I woke up yesterday morning to the news of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death. My first thought was, what now? What is to become of the country that he built from scratch without his guidance, leadership, intellect, and foresight? Will we have the tenacity, loyalty, and enough love for the country to go on and ensure his life’s work does not go to waste?
As I went about my morning, everything became magnified. Every privilege and luxury that I – and many of us – have come to take for granted: clean streets and running water and skyscrapers and an elaborate transport system and a cushy office job to go to. As the founding father of Singapore, Mr Lee devoted his life to the country and was always fearless in his ways, his opinions, his policies, and took shrewdly calculated risks (remember the casino debacle?) that paid off in the end. He did whatever he could to put us in the global arena, and had a profound love and sense of responsibility to the country and its people.
Whatever your grouse with him might be, however much you may resent him for his iron-fisted autocratic ways, you can’t deny that he was whip-smart and had the foresight and steeliness that was required to pull Singapore out of a backwater slum to the teeming metropolitan city that it is today.
He did whatever he could to the best of his abilities, broke boundaries, and was a hero of his time. Whatever faults you find with him, he did what was needed, risking resentment from the people with his harsh policies for the good of the country, the bigger picture that the common man was as yet unable to see.
Yes, times are a-changing and what the people expect of their servant leaders are different. I don’t deny that Mr Lee’s rule probably won’t sit well with many people of my generation, the post-war generation that has never experienced the hardships of war or the early days of independence, when we had basically nothing and no support from anyone else.
But as he said, he did what he deemed best for Singapore in the sociopolitical environment of his time, and he raised our annual per capita income from $500 to $55,000 in the 50 years he was involved in the governance of Singapore, no mean feat given that Singapore was just a tiny island with hardly any natural resources at the mercy of our neighbours.
I don’t claim to have in-depth knowledge of Singapore politics; nor am I able to articulate as well as others who have written beautiful, moving tributes to the late Mr Lee. Up till now, this post is a mess of sentimentality and emotion. But I’d just like to express my immense gratitude to the grandfather who, while sometimes stern and assertive in his opinions and beliefs, always had our best interests at heart.
I want to promise him that Singapore will be fine, that we will have the grace and courage to move forward as a united civilisation that looks far beyond our own petty, selfish needs and do what is best for our country. But I dare not. For his tenacity, vision, drive, and deep sense of responsibility and love for his people and country are unparalleled.
There is none like him, and there will never be. Love him or loathe him, he had poured his life and soul into his country. He makes us proud to be Singaporeans, for all its triumphs and failings. He was a giant amongst men, a hero who fought hard for his people and his convictions, and simply a man who loved his family and his country. He was a visionary whose ideas weren’t always accepted by the people during his rule, and will always be remembered as one of the greats of modern history.
Singapore was incredibly lucky to have him as her leader, and I really, really hope that we can sustain his legacy and continue to make Singapore a country that we can be proud of for many years to come.
Be at peace, Mr Lee. While we mourn your passing, we also celebrate your achievements, and are forever indebted to you for all that we now possess.