Lee Kuan Yew Has Died, Singapore Mourns Its Founding Father And Questions Future

Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, has died in hospital at the age of 91 years old.

Mr Lee had spent more than six weeks in Singapore General Hospital battling pneumonia before passing away early this morning. Many Singaporeans visited the hospital to leave flowers and gifts. As the New York Times reports, a week of national mourning has been declared. His body will lie in state at the Parliament House from Wednesday until Saturday, and a state funeral will take place this Sunday.

Cambridge-educated Lee Kuan Yew came to prominence in 1954 when he co-founded the People’s Action Party (PAP). Mr Lee served as Singapore’s first Prime Minister after leading PAP to political victory in 1959 and the country to separation from the British Empire. He remained its political leader through its expulsion from the Malayan Federation in 1965, when Singapore became a fully independent city-state, and on until 1990. However, Mr Lee continued to exert his influence in local and world affairs long after he stepped down.

President Obama spoke to the press following the death of one of Asia’s most influential leaders of the last half century.

“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.”

Speaking after his death, Mr Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong (the country’s present Prime Minister), also remembered his father’s legacy.

“[He] fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans.”

Indeed, Lee Kuan Yew sought to “create in a Third World situation a First World oasis”, as mentioned in his second memoir From Third World To First: The Singapore Story (published in 1999). Mr Lee brought to the country an economical and social consciousness. Yet, that task was achieved with a strong hand. Certainly, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, felt it necessary that people remember the darker side of Mr Lee’s politics.

“[T]oday’s restricted freedom of expression, self-censorship and stunted multiparty democracy is also a part of his legacy that Singapore now needs to overcome.”

The Inquisitr reported recently that two German men had been arrested while in the city-state, receiving sentences of nine months in prison and three strokes of the cane following a graffiti stunt in which they spray-painted a metro train. Nonetheless, as the Guardian reported following the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the former leader never shied away from his firm stand on justice.

“We have to lock up people, without trial, whether they are communists, whether they are language chauvinists, whether they are religious extremists. If you don’t do that, the country would be in ruins.”

Some people, according to a recent report by Forbes, might suggest that the city-state is on its way to ruins anyway, given a dwindling population of Singaporeans (only 1 in 10). Despite its ethnic mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay citizens, despite possibly being the best run city in the world, Mr Lee promoted English as the primary language and the 1968 turn-around for the country (in the form of foreign investment from outside companies and individuals, the first of which was Texas Instruments) has in turn made the cost of living to be extortionately high. What Singapore lacks, fundamentally, as Forbes‘ Joel Kotkin writes, is a system of cohesive beliefs for its people and an overload of immigrant working population.

Whatever the future holds for Singapore, what is undeniable is Lee Kuan Yew’s hand in bringing it into the Twenty First century and making it the international success it is. Mr Lee wanted an “oasis” in Asia; as Joel Kitkin also writes, he left it “an urban jewel”.

Singapore continues to mourn Lee Kuan Yew (1923 – 2015).

[Image courtesy of BBC.]