One year on: How Singaporeans remember Lee Kuan Yew

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Panels on former Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, on display at Duxton Plain Park. Photo: Safhras Khan/Yahoo Singapore.

Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, is a name synonymous with the growth of the Republic. Many Singaporeans still remember the contributions of the late Lee, who passed away exactly a year ago today.

Singaporeans whom Yahoo Singapore spoke to shared what they thought of him – both the good and bad.

Singaporeans must ensure that his hard work is not taken for granted and that the country must continue to grow, said entrepreneur Mohamad Faiz Selamat.

“He was a grounded and tight-fisted person, and I think it will be better to remember him by being actionable. I don’t think he wanted all the pomp but instead wanted the country to move forward,” he said.

Fellow Singaporean Tsui Wing Hong, a managing director, echoed Mohamad Faiz’s views. “The independence of Singapore, as well as the prosperity, security and happiness of its people had always been part of his (Lee’s) main goal for the nation. Looking forward to the future and working towards defending and maintaining these goals must remain top of our agenda,” said Tsui.

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A bouquet of flowers laid at the Istana Park memorial site. Photo: Safhras Khan/Yahoo Singapore.

His greatest legacy

Lee’s decision to build public housing for Singaporeans was lauded by Mohamad Faiz, who believes it was the late statesman’s greatest legacy.

Despite uprooting people from their kampongs in the 60s, public housing helped to create the unique Singapore identity, said Faiz.

“There is no more Chinese or Malay kampong because everyone is staying together. Moreover by allowing people to purchase their own flats it helped to elevate our standard of living,” he said.

Meanwhile, Maznah Masop, a social activist, said she was impressed with the former premier’s vision to turn Singapore into a garden city.

“The fact that he created a greener pasture here for long-term economic sustainability and social compactness made him worth remembering,” she said.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow with ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said that the late premier was best remembered as an intellectual statesman and a foreign policy entrepreneur.

“He exhibited exceptional leadership to preserve the national security interests of Singapore, and practiced niche diplomacy for Singapore, a small state, to carve out a sustainable reputation as an active responsible member of the international community,” he said.

Member of Parliament Saktiandi Supaat said Lee was instrumental in building public housing infrastructure, developing a water strategy, and promoting the greening of Singapore.

The MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC said, “In other words not just the politics and economics of things but also the livability and basic needs of Singaporeans.“

Differing views on politics

But Lee’s brand of politics also had its fair share of critics. Migrants rights activist Jolovan Wham said a political system that strongly favours a one-party rule does a disservice to the country. “His worst failure is not realising that by crushing democracy, civil society and opposition parties,” he said.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The day when the ruling party crumbles and fails, we’ll be left floundering in the political wilderness, because we did not build up credible opposition parties and democratic institutions to ensure the prosperity and indeed, the survival of our country,“ he opined.

Comic book artist Sonny Liew offered a more measured response. Liew’s graphic novel “The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye” had its publication grant withdrawn by the National Arts Council (NAC) for containing “sensitive content” that did not meet NAC’s funding criteria. Liew’s novel touched on key incidents that happened in Singapore and featured Lee as a comic character.

Reflecting on Lee’s passing, Liew said, “I thought that to some extent the sadness over his passing was linked to the way he represented a connection to Singapore’s past, that such connections were precious because non-stop change and modernisation has left us with so few of them… [His] views on the challenges facing Singapore and the world were always thought provoking, even if you didn’t agree with them, and that’s something I think we all miss.”

– Additional reporting by Nicholas Yong

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