Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

April 4, 2016

COMMENT: I do not understand why the view of one person, albiet from the daughter of the late Prime Minister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, should receive our attention, and be the subject of this article titled, Who will end the cult of LKY?

Why should a leader who has done so much for his country  not be admired, remembered and honored by his own people for his contributions to the making of a dynamic, modern and successful Singapore. Since when has remembering and honoring a leader of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s stature been regarded as fawning or an attempt  to create a personality cult.

There is a already a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles  who established Singapore as  a British trading outpost in 1819. There should rightly also be one of Mr. Lee.  Maybe, Changi should be known as Lee Kuan Yew International Airport. But I understand  Mr. Lee has left a will which prevents this from happening.

Fortunately, there is a way out of this bind. A close and respected friend from Singapore told me recently that Singaporeans have wisely chosen to erect a Heroes’ Memorial in honour of Mr. Lee and his colleagues like Goh Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam, Hon Sui Sen, Eddie Barker, and others.–Din Merican

Remembering  Lee Kuan Yew

by Surekha A. Yadav

On March 21, the front page of the Straits Times carried a photograph featuring a stylised portrait of Singapore’s first, now deceased, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The installation formed, out of 4,877 erasers, was 2.3 metres wide and 3.1 metres high and titled Our Father, Our Country, Our Flag.

Now the first question that came to my mind was… why erasers?But other commentators had different reactions, with one woman in particular asking why so much column space was being devoted to a man who was determined not to see his legacy descend into a personality cult.

“I would ask how the time, effort and resources used to prepare these (commemorations, etc) would benefit Singapore and Singaporeans,” she wrote in a lengthy Facebook post criticising the adulation being heaped on our former leader on the first anniversary of his death. The post was widely circulated, but not by the Straits Times, to which she has been a regular contributor and columnist for years.

A bouquet of orchids seen on the parliamentary seat of founding father and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew during a remembrance ceremony at the old Parliament. This is particularly interesting because the woman in question is Dr Lee Wei Ling, the daughter of the man represented by the thousands of erasers.

Dr Lee felt the national daily’s refusal to run her critical piece amounted to censorship and she declared on Facebook that she was effectively ending her relationship with the paper “as the editors there do not allow me freedom of speech.”

So here we have the daughter of Lee Kuan Yew, the effective founder of the modern Singaporean state, telling the newspaper closest to the state off for censoring her criticism of the fawning over her late father, which is happening in the state led by her brother — Lee Hsien Loong.

On one hand, Dr Lee’s point is perfectly coherent; while Lee Kuan Yew imprinted aspects of himself on the nation he effectively engineered, he was no North Korean Kim.

For many years of his rule and influence, we didn’t see giant statues of the man downtown, no LKY international airport or monuments emerged and that strikes me as a very good thing.

The old statesman was even determined to demolish his modest family home to prevent it from becoming a shrine.

On the other, it is a little amusing that a woman of considerable education, success and stature (she is after all the daughter of the first Prime Minister and sister to the current prime minister) feels muffled.

“The editors there do not allow me freedom of speech,” she tellingly says — but have they really offered anyone, bar perhaps our paramount chiefs, freedom of speech since the dawn of the modern nation?

Dr Lee’s father famously said: “You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, and schools.”

This has been the basis of the government’s media policy for decades, and our nation’s dismal positioning on global press freedom indexes is also well known, so it’s hard not to meet a sudden burst of outrage from the pinnacle of privilege without a raised eyebrow.

I’ve now seen Lee Kuan Yew commemorative badges handed out and watched a video of children at a local kindergarten being made to bow to a photo of the former PM — someone has to put a stop to this and maybe Dr Lee is the lady for the job. One way or another, the next Lee family dinner ought to be pretty interesting.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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9 thoughts on “Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

  1. Whatever is said of this man,
    without whose guiding hand,
    putting Singapore under lock and key,
    amidst the turbulent South China sea,
    the country will never aspire,
    to that which we all admire,
    a tiny little place so rich, safe and tidy,
    in a short 50 years, a First World City.

    Pluses, minuses we calculate,
    and historians will speculate,
    critics, cynics, friends, foes and sociologists,
    writing volumes and volumes may just miss,
    the truest measure of this man,
    getting on with the job at hand,
    not knowing all that future history brings,
    did more than some borne princes and kings.

  2. /// Why should a leader who has done so much for his country not be admired, remembered and honored by his own people for his contributions to the making of a dynamic, modern and successful Singapore. Since when has remembering and honoring a leader of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s stature been regarded as fawning or an attempt to create a personality cult. ///

    LKY has always been against personality cult and worship. Guess he hardened his view on this when he was feted and welcomed by school children waving artificial flowers when he goes to China in the early days.

    I agree with you on this. A fitting tribute may be to rename Changi Airport as LKY Airport a la JFK or CDG.

    Monuments and statues are not necessary. A very poignant moment was contained in the eulogy by Lee Hsien Loong, quoting the epitaph of Christopher Wren:
    (Reader, if you seek his monument look around you.)
    (Interred in St. Paul’s Cathedral of which he was the architect)

    Indeed. There is no need for monuments to honour LKY. Just look around Singapore and you can see LKY’s life work.

  3. If Singaporeans keep remembering LKY they will end up resting on their laurels. And when you are resting on your laurels you are wearing it the wrong way. He provided the answers to run Singapore for 50 years. The next generation should come out with ideas for running the country for the next 50 years instead of using the nation’s resources to build monuments for LKY all over Singapore. But keep him in your history books to encourage future leaders to focus on good governance instead of coming up with projects to spend money remembering LKY. Once you get on that slippery road there is no end. More monuments more kick backs and more kick backs more monuments. And before you know it the nation will become bankrupt. We all must have a sense of history if you want to go forward.

  4. Some leaders are known for the good they did and they are later remembered and referred to as FAMOUS. But in many countries the leaders may also be remembered for the damage they did to their country and people who will also be remembered but may be referred to as ‘INFAMOUS.
    Some become famous while alive while others become infamous and only those who know them will remember as history can and is changed with the passing of time where some even forget their own roots.

  5. Yes, rename Changi Airport as Lee Kuan Yew Airport and that would be sufficient. The Lee residence at Oxley road should also be preserved.

    P.S. I like the fact that Liverpool’s airport is named Liverpool John Lennon

  6. 1959 was the year when the PAP under LKY came into power in Singapore. Later that year, some 109 senior civil servants, including this humble self, mostly UM graduates (now NUS), left the Government service to return to Malaya because they did not like the initial socialist ways of LKY in running the city state.
    Despite that, inwardly, having served the government for several years and knowing the capabilty and integrity of the remaining senior civil servants, I told myself that one day the Singapore civil service under LKY would become one of the most efficient and least corrupted in the whole world. I am glad that later events proved me right. Many of those who returneed to Malaya in1959 soon had nothing but great admration for this great man, LKY. It is nice of Dr. Lee Wei Ling to remeber her father in this way. God Bless. LIm ChungTat.

  7. “The editors there do not allow me freedom of speech,” Dr. Lee Wei Ling tellingly says.

    Dr. Lee’s right to freedom of expression is not violated simply because the editors choose not to publish her writings in their newspaper. The most Dr. Lee can argue is the judgement of the editors and journalistic professionalism.

    The right to free speech is violated only if government uses state instruments to threaten its dissidents or political operative uses violence to silence their rivals. Dr. Lee acts like a spoilt kid thinking she is entitled to all spaces for her speech if the above quote is accurate.

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