Zaid Ibrahim On Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

August 16, 2013

COMMENT: I have read many books and articles on Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew including his memoirs and his latest, One Man’s View of the World. He is no doubt a brilliant man and a formidable force in our part of the world. His take on politics, economics,. international affairs, and history is read, debated and respected by all who are in interested in public policy and management, and statecraft . Like him or not, let us give him due credit for his stellar achievements.

Lee-Kuan-Yew-book-singapore-060813_360_524_100We in Malaysia–not all of course–cannot accept that Mr. Lee has been able to transform a colonial backwater into a modern and dynamic Singapore.  More so, because he is seen as a living remainder that we have failed in nation building. For Mr. Lee, nation building was a challenge thrown at when we decided that Singapore should leave Malaysia in 1965. He took that challenge and made Singapore a model of good governance. That is an achievement not to be scoffed off.

I admire Mr. Lee for his vision, integrity, capacity to choose his leadership team, and  tenacity in overcoming adversity. He was tough on his political adversaries. But then so was Mahathir. But unlike our former Prime Minister, Mr. Lee was able to resist the temptation to lecture and badger his successors. In stead, he became a statesmen for his country. I am of course glad that Zaid Ibrahim has written this article and I congratulate him for it.

I for one strongly advocate the idea of learning from others. It takes humility, not arrogance to acknowledge someone’s achievements. Learning starts with humility and  an open mind.–Din Merican

Zaid Ibrahim On Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

“There is no need to suffer from some complex about Singapore and always belittle the old man (Lee Kuan Yew) and other leaders for that matter when they say something about us that is less than flattering”.–Zaid Ibrahim

Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) became an easy target for our national and Pakatan Rakyat leaders when he recently commented on how Malaysia was suffering from the effects of its race-based politics.

Their response was typical of Malaysian politicians from both sides of the divide: they hurled personal insults at the ageing Singaporean leader that offered little insight into the real issues. The Opposition’s Karpal Singh and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim put it as (A) mind your own business and (B) your ideas are no longer useful.

As for the Barisan Nasional, they pointed out that Singapore is also racially biased and therefore unqualified to speak on the subject.UMNO leaders then loudly proclaimed that the “Malays first” policy is here to stay and that the Malays are not ready for any change. End of story.

I am reluctant to defend LKY as I think he was heartless when he was in power and he punished his opponents too harshly for my liking. However, I do admire his pragmatic approach to public policy. His strength of conviction and willingness to be unpopular is well known, and it was firmly rooted in his belief that his policies were good for the people.

Like China’s Deng Xiaoping, he favoured policies that were practical and useful to the general public.Deng’s famous saying, “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice” cleverly encapsulated this practicality.

Deng understood that a market economy was crucial for his country’s survival and competitiveness and gradually guided China away from the ideals of Mao Tse Tung.

LKY took a similarly pragmatic approach when he said that Mandarin and local dialects had to take a back seat as mastering English had to be a top priority for Singapore.

I am not an ideologue myself because ideology seldom solves anything; in fact, I think it brings misery to its believers.I am inclined to support anything that works and leads to a tangible improvement in people’s lives.

Policies that work have measurable results and are mindful of the resources that are needed (policies that use enormous resources and achieve few results are simply no good).

It’s obvious to me that we need to give up the present culture of race-based policies, not because LKY said so, but because they simply don’t work.

We need to stop doing a disservice to those who are excluded as well as to the Malays who are supposedly the beneficiaries of these policies.Surely 40 years is enough time for us to see that, collectively, these policies are the mother of all that ails the country.

The simple fact is that Singapore is a first world country today and we are third, in whichever way we define it.

In 1965 Singapore was a small island state that drew its revenue from small ships anchoring at its ports and from several thousand British Navy personnel in Woodlands spending their money there.

There didn’t seem to be much for the island to build on but LKY did it.  The world has recognised his contribution to transforming this third world island into a first world metropolis. Only Malaysian leaders do not. I call it envy.

On the other hand, Malaya and later Malaysia started on much happier ground: endowed with among the richest natural resources in Asia, it had public institutions that were respected by many outside the country.

We were the success story of the Commonwealth. Today we are a lot less successful, whichever way we look at it. Some say we are sliding down a slope and picking up speed.

I am not endorsing everything that LKY and other leaders in Singapore have done, and neither am I ignoring the differences—cultural and otherwise—between our two countries.

There are huge differences of course, but we need to admit that in the last 50 years we have done something wrong and they have done something right.

There is no need to suffer from some complex about Singapore and always belittle the old man and other leaders for that matter when they say something about us that is less than flattering.

Shouldn’t we learn from how LKY curbed corruption and how he transformed the communist-infested Singaporean universities into what many consider to be among the world’s best institutions of higher learning?

If we are honest then we cannot possibly deny LKY’s many achievements, and we should be humble enough to listen to him.

I believe our Prime Minister is also a pragmatic leader and so I hope he will not be discouraged from meeting his Singaporean counterpart and LKY to exchange views.

If our PM depends too much on Utusan Malaysia and the old guards, then our prospects will remain dim for the next 50 years. Then who will we blame for our failures? The Chinese I guess, if they are still around. – The Malaysian Insider, August 14, 2013.

21 thoughts on “Zaid Ibrahim On Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

  1. We on this side can praise Sir Harry Lee, we can and have the freedom to condenm him because we are known to be right on the money when it comes to comments on foreign leaders but do poorly when it comes to our own.

    All these comments by us is a waste of time because that man has delivered. He has taken Singapore, and I repeat, from a Per Capita Income of S$440.00 in 1968 to S$44,440.00 today in one generation. That record is unmatched and so who are we to give marks for his performance. So do not waste your time. Leave him alone. If you can emulate what he has done good for you. Otherwise just set up Task Force after Task Force to solve your problems.

  2. I firmly believe Pakatan should take Harry Lee’s remarks as a challenge. Lee has been brilliant. But there’s no secret that he prefers the status quo. Indeed Lee now needs paediatric care. We can expect no more brilliance from him.

  3. “Then who will we blame for our failures? The Chinese I guess, if they are still around” – Whilst Datuk Zaid has used it in the context of cynicism, to much effect, the last part of the sentence sent shiver up my spin because of its prophetic possibilities given past trend. Whilst I am not the least concern about the equivalent of “Takkan Cina Hilang di Dunia”, given that there are too many of them around, I do fear for Malaysia like Zaid, when there are nobody else left to blame.

  4. “Then who will we blame for our failures? The Chinese I guess, if they are still around” – Zaid Ibrahim

    Spot on! You said it well, Zaid.

    Who should we blame for our failures? Ourselves, of course. We have to blame our policies which are too Malay biased and entrenched and, to a certain extent, religion, for all of our woes.

    Corruption is endemic and so ingrained in our society that it pales in comparison to Indonesia of the Suharto era. Where we are heading to God only knows.

    My not to well-heeled friends are fond of saying that if they have the means they’ll buy this and that. I’ll tell them if I have the money I’ll not stay in God-forsaken country.

    Well, that is not what I really meant. It’s the epitome of all the frustrations I have had with those in the corridors of power.

    It took me a while to regain my composure when BN was returned to power in GE 13. I have yet to recover.

  5. LKY did badger and lecture his successors but in private. Its not the difference. The main difference is LKY personal gratification is NOT his own personal wealth and personal glory. His definition is what he builds, which stands on its own, the test of time, recognized by others willingly ultimately, grudgingly if not. Mahathir definition is personal wealth, stolen perfectly acceptable, temporary also OK, what others say is irrelevant and even if glory is a complete lie is perfectly OK. In short, the main difference is detachment of the personal from professional whereas for Mahatir, almost everything is personal..

  6. LKY / Singapore will always remain an easy target for blame by many in Malaysia looking for an excuse for their own failures. Singapore has achieved something we thought they never would and would come crawling back to us on their knees which was a big disappointment for many because now they seem more successful tan us…. ultimately, we will need to recognise and accept they have done well and work on a win-win with them whether we like it or not….

  7. Dear Dato’ Din & Dato’ Zaid,

    Tq for talking sense and logic…and trying to point the way forward for our current PM. The country is in such a terrible mess and if he doesn’t take some bold actions now, be assured that all future generations ( especially those Malays that are left way behind) will blame and curse him forever. Then what good will ketuanan melayu do for them, since by then our national coffers would have dried up.

  8. Apart from the general ills (corruption, transparency, cronyism, etc) that affect all nations, Malaysia has two more ills that are uniquely hers – vernacular schools and race-based policies.

    It is time for DAP and PKR to form a new party, with a new constitution that does not include those two un-pragmatic policies.

    LKY had the gift of foresight to dispense with them.

  9. Being Chinese, LKY has a proper perspective on how later generations (not tens, but hundred and thousands years later) studied and viewed his contribution/legacys, just as today’s generations read or studied the historical facts of the first ‘Yellow Emperor’ and those characters in the Romance of 3 Kingdoms.

  10. Siangmalam,
    Not sure why me message never appear but never mind. Frankly, I disagree with Mariam Mokhtar that Singapore wants Malaysia to be a dumb dumb country. In fact, Singapore doesn’t mind having a strong Malaysia so long that Malaysia practices consistency in their policy.
    Hence, I have distaste towards folks such as CLF saying LKY is sans this sans that. I think CLF is indeed a Sarong Party Man who suck up to ang moh too much. Ang moh prefers us to stood up with them as equals. Only then they respect us. Ang mohs respect LKY and not people like CLF. Wanna bet!

  11. Two nations living side by side having relatives on both ends. LKY built a policy to make its people smart and complete build a first world nation.Our is forever a third world nation where the BN government make sure that its people remain poor if better stupid so there can feed them to support them in every elections. Way apart , unless there is a strong leader such as LKY. Appears never in the picture maybe in the next few years with younger mixed marriages where race and religion will stay away from the political field. Off now it is race, race and religion when can we move on to be first nation if not second is also welcome.

  12. I for one take pride that I had shared living time with great minds as Nehru, Moa, Kennedy, Mandela, Obama and Lee Kuan Yew.

    If our leaders across the divide cannot digest or accept the views or comments by Lee Kuan Yew, what greater achievement have our local leaders attained than him? If the same people are quick to discredit Lee Kuan Yew’s sterling achievements, how can you ever persuade ordinary Malaysian to honour and recognize our local leaders.

    What Lee Kuan Yew achieved for a small island like Singapore is far greater than that the lost opportunities squandered by leaders of larger countries. Lee Kuan Yew went on a mission to identify the best brains the nation can offer, based on merit and not on race. We can argue better positions were reserved for just the Chinese, is the same not reserved for Malays in Malaysia?

    As a Malaysian Malay or Chinese or Indian, dare apply for opportunities in the fast economically growing countries in India and China, our Malaysians can come no near to the locals. Accept the fact the India and Chinese possess better mind, and far in advance intellectually and IT skills . The merger of the Chinese and Indian may change the world. It is good to know that the two countries are working closely in certain fields and this is good for the world.

    Thanks his excellency for your contemporary writings and views, they are many who honour and practice your achievements, beyond our religious and racial conditioning.

  13. Dato’ Zaid doesn’t tell us whether the End justifies the Means.
    LKY being chinese (money comes first), concentrated on making S’pore rich but cared a damn for what the people felt about living in a strict authoritarian country.
    all that glitters is not Gold.

  14. For all we might not know, LKY has been cloned.
    It that also happen to our old goat, let’s hope we get a sheep.

    Psalm 90:10
    Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

    The Bible said man shall live to 70, 80 if healthy but LKY and our old goat are coming to 90.

  15. There is no doubt that most folk would agree about being ‘results orientated’ when it comes to scarcity. Another crude way to put it would be ‘Bang for Buck’.

    Saying that, i would tip my hat (or whatever device i have on my head) to Harry for he maximized and optimized all the available human capital, after separation from Malaysia. He had no other option and clamped down on dissent like a hydraulic vise. However his vice, was that he didn’t know when to stop and i suspect that instead of meeting and cajoling his opponents, he had an aversion to being castigated as being a cold, calculative accountant. Trained in Law, high in IQ, yet lacking in EQ and a winsome personality he had only One answer for such opponents – Legalism.

    What he essential lacked was ‘Grace’ with all it’s connotations. All he had was and will be Ruthless Efficiency and Vengeance, somewhat like an aspect of the overpowering Old Testament God. His Covenant with the Singaporeans was Kiasi-Kiasu, which they had adopted in spades, with nary time for self reflection and altruism (theirs, was a ‘conditional’ charity for ‘greater good’). In that they succeeded economically, is beyond doubt. But now, their society is being rendered by the need to become human and humane again, instead of being Mammon’s pets.

    As for poor looes (who really shouldn’t succumb to Idolatry) illiteracy on the ‘sans’ thingy, let me present this from a flake, called Shakespeare. All the World is a Stage, in case you never knew:

  16. If LKY is still in Msia, PAP will be the govt….. and msia will be the 1st world country with progress, prosperiity, harmony among races and good govt! The malays will be much much different today…. more mature, progressive, understanding, wise, educated and forward lookin!

  17. It a great pity that Malaysian Malaysia did not take off when S’pore was part of Malaysia. There was not one Malay of high standing backing LKY then. The Malays feared UMNO to support the PAP or they genuinely feared PAP as a result of UMNO’s vile propaganda.

    If LKY had succeeded, the Malaysia of today would have been in a league of its own, a peaceful and prosperous country. Firstly he would have prioritized the upliftment of poor Malays as one of his major objectives. Secondly he would have bend backwards to protect the institution of Malay Royalty. To him symbols and symbolism means a lot. He knows that the Malay peasantry and the Royalty are inseparable and that he must take good care of both for the nation to move forward and progress. He is unlike UMNO – demean, insult and butcher the royalty when they want to (like they did in the 1980’s) and make a somersault and bow extra low shamelessly and pretentiously to Royalty today for political expediency and for their very survival. You may not know when they are going to stab Royalty again.

  18. Dear Dato’ Din & Dato’ Zaid,

    Yes indeed and very well said.

    Just to share this…

    ‪Lee Kuan Yew – Interview with Fareed Zakaria‬‏ – YouTube –…re=related

    CNN’s Fareed Zakaria talks with Lee Kuan Yew about his life as prime minister of Singapore, the revival of China, War on terror, Freedom Agenda and even the recent Georgian conflict. This is a two part series…

    I am a “Social Darwinist”
    The Survival requires you to Change…
    If you don’t Change, you will be “Marginalised”
    Then you will become Extinct”…

    Singapore: Lee Kwan Yew: At 85, The Fire Still Burns By Ahmad Mustapha « Blog yOur Mind –

    “It is impossible to compare what Singapore has achieved to what all these four countries had so far achieved. It was actually poor management and corruption, and nothing more. Everything is done for the vested interest of the few.

    Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and the Sultanate of Brunei need good management teams. They would not be able to do this on their own steam. I would advise that they call on Kuan Yew to show them what good governance is. Why look East to Japan when it is just next door. Across the causeway.”

    ‪Lee Kuan Yew Ketawakan Malaysia‬‏ – YouTube –

    You be the judge.


  19. Pingback: Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) became an easy target | sghardtruth

  20. We reap what we sow, 1st world mentality leader we get 1st world nation, 3rd world mentality leader we get 3rd world nation. Res Ipsa Loquitor

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