to meritocratic ideals.

Mr Lee was unmoved. “In Singapore, what will identify a Singaporean with the changing circumstances? An acceptance of multiracialism, a tolerance of people of different races, languages, cultures, religions, and an equal basis for competition. That’s what will stand out against all our neighbours.”

The clearest testament to his multiracial, and meritocratic principles towards governance was in the choice of “race-neutral” English as Singapore’s lingua franca, although Malay, as the language of the indigenous people, was retained as the national language.

“What motivated me? Internal stability and peace. We treat everybody equally. We judge you on your merits. This is a level playing field. We do not discriminate our people on race, language, religion. If you can perform, you get the job,” he explained.

To his mind, getting the best results from a meritocratic society also meant the government must not supplant individual effort and responsibility; people must not lose the drive to provide for themselves. That, and seeing in Britain and Sweden how debilitating it was to subsidise a man for the rest of his life, was why he eschewed welfarism, despite being a loyal supporter of the Fabian school of thought in his youth.

As he wrote in his memoirs: “We noted by the 1970s that when governments undertook primary responsibility for the basic duties of the head of a family, the drive in people weakened. Welfare undermined self-reliance. People did not have to work for their families’ wellbeing. The handout became a way of life. The downward spiral was relentless as motivation and productivity went down. People lost the drive to achieve because they paid too much in taxes. They became dependent on the state for their basic needs.”

To this day, the People’s Action Party (PAP) Government continues to tie individual effort and responsibility to many of its help programmes for the lower-income, such as the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme.

The creation of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) and the 3M healthcare financing system (Medisave, MediShield, and Medifund) are other examples of the Government’s drive to ensure that individuals themselves, and not the state, provide for most of their own needs.

Mr Lee realised that, as a country with no natural resources, the only way Singapore could survive, let alone thrive, was to have capable people leading it. His view was informed by how so many newly-independent former colonies had plunged into riots, coups and revolutions under inept leaders who had inherited sound constitutions from the British and French.

Indeed, Singapore’s vulnerabilities — “an 80-storey building standing on marshy land” — made it imperative that the political leadership was made up of the cream of society’s talent.

He said once: “Can you have a good government without good men in charge of government? American liberals believe you can, that you can have a good system of government with proper separation of powers between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, plus checks and balances between them ... and there will be good government, even if weak or not so good men win elections and take charge.

“My experience in Asia has led me to a different conclusion. To get good government, you must have good men in charge of government. I have observed in the last 40 years that even with a poor system of government, but with good strong men in charge, people get passable government with decent progress.”

It was a challenge that Mr Lee had started thinking about barely one year into Singapore’s independence.

And over decades, Mr Lee single-handedly devised the ways to spot and draft into government the capable, honest and dedicated, from schemes such as the Singapore Armed Forces overseas scholarships in 1971 to recruit the top brains — the PAP government has, over the years, had many of these scholars eventually become Cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — to getting psychiatrists and psychologists to review potential candidates amid lengthy and thorough meetings with leaders that have become known as “tea sessions”.

He also spent years studying the hiring processes of multinational companies — eventually adopting in 1983 Shell’s system, which judged individuals 
for the “helicopter quality” of his or her powers of analysis, imagination and sense of reality — and was the chief advocate of pegging ministerial salaries to the six highest-paid individuals in the private sector so that the best would be willing to step into politics and be less susceptible to corruption.

“Because of our relentless and unceasing search for talent both at home and abroad to make up for the small families of the well-educated, Singapore has been able to keep up its performance,” said Mr Lee.

Not one to be beholden to ideologies and theories, Mr Lee cared only about whether a solution worked. He said once: “My job as a leader is to make sure that before the next elections, enough had developed and disclosed itself to the people to swing them around. That’s the business of a leader. Not to go follow the crowd. That’s a washout, the country will go down the drain.”

And where possible, Mr Lee “preferred to climb on the shoulders of others who had gone before us” in looking for solutions, an example of which was how he learnt, from his various trips overseas, ways to tackle the environmental problem by siting factories away from residential areas and implementing anti-pollution controls for traffic.

His pragmatic and empirical approach allowed him to be farsighted and visionary in his policies, which enabled Singapore to so swiftly transform itself from a mudflat to a metropolis.

At a time when Singapore was wrestling with the reality of being dismembered from its economic hinterland after Separation, for instance, Mr Lee and then-Finance Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee defied the then accepted wisdom that multinational companies were exploiters of cheap land, labour and raw materials in Third World countries, instead welcoming them to create a livelihood for Singaporeans and teaching them skills and knowledge.

The result? Singapore’s gross domestic product of US$970 million in 1965 was on par with Jamaica’s, but by the time Mr Lee stepped down in 1990, the figure had surged to US$34.5 billion, similar to that of the Czech Republic.

Mr Lee’s early emphasis on changing the physical landscape here quickly, to make Singapore, in his words, a “First World oasis in a Third World region” — clearing the city of street vendors, farmers and kampung dwellers, and his greening efforts — also played a significant role in the country’s rapid economic development.

As he explained in his memoirs: “Visiting CEOs used to call on me before making investment decisions. I thought the best way to convince them was to ensure that the roads from the airport to their hotel and to my office were neat and spruce, lined with shrubs and trees.

“Without a word being said, they would know that Singaporeans were competent, disciplined and reliable, a people who would learn the skills they required soon enough.”

Giving all Singaporeans clean and green environs also created a sense of equal-ness. “If we did not create a society which is clean throughout the island, I believed then and I believe now, we have two classes of people: The upper class, the upper middle and even middle class with gracious surroundings; and the lower middle and the working class, in poor conditions. No society like that will thrive,” he said in Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going.

More than overhauling the look of Singapore from squatter settlements to orderly housing blocks through the impressive Five-Year Building Programme from 1960 to 1965 — the HDB built almost 55,000 housing units for the lower-income in that period, raising the proportion of the population in public housing from a tad over 9 per cent to close to one-quarter; the figure hovers at around 85 per cent today — Mr Lee’s housing policies over the years changed every Singaporean’s life.

His CPF Home Ownership Scheme in 1968 gave Singaporeans the chance to own a valuable asset — the Republic has among the highest home-ownership rates in the world today at over 90 per cent. His direction to HDB in 1974 to improve the quality and variety in HDB new towns, as well as the introduction of upgrading programmes for older estates in 1989, enhanced the value of these assets.

The result was that many Singaporeans, in a couple of decades, accumulated considerable assets.

Writing about the significance of creating a “home-owning society” in his memoirs, Mr Lee said: “I was convinced that if every family owned its home, the country would be more stable. I believed this sense of ownership was vital for our new society, which had no deep roots in a common historical experience.”

Mr Lee was nothing if not a keen attendant to every factor that would translate to Singapore’s continual success — even extending his hand into Singaporeans’ daily habits.

He proclaimed, to the shock of many, that as much as 80 per cent of a people’s, and hence the country’s, predisposition to success was down to nature. But Mr Lee also felt that culture was a key determinant in the equation.

He set about in earnest launching a series of campaigns to radically change Singaporeans’ habits and ethos, ranging from anti-spitting drives in the 1960s and eradicating the use of dialects, to extolling the “admirable qualities” of Japanese and, notoriously, banning chewing gum.

He did not care about the hectoring from critics about Singapore becoming a “nanny state”: “First we educated and exhorted our people. After we had persuaded and won over a majority, we legislated to punish the wilful minority. It has made Singapore a more pleasant place to live in. If this is a ‘nanny state’, I am proud to have fostered one.”

He also said: “We had one simple guiding principle for survival, that Singapore had to be more rugged, better organised and more efficient than others in the region. If we were only as good as our neighbours there was no reason for businesses to be based here. We had to make it possible for investors to operate successfully and profitably in Singapore despite our lack of a domestic market and natural resources.”

Mr Lee contentiously waded into the even more intimate aspects of Singaporeans’ lives; the “Great Marriage Debate” in his 1983 National Day Rally about the dangers of having “less bright people to support more dumb people in the next generation” because women graduates were not having enough children, and the “Stop at Two” and “Graduate Mothers” schemes testified to his determination to shape the make-up of Singapore society.

While Western commentators and media were often quick to highlight blemishes in Singapore and its system that Mr Lee built, world leaders, such as Mr Richard Nixon, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, and Mr Deng Xiaoping, frequently expressed their admiration and respect rather more readily.

Many leaders — of developed and developing countries alike — came with or sent their delegations here, and continue to do so, to study Singapore’s systems, including of housing, social security and industry, in a bid to replicate these back home.

For instance, Mr Tony Blair’s New Labour came to look at the CPF system — where once British MPs had slammed Mr Lee’s remarks that Mrs Thatcher’s government needed to trim the excesses of the welfare state — while the Vietnamese asked him in 1991 to become their economic adviser despite openly attacking his stance during its occupation of Cambodia just years prior.

But more than his policies and programmes, Mr Lee’s insightful views of global developments and their impact on the world, delivered in his inimitable straight-shooting style, were always keenly sought.

No less than former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger paid Mr Lee this tribute: “There is no second Lee Kuan Yew in the world. Normally one would say that the leader of a country of the size and population of Singapore would not have a global influence … But precisely because Singapore can survive only by competition with much more powerful neighbours, and precisely because its well-being depends on stability and progress in the area, his views were always in a much larger context then the technical problems of the Singaporean economy and so he always had a tremendous influence on us.”

The doors of many world leaders, both past and present, were always open to Mr Lee — a mark of his stature and standing, given how few would dispense such treatment to the former prime minister of a small state, which less than half a century ago few had held out hope of survival.

Perhaps the most well-known testimony of Mr Lee as the seminal states­man came from Mrs Thatcher.

“In office, I read and analysed every speech of Harry’s. He had a way of penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our times and the way to tackle them. He was never wrong.”

That Mr Lee, throughout the years, had impressed, and forged close personal relationships with leaders around the world also benefitted the Republic on many fronts, ranging from security stability to economic opportunities.

His friendship with members of Harold Wilson’s government helped delay the British troops’ withdrawal to late 1971, thereby buying Singapore time to build up its own defence forces.

The strong personal bonds regional leaders such as Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak and Indonesia’s President Suharto shared with Mr Lee facilitated the founding of the Association of South-east Asian Nations in 1967, which helped foster a stable environment in which the Republic could grow.

And if not for Mr Lee’s place in the eyes of the Australian, Indonesian, and Taiwanese leaders, the Singapore Armed Forces might not have acquired the permission for much-needed training space.

The close ties he maintained with the United States laid the ground for the bilateral Free-Trade Agreement signed by his successor, Mr Goh Chok Tong, in 1993. And the mutual respect between Mr Lee and China’s Deng Xiaoping played a central role in Singapore’s being able to tap into China’s economy ahead of many others, such as the setting up of the Suzhou Industrial Project in 1994 and the Tianjin Eco-city subsequently.

Mr Goh noted: “Mr Lee’s good relations with them enable Singapore, and the leaders who came after Mr Lee, to ride on those good relationships.”

One reason for Mr Lee’s prominence as a statesman was the Western world’s regard of him as China’s interlocutor.

Said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair: “One of (the) things that Harry did incredibly effectively was he became the interlocutor of the emerging East with the Western countries, because if you’re an American leader or European leader, you talk in the same language. But he understands the West, he understands how we think, he understands how we work and he also has got these huge insights into China, the other major countries in your region, and so, he’s able to say to the Western leadership, ‘Look, this is how you want to think about this’.”

Mr Lee’s intimate knowledge of China stemmed from his early realisation of her emerging importance, and his efforts in pursuing closer ties, particularly with Mr Deng — whom he described as “the most impressive leader I had met”.

The admiration was mutual; Mr Deng looked to emulate Singapore’s growth model in attempting China’s opening-up. After one of his visits to Singapore, Mr Lee related in his memoirs, Mr Deng said China “should draw from their experience, and do even better than them”.

“After Deng’s endorsement, several hundred delegations, most of them unofficial, came from China armed with tape recorders, video cameras and notebooks to learn from our experience. Singapore had been given the imprimatur of their supreme leader.”

The awe-inspiring story of Singapore’s development was not achieved by Mr Lee alone, and he acknowledged the importance of Old Guard comrades such as Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Hon Sui Sen, and Toh Chin Chye in his book: “I was fortunate to have had a strong team of ministers who shared a common vision. They were able men determined to pursue our strong goals ... They helped me stay objective and balanced, and saved me from any risk of megalomania which could so easily come with long years in office.”

But he largely set the tone and form of the Republic’s political system, the framework of which has endured to date. One of these unique features was an effective civil service machinery — Mr Lee had exacting demands of the bureaucracy, and indeed, never hesitated to dish out a dressing down when there was sloppiness — which was also “sensitive and responsive to the needs and moods of the people”. The future of Singapore, Mr Lee once said, was in the hands of “you, the admin machinery; (and) my colleagues and I, the political leadership”.

Thus, not only has the PAP government kept up Mr Lee’s unceasing obsession with succession planning, its leadership has also, like Mr Lee, continued to take a close personal interest in appointments in a wide range of institutions, such as statutory boards and trade unions.

The PAP government’s “knuckle-duster” approach to its opponents, be they opposition politicians or press critics, was a source of much criticism, however.

He has invited relentless scrutiny and labels such as “autocratic” and “draconian” with his libel suits — against politicians such as the late J B Jeyaretnam and Mr Chee Soon Juan, as well as publications including the Asian Wall Street Journal — but Mr Lee’s bottom line was that “wrong ideas have to be challenged before they influence public opinion and make for problems”.

Domestically, the press was free to operate, as long as it kept to the nation-building role he said was necessary for a young nation, counter to the West’s definition of it as a “fourth estate”.

Though Western advocates of democracy and human rights have attempted since the 1970s to press their standards on Singapore and other Asian societies, Mr Lee would not be moved — he emerged as the spokesman of sorts, with his “Asian values” argument, against the assertion that there was only one path of governance.

In other words, peculiar local circumstances had to dictate the form and workings of democracy, as he said in an interview with Foreign Affairs magazine in 1994: “It is my business to tell people not to foist their system indiscriminately on societies in which it will not work ... What are we all seeking? A form of government that will be comfortable, because it meets our needs, is not oppressive, and maximises our opportunities. And whether you have one-man-one-vote, or some-men-one-vote or other-men-two-votes, those are forms which should be worked out.”

Although he could have held on to power beyond 1990 — he was the world’s longest-serving prime minister then — Mr Lee decided not to do so, again with Singapore’s interests in mind.

“The sooner I give up, the younger I will be and the more active I can be to make sure that the team succeeds. I’ll be around to make sure that the team can succeed. The later I give up, the older and slower I will be, the more risky its success,” he explained.

And although he had his choice of successor — current President Tony Tan — Mr Lee let the incoming crop of ministers “contend amongst themselves and decide who will be the leader”.

Although he continued as Senior Minister and Minister Mentor, Mr Lee accorded Mr Goh and Mr Lee Hsien Loong, the Deputy Prime Minister and his son, the protocol demanded of their office, addressing them as “my Prime Minister” and seeing them in their offices, for instance.

For Mr Lee, all he was interested in was “to make sure that an error which is avoidable because of my experience should not be committed, if I can help it”.

He added: “I can’t tell them what to do as their great achievements, their great breakthroughs. That’s for them to work out with younger Singaporeans.”

Nevertheless, Mr Lee still spoke up whenever he deemed it necessary; stepping in during the acrimonious wage dispute between Singapore Airlines and its pilots in 2003, robustly advocating in Parliament the new formula for ministerial pay the following year, and his caution to Aljunied residents in the 2011 General Election about the consequences of their vote.

He has also consistently engaged younger generations of Singaporeans, attending dialogue sessions regularly with the tertiary institutions.

Outside of Singapore, Mr Lee assumed the role of consultant — he sat on several boards and committees — guest speaker (frequently, on China) and advocate of Singaporean business in his retirement.

For someone who never kept a diary because he said it would have “inhibited his work”, Mr Lee also made use of his time after stepping down to write his two-volume memoirs to remind younger Singaporeans that “we cannot afford to forget that public order, personal security, economic and social progress and prosperity are not the natural order of things, that they depend on ceaseless effort and attention from an honest and effective government that the people must elect”, as he wrote in one preface.

Through these, as well as other books by journalists he granted interviews to, Singaporeans were, for the first time, allowed a glimpse into the personal life of Mr Lee.

More than any other facet of his private life, it was Mr Lee’s falling in love, courtship, romantic secret marriage in the United Kingdom and deep love for Madam Kwa Geok Choo that most captivated many Singaporeans.

They learnt how Mrs Lee packed his luggage when he needed to travel, kept an eagle eye on his diet, and was the one on whom he depended to improve his speeches and writing. They read about how he made it a point to read Mrs Lee her favourite poems every night after she became bed-ridden after she suffered two strokes in 2008, how she most recognised his voice, and they saw and heard, at her funeral in 2010, how severely Mr Lee was devastated by the departure of his closest confidante.

For someone who had no religious faith, Mr Lee even turned to meditation to help himself cope.

Asked by a group of journalists about his greatest personal achievement, the man of whom most only saw the stern, strong public face for decades said: “I’m very happy that I’ve got a good, happy family. I’ve got a happy marriage. I’ve got three children I’m very proud of, I can’t ask for more.”

Despite his contributions to Singapore, Mr Lee’s muted personal appraisal of his life’s work could not have summed up better how he had gone about a duty he saw as his concern “till the end of my life”: “All I can say is, I did my best. This was the job I undertook, I did my best and I could not have done more in the circumstances. What people think of it, I have to leave to them. It is of no great consequence. What is of consequence is, I did my best.”

The day Singaporeans set aside differences to say 'thank you'
Tributes speak of a nation ready to face the future united and proud
By Ignatius Low, Managing Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

THEY came dressed in black, some clutching white roses, carnations and lilies.

There were mothers who had just picked up their sons and daughters from school, civil servants with their elderly parents and lone executives who had taken an hour off their busy work schedules.

As Singaporeans from all walks of life streamed to the four condolence sites to pay their respects to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, one question awaited them at the end of the queues they had patiently joined.

What do you say to the founder and architect of modern Singapore? What can you write, in that minute or two, that can adequately sum up the way you feel?

Many simply said "thank you", going by the hundreds of little notes penned on white cards at the Istana and Parliament House yesterday.

They thanked Mr Lee for making Singapore what it is today - a country with safe and secure streets, a clean and green environment, economic prosperity and a stable political system.

In achieving this, he was a great leader destined to be remembered, many added. "Your legacy needs no statues or museums, it is all around us today," read one card.

Some tributes were written in foreign languages like Japanese and others were signed off by foreign workers, expats and tourists. A few had so much to say that they ran out of space, their words growing desperately smaller as they reached the bottom right-hand corner of the card.

Others were more succinct, like one unsigned card I saw that bore just one elegantly conceived hashtag: "#NO YEW NO US."

Some of the notes were philosophical, with many simply wishing Mr Lee yi lu hao zou (a Chinese phrase for "safe journey") in the afterlife. A few said they were glad that he was reunited with his wife and love of his life, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who died in 2010.

Not all the authors of the notes were older Singaporeans who had lived through the Lee Kuan Yew era. Many young students penned tributes, with photo collages depicting Singapore's success and child-like drawings of flowers and the sun.

Those who were too young to know him or his politics cited those who did.

"My late grandma adores you, sir. R.I.P." was the one line on a card at Parliament House signed off simply as "Jen".

Reading it, I could not help but smile. For whether one had known Lee Kuan Yew, or agreed with him, or even liked him seemed immaterial to Singaporeans in the immediate aftermath of the news of his death early yesterday.

I have a long list of Facebook friends who wear political stripes in every colour. I've come to know that many are unafraid to voice their views, and some are downright strident and combative.

But all put aside their differences to post online tributes to the man yesterday, turning my Facebook news feed into a virtual reunion of old friends that I haven't heard from in months, even years.

Many penned simple messages thanking him and wishing him peaceful rest. Those who did not have the words posted tribute videos or links to media obituaries extolling his achievements.

"Many today and before us remain divided about the steadfast decisions you have made," wrote one friend, summing up the view of many. "However, all can see or enjoy the legacy of your decisions. Thank you Mr Lee, I am proud to share your surname."

Another friend, whose father was a political dissident arrested and jailed by Mr Lee's government in the turbulent 1960s, said: "If there is one thing your life taught me, it is that one must sometimes be more unreasonable than the toughest thug in town to make a reasonable dream come true."

For me, it felt like a rare moment of national unity that I haven't seen in a long time in Singapore.

For better or for worse, so much of the conversation here in the last decade or so has centred on the deficiencies of this nation, how discontented we have become with the status quo and how hard it is to compromise on every difference of opinion.

It was refreshing to see people count their blessings for once and be openly thankful for being able to "walk down the streets safely with my earphones plugged in, blasting away". Or for the "education I received that I'm able to read official letters my English illiterate mother is unable to", without worrying about what this might say about them or their politics.

It was great to see people here declare they are proud to be Singaporean, yesterday or any other day, and that they "beam with pride when I produce my passport to immigration officers".

So my biggest takeaway from the day after Mr Lee Kuan Yew died was not that the nation collectively grieved the loss of a great leader, but rather that it appeared ready to face the future united and proud.

And the tribute card that ultimately made me cry was the one that said: "Thank you, Mr Lee. We will not let anyone knock the country you spent your whole life to build."

NTUC hails a dear brother and true fighter for workers
It says Mr Lee's lasting legacy is his championing of spirit of tripartism
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew was a "dear brother" and "true fighter" for workers, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) said in its tribute to Singapore's first Prime Minister yesterday.

Mr Lee's lasting legacy as Prime Minister was his championing of the strong spirit of tripartism, or the three-way partnership of the Government, unions and employers, it added.

"Because of his care and concern for the people, countless workers have benefited from fair treatment, higher wages and better conditions at the workplace," the NTUC said in a statement signed by its president, Ms Diana Chia, and secretary-general, Mr Lim Swee Say, a Cabinet minister.

"It is because of him that we, as a people, can lay claim to better jobs, better lives and brighter futures ahead."

The labour movement noted that Mr Lee's involvement with trade unionism can be traced to 1952, when he represented the Postal and Telecommunications Uniformed Staff Union in negotiating a settlement, after the union went on strike.

Mr Lee was then a 29-year-old lawyer who had returned to Singapore in 1950 and was working as a legal assistant in Laycock & Ong, a law firm near Raffles Place.

He got wage increases for the postal workers and went on to become the legal adviser to more than 100 unions and associations, building a reputation as a champion of workers and underdogs.

It laid the foundation of the People's Action Party's "symbiotic relationship" with non-communist unions.

"We had grown up in the unions; we had built up our political following working on and through workers' problems, fighting against unfair treatment and injustice," wrote Mr Lee of PAP's union roots in a May 2014 essay in PAP's Petir magazine.

Mr John De Payva, NTUC's longest-serving president from 1997 to 2011, said Mr Lee had always had a "personal interest in the labour movement since the 1950s".

"The leadership of the labour movement supported his party to power," said Mr De Payva.

"That relationship was indelible."

Mr Lee received the NTUC's highest award - the Distinguished Comrade of Labour - in 1991. In the citation, NTUC credited him for his role in building a society with industrial peace, justice, social mobility and an equitable sharing of the fruits of labour.

Mr Lee was the first recipient of the award, which has since been given to only three other leaders: former labour chiefs Ong Teng Cheong (1994) and Lim Boon Heng (2007), and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (2001).

When the NTUC held its 50th anniversary in May 2011, Mr Lee was honoured as one of 50 key movers and shakers in the first 50 years of its history.

The last NTUC event he attended was a closed-door dinner in January 2012 to honour nine leaders who stepped down from its highest decision-making central committee for union leadership renewal.

One leader who had stepped down was Mr N. Silva, president of the Union of Security Employees, who recalled that Mr Lee thanked the unionists for their service and spoke to them about improving the lot of low-wage workers through NTUC's progressive wage model, which links pay increases to training.

"He always has a heart for workers, especially low-wage workers," said Mr Silva of Mr Lee.

The NTUC will hold a series of activities to mourn Mr Lee's death.

These include setting up counters at its Marina Boulevard headquarters where workers and members of the public can pen their condolence messages from today till Sunday.

Union leaders will observe one minute's silence at noon at the headquarters today. A memorial service later this week is being finalised.

Opposition pays tribute to man who 'sacrificed much for us all'
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

POLITICAL party rivalry took a back seat yesterday as the Workers' Party sent its condolences to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the death of his father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

In a letter to PM Lee and his family, WP chief Low Thia Khiang said: "His passing marks the end of an era in Singapore's history. His contributions to Singapore will be remembered for generations to come."

The elder Mr Lee, who was a founding member of the People's Action Party, died yesterday at Singapore General Hospital where he had been under intensive care for severe pneumonia since Feb 5.

Tributes poured in soon after from opposition politicians, who acknowledged his sacrifices for Singapore even as they pointed out that not all agreed with his ways.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) secretary-general Benjamin Pwee said: "All great leaders are ultimately human, and much can be said both good and bad about the man.

"But at this time of national mourning, let's remember and celebrate the good he had done for us as Singaporeans, and give him the credit that is due. He had sacrificed much for what he had believed in, and to give us all a life."

Singapore Democratic Alliance chairman Desmond Lim Bak Chuan shared these views. He said that while Mr Lee's decisions had sometimes been criticised, they were made "to suit the needs of that time".

The National Solidarity Party, lamenting Mr Lee's death, said he "had contributed significantly to the growth and development of our country".

Others had words of comfort for PM Lee and his family.

The secretary-general of Singaporeans First Party, Mr Tan Jee Say, said "we join in the nation's grief over the loss of her most famous son".

He also asked PM Lee to take comfort in the knowledge that the elder Mr Lee had "re-united with" his wife Kwa Geok Choo, who died in 2010.

Singapore Democratic Party's secretary-general Chee Soon Juan, in sending his party's "deepest condolences" to the Lee family, said: "In this time of personal grief, our thoughts are with you."

Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam, son of the late opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, said: "It is natural that Singaporeans will feel that a part of Singapore has died with him."

He added: "Rest in peace. My thoughts are with his family."

Meanwhile, London-based political exile Tan Wah Piao said in a Facebook post that Mr Lee would be "remembered as an accomplished dictator who maintained a veneer of democracy".

Mr Tan also said that with Mr Lee's death, people would be free of the "fear of political persecution" that "crippled the citizens and residents in Singapore like no other country in the developed world to the extent that even the very rich, the very clever, and those in high political office shy away from expressing dissent".

Ethnic, religious groups pay tribute to Mr Lee's role in building harmony
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

SINGAPORE's main ethnic and religious communities yesterday paid tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, with many highlighting his role in creating a harmonious multiracial and multi-religious society.

"Without the wisdom and far-sightedness of this chief architect of modern Singapore, Singaporeans would not be able to experience the peace and prosperity that they are enjoying today," said Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations president Chua Thian Poh.

Malay/Muslim self-help group Mendaki recounted Mr Lee's foresight in mooting its formation in 1982 to tackle the problem of Malay underachievement in education openly and sensitively, and in ensuring financial support for the organisation.

"Our progress is made possible due to Mr Lee's vision and genuine concern for the community," Mendaki chief executive Tuminah Sapawi said in a statement.

The Association of Muslim Professionals also issued a statement, saying Mr Lee's passing will leave a gap in the political arena, "but more than that, in the hearts of Singaporeans".

The Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda) said Mr Lee's foresight had allowed self-help groups like Sinda to uplift countless individuals over the years and contribute to the overall progress of Singapore.

Eurasian Association president Benett Theseira said of Mr Lee: "He was a pragmatic person who was able to understand the challenges that minority groups faced and the value that their diversity could bring to Singapore. He led us to pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion."

Religious groups also issued condolence messages for Mr Lee, with Singapore Buddhist Federation president Seck Kwang Phing saying that the community "fondly remembers his tireless effort in promoting and ensuring religious harmony and equal treatment to all religions, regardless of the size of congregation of each religion".

Archbishop William Goh of the Catholic Church said: "As a nation, we have him to thank for everything we are proud to call Singapore."

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said Mr Lee will always be remembered for his support for the formation of Muis and the Mosque Building Fund.

"Mr Lee's leadership contributed to the growth of our economy, progress in the field of education, and peace, stability and harmony. The Singaporean Muslim community, too, has grown and prospered in tandem with Singapore," it said.

Added the Young Sikh Association: "Despite being a minority within a minority, the Sikh community is an integral part of Singapore society simply because Mr Lee took great pains to ensure that all Singaporeans, regardless of race, language or religion, are equal partners in Singapore's growth and success."

Economic prospects 'still look bright'
Business community confident that S'pore on right track, says SBF chief
By Mok Fei Fei, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

WHILE the Singapore skyline has lost some of its shine in the wake of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death, the country's economic prospects still look bright, noted business leaders and analysts yesterday.

Many companies, including CapitaLand, DBS Bank and UBS, have turned off their building signage as a mark of respect during the national period of mourning.

It is the business community's way of honouring a man credited with Singapore's economic miracle, right in the heart of the Central Business District.

"He was a far-sighted visionary who led Singapore on a strong path of growth, from a fishing village to an advanced city state," said Singapore Business Federation (SBF) chairman Teo Siong Seng. "Despite Mr Lee's passing, the business community is confident that Singapore is still on the right track with the economic restructuring."

Analysts pointed out that in recent years, Mr Lee had played largely an advisory role and had not been actively involved in the policymaking decisions.

"Possibly, there may be some impact in the sense of sentiment in the short term, about what direction the Singapore economy may take in the longer term with the passing of an era," noted OCBC Bank economist Selena Ling.

"But the Cabinet and the Government have been in place for a while and it doesn't strike me as there being a big shift in the macroeconomic policies."

Markets operated as usual yesterday, with the Singapore dollar strengthening against the Chinese yuan, the Japanese yen, the Malaysian ringgit and even the surging United States dollar in late Asian trading.

The Straits Times Index closed little changed, though trading activity was slightly more muted.

Ms Tan Min Lan, head of the Asia-Pacific investment office at UBS, noted that there could be some limited knee-jerk reaction in the Singapore equity and foreign exchange markets.

Observers said policies which Mr Lee espoused and which played a part in the country's success have been ingrained in the governing system.

Such policies, like having a strong rule of law, having zero tolerance for corruption, keeping a pro-business environment, building high-quality infrastructure and being an open, globalised economy, look set to continue.

"We have an established economic framework that has been planned and sustained over the years by three different prime ministers," said Nominated MP and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua. "Even we businessmen learn from (Mr Lee), to always look ahead and never rest on our laurels."

An important lesson for a generation of young people unaware of the nation's past poverty is that they must not remain in the dark about Singapore's vulnerability, said Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

"We need to get the younger generation to understand that Singapore overcame a lot - such as a small economy, a lack of manpower - to pull through to where it is today. That cannot be taken for granted."

Tributes pour in from corporate world
By Wong Wei Han, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

TRIBUTES to Mr Lee Kuan Yew poured in from the business community yesterday as corporate leaders reflected on the elder statesman's contribution in developing the nation into an international business hub. Mr Lee engineered many of Singapore's crowning achievements on the global stage, including the development of Changi Airport, which would not have existed without him, the airport said in a statement yesterday.

The decision to move the international airport to Changi meant writing off the $800 million invested in Paya Lebar and investing a fresh $1.5 billion in the new development, but the bold move paid off, Changi Airport added.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) chief executive Goh Choon Phong reflected along similar lines: "His vision enabled Singapore to grow into a pre-eminent global air hub, and for SIA to prosper as a world-leading international airline."

It was also through Mr Lee's foresight that Singapore has developed strong business ties with China, said the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI). "Mr Lee always showed utmost concern for the development of the Chinese community. He urged local Chinese businesses to develop close links internationally, let Singapore integrate into the global market place," the SCCCI added yesterday.

UOB chairman emeritus Wee Cho Yaw said that in the early days of Singapore's economic development, he had the opportunity to interact more with Mr Lee and would seek his advice, for example, when he led a delegation to China. Mr Wee said that "Lee Kuan Yew was for Singapore... That's why Singapore can be prosperous and do so well".

Mr Wee recalled another experience with Mr Lee.

Out of concern for the career prospects of Chinese-educated Singaporeans, Mr Lee had proposed the merger of Nanyang University - or Nantah - and the University of Singapore in the late 1970s.

Mr Wee, then chairman of Nantah, said his hands were tied: "Unfortunately, I told him I could not take the initiative because Nantah was built by the Chinese community. He understood my position. He was very understanding and was very patient with us."

Even as Mr Lee eventually proceeded with the merger, he did so only with Singaporeans' future in mind, Mr Wee added.

Others in the banking industry agreed that the nation would not have become one of Asia's leading financial hubs without Mr Lee.

DBS chairman Peter Seah said: "As Prime Minister, (Mr Lee) and (Finance Minister) Goh Keng Swee were the architects of the Asian dollar market and set their sights on making Singapore a leading financial centre. Later on, in a somewhat controversial move, he pushed for consolidation of the Singapore banking sector. He believed that... for Singapore banks to make it in the face of rising competition globally, they needed to be big and strong. Today, all three Singapore banks are among the world's strongest and safest."

Companies flourished in the pro-business environment. Hong Leong Singapore executive chairman Kwek Leng Beng said: "Mr Lee played an instrumental role in nurturing corporate Singapore. The private sector and the business community benefited tremendously from his pro-business policies and vision to establish Singapore as a major business hub for Asia. This enabled many of Singapore's home-grown conglomerates, like our group, to thrive locally and globally."

US presidents past and present laud friendship and advice
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief, In Washington and Melissa Sim, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

RARELY has the passing of a leader of a small nation far away made such a splash here. But in a testament to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's extraordinary standing in the United States, news of his death was greeted by an outpouring of tributes from American leaders past and present.

President Barack Obama led the way, hailing Mr Lee as a "giant of history" and a statesman who influenced his administration's pivot to Asia.

He said in a statement he was "deeply saddened" and conveyed his condolences on behalf of the American people.

Recalling his visit to Singapore in 2009, he said his discussions with Mr Lee, who was Minister Mentor at the time, "were hugely important in helping me formulate our policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific". "He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one of the great strategists of Asian affairs."

Though the US President was among the first to pay tribute, by Sunday night in Washington, many of his predecessors had added their own panegyric in Mr Lee's memory.

Mr George H.W. Bush, who was president from 1989 to 1993, mourned the passing of a friend.

"Barbara and I, and indeed the entire Bush family, extend our heartfelt condolences to Prime Minister Lee's family and countrymen. I will always be proud that Lee Kuan Yew was my friend," he said.

Mr Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and Mr George W. Bush (2001-2009) separately paid tribute to Mr Lee's wisdom as well as his work in building up Singapore and the bilateral relationship with the US.

"After leaving office, he continued to offer brilliant analysis and wise advice to those who sought it. We will always be grateful for our fascinating conversations with him over the years. Our thoughts are with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his entire family, and all the people of Singapore," Mr Clinton said in a joint statement with his wife and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

The younger Bush, in a tribute on Facebook, said: "The Singapore he leaves behind is an influential force for stability and prosperity and a friend to the United States."

Mr Lee is known to have consulted a long line of American presidents, including the late Richard Nixon (1969-1974), with most seeking clear-headed advice about China.

While Mr Lee was an early proponent of the rise of China, he also believed in the long-term success of America due to the nation's dynamism and ability to innovate.

Over the years, he helped build a longstanding alliance with the US. While he was Prime Minister, he visited the US 12 times between 1967 and 1988, both on private and official visits.

He forged lasting friendships with many US statesmen, including Dr Henry Kissinger, a former secretary of state.

His personal interactions have clearly made a lasting impact.

In his tribute, Vice-President Joe Biden, who met Mr Lee most recently in 2013, said: "I valued his insights on Asia, geopolitics, and economics, which have shaped the thinking of many around the world... Then just shy of 90 years old, he remained formidable."

'Lion among leaders' and 'inspiration' to Asians
Past and present leaders of nations, global organisations praise Mr Lee
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

FROM Washington to Canberra, the world mourned the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, described as one of "the greatest leaders" of our times, a "lion among leaders" and an "inspiration" to Asians.

"Lee Kuan Yew was a legendary figure in Asia, widely respected for his strong leadership and statesmanship," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in a statement, leading the reaction of world leaders.

"As Singapore marks its 50th anniversary of independence this year, its founding father will be remembered as one of the most inspiring Asian leaders."

Leaders in the world's most powerful nation also expressed grief at Mr Lee's death, with past and present US presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama issuing condolence notes.

"He was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one of the great strategists of Asian affairs," Mr Obama said in tribute, as he expressed resounding appreciation for the Singapore statesman whose voice continued to be heard long after he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990.

"Our discussions during my trip to Singapore in 2009 were hugely important in helping me formulate our policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific," he said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank also joined in saluting the departed Singapore leader, who famously took his nation from Third World to First World during his lifetime.

"He was a visionary statesman whose uncompromising stand for meritocracy, efficiency and education transformed Singapore into one of the most prosperous nations in the world," IMF managing director Christine Lagarde said in Washington.

The World Bank praised Mr Lee for transforming Singapore.

"He tackled corruption relentlessly and held public servants to the highest standards," said the World Bank's chief executive officer, Mr Jim Yong Kim. "More importantly, he showed that economic development could provide opportunities and improve the lives of a country's citizens."

Mr Lee, who was the last surviving of the Asian titans who brought independence from European colonial rule to their nations, was also one of the five founding leaders of Asean, along with those from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Yesterday, South-east Asian leaders stood as one to express appreciation for a personality whose vision and diplomacy helped provide stability for a region that emerged as a growth model for the world during his time.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose nation is Asean's largest by area and economic size, described Mr Lee as a close friend of Indonesia and said he would travel to the Republic for Mr Lee's funeral.

"As a leader and a great statesman who loved his people, he was also one of the most influential politicians in Asia," Mr Joko told reporters in Tokyo, where he is on a bilateral visit.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak wrote on Facebook that "founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew's achievements were great, and his legacy is assured".

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Johor Sultan's coronation later, he said Mr Lee had the ability to contribute concrete ideas in various fields.

Datuk Seri Najib said he did not think Mr Lee's death would impact bilateral ties because current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is committed to strengthening the bilateral relationship.

Thailand's royal family and leaders also sent their condolences yesterday. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha will be in Singapore for Mr Lee's funeral on Sunday.

Much of the region's early prosperity is often linked to investments from Japan in the 1970s and 1980s.

Called the "flying geese model", this had Japan as lead goose, with newly industrialising South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore close behind, followed by the developing economies of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Yesterday, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Mr Lee, who is "revered all over the world", played a key role not only in achieving Singapore's remarkable economic growth and prosperity but also in securing the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

Mr Lee was "one of the greatest leaders of modern times that Asia has ever produced", he said.

In China and India, Asia's big tectonic plates where Mr Lee was familiar to every leader in their modern history, the tributes were fulsome as well.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Mr Lee had been widely respected by the international community as a strategist and statesman and called him "founder, pioneer and promoter of China-Singapore relations".

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to the Singaporean figure.

"A far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life teaches valuable lessons to everyone," tweeted Mr Modi, who uses the social media site for most of his public pronouncements.

Grief and gratitude as leaders laud Mr Lee's legacy
His role in China's reform will be recorded in history, says Premier Li
By Kor Kian Beng, In Beijing And Nirmala Ganapathy, In New Delhi and Chang May Choon, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

ASIA'S dominant powers reacted with sorrow at Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death, praising his achievements and global vision, while at least one foreign state legislature passed a condolence resolution to mourn his passing.

An outpouring of grief and gratitude flowed in China, with President Xi Jinping calling Mr Lee an "old friend of the Chinese people".

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, National People's Congress chief Zhang Dejiang, Executive Vice- Premier Zhang Gaoli and Foreign Minister Wang Yi also sent condolences to their Singapore counterparts Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam.

Mr Li said Mr Lee's "contributions towards Sino-Singapore ties and China's reform and opening up will surely be recorded in history".

Chinese nationals were among the dozens of people who rushed to sign the condolence books at the Singapore Embassy in Beijing.

Chinese media outlets were awash with obituaries hailing Mr Lee as one of the world's best ethnic Chinese leaders, listing his achievements and how he contributed to China's development.

The NetEase media portal ran a photo spread on Mr Lee's 33 visits to China over 37 years.

On his first trip there in 1976, he met Chairman Mao Zedong.

He was the only Singapore leader who met all five top leaders of China - from Mao and Deng Xiaoping, to former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, to Mr Xi.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led tributes to a statesman who nurtured India-Singapore ties. "A far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life teaches valuable lessons to everyone. News of his demise is saddening," tweeted Mr Modi, known to be an admirer of Mr Lee and Singapore's model of development.

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee called Mr Lee a "towering leader" whose loss would be mourned in Asia.

In a condolence message, Congress president Sonia Gandhi highlighted the "warm" ties Mr Lee had with the Congress party and recalled him delivering the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture in New Delhi in 2005.

Describing Mr Lee as the "builder of modern multi-ethnic Singapore", Mrs Gandhi said he belonged to the league of Asian statesmen who successfully carried forward the task of nation- building.

In the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where Singapore is helping to build a capital city, the state assembly passed a condolence resolution and observed two minutes of silence for Mr Lee, who visited India six times as Prime Minister of Singapore.

Said Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu in a separate condolence message: "The world will be poorer by the passing away of a visionary leader who created 'an oasis of First World amidst Third World' with his pragmatic outlook and hard work."

He tweeted that he was deeply grieved by the death of Mr Lee, whose "inventive, forward-looking approach inspires global leaders".

As with China, Mr Lee had known the Indian leaders across generations, starting with first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

In the 2005 lecture, Mr Lee described how he shared "intellectual and emotional roots" with Nehru, because he too had "experienced subjugation and discrimination under the British Raj".

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who met Mr Lee last year, described him as "a man of incomparable leadership and unparalleled insights... one of the greatest leaders of modern times that Asia has ever produced".

South Korean President Park Geun Hye announced she would travel to Singapore for Mr Lee's funeral. They first met when he made an official visit to South Korea in 1979 and had a meeting with her father and then President Park Chung Hee. Ms Park acted as interpreter at the meeting, which cemented bilateral ties.

'Deep sorrow for loss of Indonesia's close friend'
By Zubaidah Nazeer, Indonesia Bureau Chief, In Jakarta and Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

SOUTH-EAST Asia's dominant nation mourned the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a co-founder of Asean whose good ties with Indonesia's second President, Mr Suharto, set the stage for a bilateral relationship that helped stabilise the region.

Leaders across the Indonesian archipelago and from other Asean nations paid tribute to the man they called the founding father of Singapore and credited him with playing a crucial role in realising and shaping the regional grouping that started with five members and which doubled to 10.

President Joko Widodo, who is currently making a bilateral visit to Japan, followed by China, said he would travel to Singapore for Mr Lee's funeral on Sunday. He expressed his "deep sorrow" in a statement on behalf of the Indonesian government and people.

"The late former Prime Minister is a close friend of Indonesia, and known as the founding father of modern Singapore. As a leader and a great statesman who loved his people, he was also one of the most influential politicians in Asia," Mr Joko said, reading a statement to reporters.

"Under his leadership, Singapore successfully transformed into a major economic hub in Asia, putting it on a par with other developed nations."

In Jakarta, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla told The Straits Times of his past meetings with Mr Lee, whom he described as having made "an outstanding contribution to Singapore".

"He ranks among the most influential leaders of Asia, and in Asean as well. He gave an exceptional contribution to the progress of Asean, alongside other Asean leaders of the time," Mr Jusuf said after he signed a condolence book at the Singapore Embassy yesterday.

Mr Sofyan Wanandi, a prominent Indonesian business leader and the President's economic adviser who had met Mr Lee over dinner and also personally on other occasions, highlighted Mr Lee's crucial role in Asean and in Indonesia-Singapore relations.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew is not only a leader for Singapore, but also for Asean. LKY was a Singaporean who knew Indonesia the best," he said, referring to Mr Lee by his initials.

Mr Sofyan said the Singaporean leader placed a high level of commitment to cooperation with Indonesia and considered that the stability of Indonesia, South-east Asia's largest economy, was pivotal for a prosperous Asean. He credited the success of Batam as an industrial zone to Mr Lee's ideas and support.

"If anything happened regionwide, Mr Lee always took Indonesia as a priority. He was of the opinion that if Indonesia was not stable, then Asean wouldn't be stable," he added.

Mr Sofyan recalled that before Mr Lee's health began to fail, he would visit Indonesia to meet business, religious and political leaders, as well as hold informal discussions with then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

"What's important for Indonesia is that LKY helped to set a direction of good relationships between Singapore and Indonesia. He gave guidance to young leaders in Singapore to follow in his footsteps," he said.

Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, which took over as Asean chair last November, also acknowledged Mr Lee's contribution to the regional grouping, which he co-founded in 1967.

A tribute posted on the Asean Facebook page began: "Today, Asean lost one of its greatest leaders."

It added: "The country's transformation from a sleepy port town 50 years ago to now one of the wealthiest countries in the world is widely attributed to his astute leadership and effective governance."

The Singapore Embassy in Jakarta saw a steady stream of visitors, who left messages in the condolence book. Among them was the Governor of Jakarta, Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

Mr Lee crafted a modern island republic as his legacy, says Najib
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Correspondent, In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

MALAYSIANS reacted with grief at the passing of the man who led their closest neighbour for more than three decades, with Prime Minister Najib Razak saying the founding father of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew crafted a modern island republic as his legacy.

Relations between the two neighbours were often testy as Mr Lee clashed with his Malaysian counterparts such as Tunku Abdul Rahman, who spearheaded Malaysia's independence movement, and especially Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who led Malaysia from 1981 to 2003 in fierce competition with Singapore.

But the rivalry has not diluted the regard Malaysians have for Mr Lee, and practically every online news site reported on his death and Datuk Seri Najib's declaration that "his achievements were great, and his legacy is assured".

"I pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's determination in developing Singapore from a new nation to the modern and dynamic city we see today," he said of the man who governed Singapore for more than three decades until 1990.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who also leads the youth wing of Mr Najib's ruling Umno party, echoed the sentiment by calling Singapore "a tremendous legacy" of the late Mr Lee.

Other party leaders expressed their condolences, including Democratic Action Party (DAP) supremo Lim Kit Siang, who called it the "passing of an era".

Jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) noted Mr Lee's "developmental policies that were transparent and efficient, and were successful in attracting foreign investors to the point that his country was dubbed the Switzerland of Asia".

"We must take stock of his efforts in administering Singapore, which focused on the welfare of the people regardless of race or religion," PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said in a statement.

Some like former law minister Zaid Ibrahim expressed misgivings about some of Mr Lee's methods, saying he "was harsh to those who opposed him", but acknowledged his "resolute commitment to integrity in government".

Former New Straits Times Press chief editor Kadir Jasin wrote in his blog that "strongman naturally comes to mind" when thinking about Mr Lee, but of the "many strongmen of Lee's generation... none could quite match his achievements".

Embodiment of a new Asian dynamism
The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

LEE Kuan Yew, the founder and patriarch of modern Singapore who has died at the age of 91, was one of post-war Asia's most revered and controversial politicians and one of its last remaining independence leaders.

His greatest achievement was to promote the concept of good governance in South-east Asia, a region long plagued by corrupt, inefficient governments.

As Singapore's prime minister for more than 30 years, he built his small island republic into one of the world's economic success stories. Singapore is one of Asia's largest financial centres, and is the world's biggest ship bunkering port.

Mr Lee was the embodiment of a new Asian dynamism: Smart, tough and pragmatic and displaying unshakeable self-confidence.

His style of leadership had many foreign admirers and he was credited with being a pioneer of "authoritarian capitalism", which has influenced other countries including China, Russia and the Gulf states.

Richard Nixon once described him as a big man on a small stage who, "in other times and other places, might have attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli or a Gladstone".

Perhaps at times Mr Lee yearned to put his talents to work outside the narrow confines of Singapore, but he was pleased to be acknowledged as a leading spokesman for Asia.

Few other leaders have stamped their personalities so firmly on a country.

His perfectionism, farsightedness, elitism, authoritarianism and intolerance, along with his obsessions with security, cleanliness and order, are reflected in nearly every aspect of modern Singaporean life.

The sale of chewing gum is still banned - a nannyish rule he instigated that is arguably the most-recognised fact about Singapore abroad.

"What is required is a rugged, resolute, highly trained, highly disciplined community," he once said, believing that Singapore's multi-ethnic population and the political instability of South-east Asia represented a constant threat to his creation.

He achieved his goal at the expense of curbing some civil liberties, such as freedom of the press.

He was unapologetic about his means, dismissing the idea of western liberal democracy as unsuitable to Asian societies.

His death comes as the city-state, whose economic and political model he oversaw, has reached a crossroads. 

Singapore is straining to cope with a declining working-age population, increasing reliance on foreign immigrants and unprecedented popular pressure for a less authoritarian government.

Mr Lee, who had been physically frail, but mentally sharp in recent years, relinquished any official government role after an election in 2011 in which the ruling People's Action party suffered its worst result.

But he felt sufficiently alarmed at his country's declining birth rate to issue an appeal the following year, carried on the front page of The Straits Times, calling for Singaporeans to reproduce.

Otherwise, "this place will fold up", he said in his typically brusque manner.

In Mr Lee's later years, the world turned to him as seer and sage
His insights led him to be regarded as the man who helped make history
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

PERHAPS this article should begin with Henry Kissinger, the guru of realpolitik who was secretary of state to United States president Richard Nixon and shared a long association with Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Perhaps with the words of another lifelong friend of Mr Lee's, former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, or Britain's Margaret Thatcher. Maybe even India's Sonia Gandhi, whose famous mother-in-law, the late Indira Gandhi, had a sometimes testy association with Singapore's founding father.

But that would be all too predictable.

So let's start with what an African American cabby in a city not known to have a particularly deep interest in the wider world had to say about Mr Lee.

It was 1998 and, visiting New York, I was in a yellow top from my hotel near Central Park to catch up with friends at a micro-brewery pub off Times Square. The driver was an emigre from Nigeria and, as in the manner of cabbies everywhere, curious to know more about his ride.

When he heard I lived in Singapore, he chuckled loudly.

"Hey, you are the guys who caned the American kid," he said. "You stood up to President Clinton and you did damn right. Who's that old man who runs your country - Lee?"

He was referring to Singapore's punishment, in 1994, of teenager Michael Fay for vandalism. After then President Bill Clinton intervened, Fay's caning sentence was reduced from six strokes to four.

Singapore's decision to go ahead with the punishment made headlines around the world. Annoyed at the island's steadfastness, Washington voted against plans to hold the inaugural meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Singapore.

Fortunately, diplomacy and good sense prevailed. The inaugural summit, held in late 1996 at Suntec City, went through smoothly, highlighting Singapore as the world's pre-eminent trade-driven economy.

In many ways, the Fay incident and how it was received abroad underscores the world's perception of Mr Lee and the foundations on which he built Singapore.

Intellect and integrity, common sense above compassion, inclusiveness in domestic and foreign policy, a practical, non-ideological approach to issues, an unwavering commitment to globalisation and free markets, and a firm determination to enforce the rule of law - these are the qualities the world came to recognise in Mr Lee, and today, Singapore.

Some years later, when I was posted to India as the South Asia bureau chief for this newspaper, I would become aware that the world viewed Mr Lee's Singapore as more than an efficiently administered state - that it also stood for a healthy, throbbing habitat.

Outside a golf course in Greater Noida, a boom town in the notoriously poorly run state of Uttar Pradesh, I would frequently pass a billboard advertising a new, tree-lined condominium complex with plenty of water bodies. The promise was "Singapore-style living".

Without question, the reputation of an irascible, combative, Western lackey preceded the hallowed image of the sage and seer Mr Lee bore in his later years.

In the post-colonial era and its emphasis on non-alignment and suspicion of Western multinationals, his hard-nosed, contrarian approach and his open welcome of foreign investment evoked much disdain. "Lee is like a banana - yellow of skin, white underneath," then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai complained at the Bandung Conference in 1955, echoing the Chinese view of the time.

A quarter-century later, the Chinese leadership would instruct rising party figures to travel to the island to study its growth and governance model.

In 2012, no less than President Xi Jinping ordered China Central Television to produce a series on Singapore.

From the mid-1970s, global companies such as Silicon Valley legend Hewlett-Packard, Seagate, DuPont and Sony would arrive in droves on an island with few resources except having a good location in South-east Asia and a clean, efficient government run by Mr Lee. The jobs they provided and the technology they brought elevated Singapore to new heights - which was precisely why Mr Lee had invited them.

In 1999, Mr Lew Platt, retiring as chairman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, made a farewell visit to Singapore with his successor Carly Fiorina. As always, they used the opportunity to touch base with the leadership here and exchange ideas. "He is a mensch," Mr Platt told me later of Mr Lee, using the Yiddish word for a wise man who radiates fortitude and firmness of purpose.

The fortitude, which rose from deep conviction, came with a price on occasion. Mr Lee, it was well-known, was prone to hectoring his interlocutors, especially when he believed they were under-performing in their potential, either as individuals or as leaders.

The Malaysians, particularly, did not take it well and it continues to rankle with the old guard. Several years ago, in a blog posting, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called Mr Lee a "little emperor... who likes to lecture us on how Malaysia should be run".

Mr Maurice Baker, one of Singapore's first-generation diplomats, once told me of a time he had arranged a visit to Singapore by then Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam, at a time of particularly prickly ties.

Mr Baker, then High Commissioner to Malaysia, had sent word ahead that Mr Lee must be careful to hold himself back and give Mr Musa a good hearing. "Musa came back fuming," Mr Baker recalled. "Rather than listen, LKY had given him a long lecture."

Another person he rubbed the wrong way was Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister who was so powerful in her time that some worshipped her as the incarnation of the demon-slaying Hindu goddess Durga.

In the early 1980s, on the sidelines of a multilateral meeting in New Delhi, Mr Lee, who had a long association with the Nehru-Gandhi family, is said to have pressed Mrs Gandhi to roll back her socialist policies. He thought India was best served by building a free-market economy that would propel the country to the heights he thought it could achieve. Mrs Gandhi is said to have responded frostily, causing a slight chill in an old friendship.

In later years, Mr Lee, watching China's rise and frustrated by the slow-footedness of the South Asian giant in catching up, was often publicly critical of India's tedious democracy, massive bureau-cracy and litigious society that he thought held back the country.

Years later, a successor Congress government would set in motion policies that would open India's economy, spur growth and place it on the world stage as an emerging power. And in 2005, the Indian government would honour Mr Lee by asking him to deliver the Nehru Memorial Lecture where he announced that he had revised his view of India.

Speaking at the function, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi turned to him and said: "Mr Lee, we in India have listened to you with great respect - even when you were critical of us."

Little surprise that when her son Rahul, seen as a potential prime minister himself, decided to enter politics, he came to Mr Lee for advice. Some say his decision to bide his time while building the Congress organisation from the grassroots up is based on advice from Mr Lee.

By the turn of the century, Mr Lee's reputation as a clear-headed visionary had encompassed the globe. From Mr Nixon to Mrs Thatcher and the two Bushes who occupied the White House, all had turned to him as a trusted resource on the great changes in Asia, particularly China. It was perhaps his measured analysis and deep insights that helped the Western world accept the rise of China without feeling undue unease or a need to block it.

At a White House meeting in October 2009, President Barack Obama hailed Mr Lee as "one of the legendary figures of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries".

Perhaps most satisfying for Mr Lee would be that he lived to see the Western media's sniping at him, and Singapore, turn to grudging respect, even admiration.

Singapore's tough position on long hair, chewing gum and its "fine city" reputation gave plenty of grist to the mills of the global media. As recently as August 2002, New York Times columnist William Safire, criticising Bloom-berg News for settling a libel lawsuit brought by Mr Lee, sniped that Singapore was "an island I cannot visit because I like to chew gum and don't want to risk a caning for it".

But that would change, particularly as Mr Lee stepped down at the height of his power, signalling to the world his belief in planned transitions.

In December 2005, Time Magazine Asia, after interviewing him for more than five hours, put him on the cover as "the man who saw it all".

"Everybody who lives in Asia today thinks they are watching history being made," the Time editors wrote. "Lee Kuan Yew is one of those who can say, without fear of contradiction, that he helped make it."

[Thinker, Leader and Rafflesian]Raffles Institution mourns the passing of its most distinguished alumnus, Mr Lee Kuan...
Posted by Raffles Institution on Sunday, March 22, 2015

Special assemblies at Mr Lee's former schools
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

SCHOOLS that Mr Lee Kuan Yew once attended mourned his death with special assemblies yesterday.

In the school halls of Raffles Institution (RI) and Telok Kurau Primary School, Mr Lee's alma maters, the principals shared their thoughts on Singapore's first Prime Minister.

Telok Kurau Primary's principal, Ms Charis Wong, credited Mr Lee for Singapore's transformation into a global city in decades. Addressing hundreds of pupils, she added: "He was a loving husband to his wife and a loving father too."

Since yesterday, the pupils have been penning condolence messages on heart-shaped cards.

They also folded flowers, which will be collected into bouquets.

These will be presented by staff and student representatives when they pay their last respects at Parliament House later this week.

Library resources and reading materials on Mr Lee will be used as part of lessons this week.

"Our pupils have always known Mr Lee as one of our alumni and are proud to be in a school where Mr Lee was once a student," Ms Wong said.

Mr Lee enrolled in the school in 1930. It still keeps an old class attendance book with the words "Lee Harry" in its heritage room.

Mr Lee was not only a statesman. Policies he mooted made an impact on Ms Wong's life.

Choking back tears, she said: "I didn't grow up in a well-to-do family, but Singapore's system of meritocracy gave me opportunities and brought me to where I am today."

At RI, which Mr Lee attended from 1936 to 1940, students remembered him as a man of conviction, who always had the country's best interests at heart.

Rafflesian Arif Jabbar, 15, said: "Not all his policies were popular, but whatever he did, he believed (in it). He had the best intentions for Singapore at heart.

"It's his determination that I will remember him for."

Said RI principal Chan Poh Meng: "He dedicated his life to building a cohesive society where Singaporeans can pursue justice, peace, progress and equality.

"He was a leader and among the core group of founding fathers who were pivotal in charting the course of our nation's history.

"His passing is a deep loss to all of us."

All schools flew the national flag at half-mast across the island yesterday.

They also observed a minute's silence for Mr Lee.

The original big-idea leader
His enduring legacy was that he had powerful ideas for Singapore and the courage and commitment to turn them into reality
By Han Fook Kwang, Editor At Large, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

I HAVE done several books on Lee Kuan Yew but there was one which never saw the light of day. It was tentatively titled Lee Kuan Yew: What Keeps Him Awake At Night.

I had wanted to do it after one discussion with him in early 2002 when he spoke forcefully about the threat of global terrorism after the September 2001 attacks on the United States. He saw the impending war between the West and Al-Qaeda in almost apocalyptic Cold War terms and was especially concerned about how it would affect Muslim countries in our region.

When I sent him an outline of the book, which would include other issues confronting Singapore, such as the competition from China, he had one question: What if what he had to say was so dark and gloomy that it demoralised Singaporeans and hastened their emigration?

In the end, he decided against doing the book, preferring to keep those ominous thoughts to himself.

But he was wrong on global terrorism and it didn't turn out the way he feared, not yet at least.

Mr Lee was not right on everything and his critics will say he was wrong on many.

But it didn't matter to him. He was not in it to win arguments though he was famously adept at it because he was not above intimidating his opponents into submission.

He was in it to ensure Singapore survived and prospered against the odds.

And on this, he was willing to take on all comers.

Mr Lee's achievements are well known and the accolades will pour in over the next few days: He transformed Singapore from Third World to the modern thriving city it is now and uplifted the lives of an entire generation.

What accounts for his extraordinary success? There are many reasons, and entire books have been written about the man.

For me, his enduring legacy was that he had big ideas for Singapore and he wasn't afraid to implement them.

It is fashionable today to say that it was easier for the government in the early years to implement its policies because life was simpler and the people easier to govern.

Those who say this forget how improbable the undertakings must have seemed at the time.

How large and incredible?

He wanted to solve the entire housing problem by building public flats for more than 85 per cent of the people, most of whom had never owned a roof over their heads.

He wanted every male citizen to serve in the army for at least two of their best years, most of whom had never touched a rifle before.

He wanted to bring in foreign multinational companies here when most people believed they would exploit workers for their own profit.

He wanted to eradicate corruption in a country sitting in the middle of a region in which it was endemic.

He wanted to make English the common language when most of the people then couldn't string a complete sentence together.

He wanted to build an improbable nation of disparate people with different cultures, languages and religions.

Any one of these projects alone would have required a lifetime of courage and commitment. But do them all together?

Mr Lee took all of them on soon after Singapore was expelled from Malaysia, and he was fortunate to have had a unique team led by his deputy, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee.

Seen in today's context when many governments lack the vision and energy to do the really bold things, what he did seems larger than life.

What made him embark on such wholesale changes in such rapid fashion?

Perhaps it had to do with becoming the leader at a relatively young age - he was prime minister of independent Singapore at 42.

That's when most promising People's Action Party politicians today are being inducted into government as acting junior ministers still wet behind their ears.

But it is one thing to have big ideas, quite another to be able to carry them out.

That required another big idea: Near total control of all the important levers of power, including Parliament, the media, the educational institutions and large parts of the economy.

He set out to achieve this domination with his trademark determination. When I asked him in an interview for the book Lee Kuan Yew: The Man And His Ideas how he would describe himself, he singled this out as his most distinctive trait: "I'm very determined. If I decide that something is worth doing, then I'll put my heart and soul to it. The whole ground can be against me but if I know it is right, I'll do it."

Singaporeans knew exactly what he meant because they felt the force of his conviction and personality over a lifetime.

From the interactions I had had with him over the course of writing those books, he was more intense than anyone I've met. There was never any small talk and he was always trying to win you over to his point of view.

But this desire for control also made him the target of much criticism. His detractors say he overdid it and stymied Singapore's development as a progressive society in step with its economic progress.

Could he have loosened the tight rein he held for so long?

With the benefit of hindsight, the loosening up we are seeing today could have taken place earlier.

Only Mr Lee, given his enormous influence even when he was no longer prime minister, could have initiated a move to open up the political space in line with changing expectations.

Then the younger leaders would have a longer time to develop the instincts and reflexes needed to respond to a more diverse electorate who want a more competitive political landscape.

As it is, the current leaders have had to play catch-up and have yet to develop the skills to operate effectively in the new environment.

But if Mr Lee was a bulldozer, it was a values-driven one.

He liked to say that he was a pragmatist, that for him what mattered was whether it worked.

It isn't strictly true. When he embarked on those large undertakings, they were driven by what he personally believed in.

Why does everyone need to own a home? Because if every Singaporean has one, he has a vested interest in the stability and prosperity of this place.

Why is public welfare kept to a minimum? So as to encourage self-reliance and hard work.

Why does Singapore need to be so tightly governed? Because only the best should govern this exceptionally vulnerable country.

Even in his last years, he tried to ensure these views would prevail when he set them down in the book Hard Truths.

Pragmatic policies can be copied by future generations if what matters is only whether an idea works.

But the values that define a society are much more complex. They need to be worked at, even fought over and eventually embraced by the people.

Mr Lee shaped Singapore not just through the policies he pursued but also through the values he believed in.

But when circumstances change as they have done in Singapore, what happens to those governing principles? Should they change, or are they permanent because the fundamentals that shape Singapore have not changed?

These questions won't matter to him now, but they will for his successors.

Will the post-Lee era bring forth big ideas on this values front?

By another big-idea leader?

Singapore awaits.

We were privileged to have filmed some of Mr Lee's most significant soundbites. Here is one of them from "The Making of...
Posted by RazorTV on Monday, March 23, 2015

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