Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Eulogies for Mr Lee Kuan Yew

State Funeral Eulogies

'Because he never wavered, we didn't falter. Because he fought, we took courage and fought with him.'
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's eulogy at the University Cultural Centre
The Straits Times, 30 Mar 2015

THIS has been a dark week for Singapore. The light that has guided us all these years has been extinguished. We have lost our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who lived and breathed Singapore all his life. He and his team led our pioneer generation to create this island nation, Singapore.

Mr Lee did not set out to be a politician, let alone a statesman, as a boy. In fact, his grandfather wanted him to become an English gentleman! But events left an indelible mark on him. He had been a British subject in colonial Singapore. He had survived hardship, danger and fear in the Japanese Occupation. These drove him to fight for independence.

In one of his radio talks on the Battle for Merger many years ago in 1961, Mr Lee said: "My colleagues and I are of that generation of young men who went through the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation and emerged determined that no one - neither the Japanese nor the British - had the right to push and kick us around."

Mr Lee championed independence for Singapore through Merger with Malaya, to form a new Federation of Malaysia. He worked tirelessly to bring this about, and succeeded. Unfortunately the merger did not last and before long we were expelled from Malaysia. Separation was his greatest "moment of anguish", but it also proved to be the turning point in Singapore's fortunes.

From the ashes of Separation he built a nation. The easiest thing to do would have been to appeal to Chinese voters alone. After all, Singapore had had to leave Malaysia because we were majority Chinese. Instead, Mr Lee went for the nobler dream of a multiracial, multi-religious nation. Singapore would not be based on race, language or religion, but on fundamental values - multi-racialism, equality, meritocracy, integrity, and rule of law. Mr Lee declared: "This is not a country that belongs to any single community; it belongs to all of us."

Monday, 30 March 2015

Thank you, Mr Lee. Goodbye, Mr Lee

A grateful nation says: 'Thank you, Mr Lee!'
In pouring rain along the streets or glued to the TV, at home and abroad, Singaporeans bid a final farewell
By Warren Fernandez, EditorThe Straits Times, 30 Mar 2015

IN THE end, it all boiled down to four simple words: "Thank you, Mr Lee."

After nearly 2-1/2 hours of heartfelt eulogies at a moving state funeral service at the University Cultural Centre (UCC), those four words summed up the thoughts of the 10 speakers, at times personal, poetic or profound.

The more than 100,000 people who stood drenched in pouring rain all along the 15.4km route for Mr Lee Kuan Yew's hour-long final journey through Singapore, from Parliament House to Kent Ridge, called out his name perhaps because it seemed the best way to say: "Thank you, Mr Lee."

Indeed, that sentiment was evident over the past week of national mourning. In scenes never seen before or likely to be repeated, nearly 454,700 people had queued for up to 10 hours through the day and night to attend his lying in state at Parliament House. Another 1.2 million went to 18 condolence centres around the island to pay their respects, leave flowers, messages and gifts.

Mr Lee, who died aged 91 last Monday, had been a father figure to the country he helped found and forge over the decades, constantly worrying about the future of his charges, pushing them to work harder, behave better, think longer term, and even have more babies because the nation needed it.

Despite - or perhaps because of - his tough love and tough-minded policies, he won the people's trust when he delivered on his promises of a better life, building a metropolis where once there were mudflats.

Little wonder then that many had hoped he would recover from his illness and attend the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the nation he played so critical a role in shaping. But, alas, that was not to be.

Yet in death, as he so often did over his long years in office, he managed to rally his people in what might well be the ultimate SG50 commemoration event.

Yesterday, the crowds made clear that they knew, or had not forgotten, what Mr Lee had done over those five decades.

Mr David Hong, 58, who had watched the 1968 National Day Parade at the Padang in the rain, braved a downpour again to send off Mr Lee.

"It's a test of our spirit and determination," he said. "Why should we be afraid of rain when Mr Lee Kuan Yew has gone through a lot more storms?"

Facility officer Sim Lye Hock, 58, who waited along Clementi Road from 10.30am, said: "It's my last chance to say goodbye... I could go to school because he pushed for it. If not for him, I don't know where I'd be now."

For over an hour, the gun carriage carrying Mr Lee's flag- draped coffin wove its way through Singapore, passing several defining landmarks.

These included the NTUC Centre and Trade Union House in Shenton Way, which reflect his beginnings as a lawyer defending workers, the Port of Singapore and his Tanjong Pagar constituency, as well as Bukit Merah, Queenstown and Commonwealth housing estates, before heading for the UCC.

There, top representatives of more than 20 countries including India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Malaysia's King Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, and former United States president Bill Clinton joined more than 2,000 guests for the state funeral.

The solemn day was also marked by Singaporeans glued to their television sets or computers at home and abroad, as well as others in India and New Zealand, where state flags flew at half-mast.

"We have lost our founding father Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who lived and breathed Singapore all his life. He and his team led our pioneer generation to create this island nation, Singapore," he added, before going on to sketch the battles that Singapore's founding Prime Minister and his exceptional team of ministers had fought to overcome the odds and build a modern, multiracial society, providing jobs, housing, education and security.

Noting that, above all else, Mr Lee was "a fighter", PM Lee added: "In crises, when all seemed hopeless, he was ferocious, endlessly resourceful, firm in his resolve, and steadfast in advancing his cause. Because he never wavered, we didn't falter. Because he fought, we took courage and fought with him, and prevailed. Thus Mr Lee took Singapore from Third World to First."

He went on to recall Mr Lee's tireless quest to help Singapore attain self-sufficiency in its water needs, from cleaning up rivers, building reservoirs, desalination plants and the Marina Barrage, fighting back tears as he said: "So perhaps it's appropriate that today for his state funeral the heavens opened and cried for him."

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Memorial photo pose 'the most natural thing in the world'

By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2015

IT HAD begun to drizzle and with the afternoon light fading fast, the outdoor shoot had to be scrapped, recalled Indonesian photographer Tara Sosrowardoyo of an assignment he had landed on Nov 23, 2004.

The photographer, who was given only 40 minutes for the session, had to find and light a location in the Istana where he could photograph Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

They ended up taking most of the photos in Mr Lee's office as well as along a corridor.

Mr Tara, 62, recalls that Mr Lee was a willing subject. "Nothing in his manner or body language showed otherwise. In fact, he seemed more amused than annoyed when asked to take up different poses," he said.

The shoot had been commissioned by the National Museum of Singapore for its collection, but one of the images from that day - of Mr Lee resting his cheek on his hands, looking relaxed - has become the memorial portrait, used for his obituary, to accompany his coffin, and also at various tribute sites.

"It may seem that it took some audacity on my part to ask him to rest his right cheek on his clasped hands, but I didn't even think twice about it," said Mr Tara, who is mainly based in Kuala Lumpur. "It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do."

Earlier in the day, Mr Lee had sat for an oil painting for the museum, which also wanted its own set of photo portraits for commemorative reasons.

Said Ms Lee Chor Lin, then the museum's director and now the chief executive of Arts House Limited: "As a historian and curator, I knew too well the importance of symbols and images in connection with great historical events and great individuals, such as Mr Lee.

"The most difficult part was getting an appointment with Mr Lee, explaining our intention and getting him to agree to it."

On the appointed day, Mr Tara and assistant Rechy Agus Rachim had early access to the Istana to stage and light the outdoor portrait.

But their plans had to be abandoned when the weather refused to cooperate.

Mr Tara knew that he had to get over the setback quickly.

"The primary strategy was to not fiddle with the technical stuff, but instead to... engage and gain Mr and Mrs Lee's trust just enough to establish the rapport needed," said Mr Tara, whose allotted 40 minutes ran to an hour in the end.

He said he has asked other subjects to strike the same pose of resting their cheek on their hands, including his father-in-law, Malaysia's former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, in 2010. Mr Tara is married to Dr Mahathir's eldest child, Marina, 57.

He said: "It just seems natural that everyone should rest their head on their hands from time to time, if anything, to relieve the weight of one's head on one's neck. It's just relaxing, no?

"In Mr Lee's case, it lent him a warm, avuncular air, which in turn, drew out that benign expression which I feel is how many Singaporeans will choose to remember him."

'Mr Lee thought about others, even when he was sick'

Doctors who treated former PM reveal his softer side in SGH tribute session
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew was very sick the night before he was hospitalised on Feb 5.

But he did not want to go to hospital immediately as it would mean waking up the senior doctors. He told his security officer to wait until after 6am the following day, when he knew most senior doctors would be awake.

"I was glad the security staff did not follow that particular instruction but brought him in straightaway," Professor Fong Kok Yong, chairman of Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) Medical Board, said yesterday.

"More than six weeks on, looking back, I'm still overwhelmed by the kindness of thought he had for others, even when he's unwell," said Prof Fong, who first met Mr Lee about 18 years ago.

He was speaking at a closed-door tribute session at SGH for Singapore's first Prime Minister, who died on Monday after 47 days at the hospital. Mr Lee was 91.

Other speakers who paid homage included Professor Christopher Cheng and Professor Ivy Ng, who opened the session. But they wanted their tributes to remain private. The session was attended by about 1,000 SingHealth staff from its various institutions.

Prof Fong said many people viewed Mr Lee as someone who was stern, maybe even combative at times.

"Not many have the opportunity to see the softer or gentler side of him. It is indeed a great privilege for me to have had that opportunity."

The first time he travelled with Mr Lee as his physician, he was asked to sit, and asked whether he wanted some water. Prof Fong said Mr Lee probably saw, from the perspiration on his brow, how anxious he was.

Mr Lee then poured him a glass of water. "It was a simple gesture of courtesy but spoke volumes about the way he treated and cared for the people around him."

On a trip to Britain several years ago, the staff accompanying Mr Lee were not told that they were also invited to attend a black-tie dinner. But they either had to rent the appropriate attire for $300 to $400, or forgo the dinner and wait outside.

When Mr Lee found out, he told them not to waste their money and to attend the dinner in a lounge suit and tie.

But what impressed Prof Fong was that Mr Lee himself dressed the same way as the rest of his delegation, even though he had the appropriate attire, as he was the guest of honour and was giving a speech.

"Such considerate behaviour and support from a boss is indeed very, very rare and very difficult to find," said Prof Fong.

Lee Kuan Yew: Lying in State & Community Tributes

Final journey through Singapore for Mr Lee today
Crowds gone, Padang cleared last night for funeral procession
By Zakir Hussain, Deputy Political Editor and Tham Yuen-C, The Sunday Times, 29 Mar 2015

The endless queue of visitors lining up to pay their respects to the country's founding Prime Minister was finally closed last night, setting the stage for Singapore to give Mr Lee Kuan Yew a final farewell today.

Some 1,000 Singapore Armed Forces servicemen were deployed to clear the Padang. Their task was to work through the night to dismantle 360 tents and shift 2,000 barricades so that four ceremonial 25-pounder Howitzer guns can be moved onto the Padang for a 21-gun salute.

The Padang and City Hall provide a fitting stage for the nation to give a solemn send-off to Mr Lee, who died on Monday, aged 91.

It is the site of many a historic event in this nation's past - the declaration of self-government in 1959, the introduction of the national flag, anthem and state crest later that year, the announcement of Singapore's independence in 1965 and the first National Day Parade a year later.

Mr Lee himself was instrumental in those moments.

Over the past four days, some 450,000 people queued for up to 10 hours to pay their respects in person to Mr Lee.

Another million people had visited 18 community tribute sites islandwide by 9pm yesterday.

Today, many will line the streets around the Padang and down Shenton Way to Tanjong Pagar, Bukit Merah, Queenstown and Commonwealth as a ceremonial gun carriage makes its journey to the University Cultural Centre (UCC) in Clementi for Mr Lee's state funeral service.

Mr Lee's funeral will also be marked abroad, with India and New Zealand flying their flags at half-mast today.

The state funeral procession will begin at 12.30pm, when Mr Lee's casket will be carried onto a ceremonial gun carriage and transported out of Parliament House in a solemn procession.

The cortege will make its way to Parliament Place, and as it journeys around the Padang, the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Black Knights will do an aerial salute.

Two navy patrol vessels will conduct a ceremonial sailpast at sea off Marina Barrage and sound three prolonged horn blasts as the procession passes the Padang.

The cortege will then travel past the new and old National Trades Union Congress buildings, where thousands of workers will gather to bid farewell to Mr Lee, who began his career fighting for trade unions.

Mr Gary Haris, 40, of the Union of Security Employees, plans to line the route alongside other unionists from 9am. "Mr Lee's leadership and dedication have touched many of us and given us better living and working conditions. This is the least we can do for him," he said.

Many in Mr Lee's Tanjong Pagar constituency plan to line the streets there, and Singapore Police Force bagpipers will play Auld Lang Syne as the procession passes by the Police Cantonment Complex.

The 15.4km procession is expected to take under an hour, and will be broadcast live on national TV, online, as well as at all community centres and tribute sites.

The procession will arrive at the UCC shortly before 2pm for the funeral service, which top leaders from more than 20 countries will attend alongside family members and 2,000 invited guests.

Mr Lee's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, will be the first of 10 people who will deliver eulogies. At the end of the service, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will sound a siren islandwide for everyone to observe a minute of silence, before the pledge is recited and the national anthem sung.

"This rallying call is befitting of members of the public to mark our deepest respect for a remarkable leader," said Colonel Abdul Razak Raheem of the SCDF.

The one-minute silence will also be observed at border checkpoints, and on departing buses and trains.

PM Lee yesterday thanked the last visitors queueing at the Padang and said of today's procession and service: "We have a ceremony which will be a fitting tribute and a fitting mourning and celebration of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life."

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Lee Kuan Yew: In His Own Words

When Parliament convened yesterday to pay homage to its longest-serving member, speaker after speaker referred to the major speeches that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had made in the House at key moments in the nation’s history. Perhaps the Parliament’s most electrifying presence ever, he pulled no punches and spoke with clarity and conviction on the challenges facing Singapore at various stages of its evolution. Here are edited excerpts from 10 significant speeches he delivered in the House over his 60 years as MP for Tanjong Pagar.
The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

Vow to cleanse the system of the evils of the past

The People's Action Party had just swept the 1959 Legislative Assembly General Election, winning 43 out of 51 seats. It was the first time the PAP, which up till then was an opposition party, had come to power. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was 35 years old when he delivered his first speech in the Legislative Assembly as Prime Minister, attacking those who stood against the PAP and even the civil servants opposed to its policy changes. He also assured voters that the PAP stood with the masses and that party leaders remained dedicated to the service of Singapore.

JULY 21, 1959


"MR SPEAKER, Sir, may I say that the PAP Government had put its cards on the table before it assumed office. We did it over three months of campaigning beginning from the famous day of 15th February at Hong Lim.

It was there the Deputy Prime Minister said things and set off a chain reaction which finally ended with the routing of the rogues and scallywags that used to haunt this Chamber.

We have placed before the people the mandate that we sought of them. We did not try to deceive anyone.

We know exactly what is expected of us because we have made these promises. Unlike the previous government, we gave no hostages to fortune.

Plainly and simply, we took the stand which we knew was necessary and in the interest of the survival of the democratic state in order, first, to cleanse the system of the evils of the past, and to retrieve some of the liberalism, the tolerance which were the good things we should carry into the future.

I tell the Opposition this. They provide us, and I hope they will continue to provide us in the next five years, with that vivid contrast which will throw up the virtues of the PAP into magnificence.

But if we fail, let me tell them that this is not a constitutional position of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Democrats and Republicans in America, or Tories and Labour in Britain.

If we fail, and we are unable to make the system work, it is not they who are going to come back.

They will be fleeing for their lives, because behind us there is no other alternative which is prepared to work the democratic system.

And therefore, in the last analysis, if we fail, then brute force returns.

I am sure no one in this House nor anyone in the country would want this to happen. And therefore, I say to all those who wish us ill, that if we fail, woe betide them.

But to those who wish us well, I give this message. This is a Government consisting of people who put their ideas, their ideals and the welfare of their people above themselves.

This is a party which has the courage of its convictions, which is prepared to pursue what it believes to be right in the interest of the people without deviating for opportunist reasons.

This will be an era which will light up the dark pages of the history of Singapore, post 1945.

If we succeed, as we intend to, in building a climate not only of national solidarity but a climate in which the ordinary people begin to believe that institutions of government in the country are run by people who are loved and revered because they are working for the mass of the people, then we will have done a service, not only to ourselves, our party and our movement, but we will also have done a service to the democratic socialist movement.

Until the advent of the PAP, no group proclaiming the democratic socialist cause ever struck roots in the mass of the people.

Let me say, Mr Speaker, Sir, judge us not in the next five years by the standards of the British House of Commons and the British Government in Whitehall.

Judge our performance in the context of our objectives and the realities of our situation, and at the end of five years, you will certainly not find us wanting in courage, in skill, and in sincerity."

The Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew and the Myth of Trade-Offs

Calvin Cheng rebuts critics on Singapore trading freedom for economic success
By Calvin Cheng, Published The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

THE Western press has been relentless in trotting out the opinion that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had built Singapore's undeniable economic success while trading off fundamental civil liberties.

Much as I understand that it is in the West's fundamental DNA to assert certain inalienable freedoms, as a Singaporean, I strenuously object that there has been any such trade-off.

Some of my Western friends who have never lived here for any period of time have sometimes self-righteously proclaimed, no doubt after reading the cliches in the media, that they could never live under the "stifling and draconian" laws that we have.

My answer to them is simple: Are you the sort to urinate in public when a toilet isn't available, the sort to vandalise public property, the sort that would leave a mess in a public toilet that you share with others? Are you the sort who would throw rubbish on the streets for others to pick up, the sort that would stick gum on train doors or leave them on the floor to dry up into one ugly black scar on the pavement? Are you perhaps a drug smuggler? Because we execute those. Or maybe you molest women? Because we would whip you. Are you the sort that would get drunk and then get into fights and maybe beat up a stranger in the bar? Back home you may get away with it but if you are that sort, then maybe this place isn't for you.

In short, are you a civilised person who wants to live in a civilised society? Because the things you cannot do in Singapore are precisely the sort that civilised people should not do anyway. If you are, you have nothing to fear.

Or maybe like the Western press has kept saying these few days in their commentaries on Mr Lee, you fear that you could be locked up because we do not have freedom of speech?

Do you want to come here and insult other people's race and religion? Maybe these are fundamental freedoms in your country, but in ours, because we have experienced deadly racial riots at the birth of our country, these are a no-no. But then again, why would you want to purposely offend others?

Or maybe you want to tell lies about our public figures, accuse them of corruption when you have no evidence to back them up, or accuse them of stealing, cheating, or all manner of untruths? If so, then be prepared to be sued for libel. Even if Western societies think that you can say these things about your political figures, we don't and we are better for it.

And those political opponents of Mr Lee who have been bankrupted, allegedly because they were such formidable foes? No such thing. Mr J.B. Jeyeratnam and Dr Chee Soon Juan may be the martyrs much adored by the Western press, but have you heard of Mr Chiam See Tong, the longest-serving opposition Member of Parliament who won five consecutive elections against Mr Lee's People's Action Party? Or Mr Low Thia Khiang, who not only won five consecutive general elections, but in the last one in 2011, also led a team that unseated the incumbent Minister for Foreign Affairs and our first female Cabinet minister?

Both these opposition MPs have never been sued, much less bankrupted. In fact, Mr Chiam won several libel lawsuits against Mr Lee's ministers. You would never have heard of them, or have chosen not to, because it doesn't fit the Western narrative that legitimate opposition was stifled by Mr Lee through lawsuits. It doesn't suit your narrative of trade-offs. The fact is that every single opposition politician successfully sued for libel engaged in the type of politics that we do not want, the kind founded on vicious lies being told in the name of political campaigning.

What about detention without trial? Again and again ad nauseam, the Western press has used the example of Operation Cold Store to bolster its narrative of Mr Lee as an autocrat, where 111 left-wing politicians were arrested on suspicion of being communist in 1964.

But what about Operation Demetrius, where in 1971, 342 persons suspected of being involved with the IRA were detained without trial by the British Army? Or closer to the present where thousands have been interred without trial by the United States in Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of being terrorists? Firstly, detention without trial is not something used only by the Singapore Government, but countries need to make their own judgment about applying such laws when they feel their security is threatened and the normal judicial process is inadequate; in the 1960s and 70s, communists inciting armed revolution were Singapore's greatest threat.

Whether those people were indeed communists will be a question no doubt debated endlessly by historians, in the same way as whether the 342 in Northern Ireland were indeed IRA members, or the thousands in Guantanamo Bay were indeed terrorists.

So where is the trade-off? How are we unfree?

Friday, 27 March 2015

Mr Lee's final gift: One united people

By Jaime Ee, The Business Times, 27 Mar 2015

I DON'T feel so good. The chest is tight, the air feels too warm and I'm prone to tearing at the slightest trigger. Am I coming down with something or am I just really, really, really sad?

Such unprecedented emotion is pretty much stamped out on every person lining up outside Parliament House to pay their last respects to our founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. I dare say that in every heart right now, the same movie is playing: that of the prodigal son/daughter who leaves the home of an authoritarian patriarch in a fit of rebellious pique, returning to the latter's deathbed only to realise how all that enforced discipline; the "my way or the highway" dogmatism; the "you want to quit law to study the trombone?!" pragmatism and the unexpressed love were all for a greater good that we could not, would not appreciate. And we are all now caught up in that emotional climax - of seeing just how much he truly cared about Singapore, and the extent he would go to protect it, and us.

Is it a case of "too little, too late"? It was always more cool to embrace outsiders' opinions of Singapore and join the "haters" when it came to railing over our pet peeves. But as more is revealed about Mr Lee and his motivations, there's an increasing impatience with haters and their relentless quibbles, and an irritation with Western media which almost always prefaces references to Singapore with the words "authoritarian" or "nanny state". How do you question his argument when he says that after 30 years of building up a country, he knows a little more about Singapore than a Western journalist who flits in and out for a few days?

Even as we've been reading about a less-reported side of Mr Lee these days, what is also eye-opening is that we're also witnessing a different side of Singapore we never thought existed.

For those who say that Singaporeans are spoiled, selfish, always complaining and mercenary, what would they make of what's happening now: tens of thousands, soon-to-be hundreds, and possibly a million before the week is out, queueing for hours in the hot sun without a peep of disgruntlement. No one told them to do it. There are no freebies at the end of this queue. There are no goodie bags to be had, no fancy aerial displays, no ballot sheets to tick, no certificates of participation awaiting.

Yet there is nothing but stoic contemplation, a people united by sadness but at the same time, an amazing, totally unscripted display of goodwill and community. People are chipping in to help with free water, flowers, food and general kindness for one's fellow man. Without any expectations of reward or publicity - just plain human decency.

Maybe what we are seeing now is the emergence of the silent majority - the ones who aren't stirring the pot of discontent in cyberspace and are in this current mood likely to take a swing at anything they deem as inappropriate behaviour - as some bun makers have quickly discovered.

While the "champion grumblers" whom Mr Lee described have largely taken the spotlight, this groundswell of affection and fierce loyalty is something no one may have actually noticed before - people who don't make a fuss, are generally pragmatic but will not stand to see what Mr Lee has built knocked down. With luck, they'll be making themselves heard more now.

This may well be Mr Lee's final gift to us, rallying together the one united people he pledged to create - people from all walks of life who are starting to take ownership of their country and are a lot more protective of it than others may expect. He wanted us to go from third world to first world, and we can see it in this one display of cohesion and sense of community spirit. We may be bonded in grief now, but we're in good stead to write that next chapter of the Singapore Story.

MPs pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew in special sitting of Parliament

MPs hail Mr Lee's 60 years in House
Longest-serving MP had served Tanjong Pagar since 1955, became founding PM, and shaped today's Singapore
By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2015

AN EMPTY chair with a small spray of white flowers was a poignant reminder of a vast gap in Parliament House yesterday.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's seat in the front row, fourth from the corner, opposite the Front Bench, was empty.

He will never sit there again.

When former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng came in and was confronted with the sight, he took his seat next to it and dabbed his eyes discreetly. He later described the day as one of the saddest of his life.

Mr Goh Chok Tong, whose seat is on the other side of Mr Lee's, kept looking left. "But he was not there," he said later.

Yesterday, the House that Mr Lee served for 60 years gave him a fitting farewell, with a special 110-minute sitting both understated and simple. Most male MPs wore white shirts and dark ties with black ribbons; the women came in dark dresses and jackets, white roses on their chests.

In the public galleries were former MPs, unionists, civil servants, students and members of the Lee family.

The 11 MPs who spoke recorded the nation's thanks for Mr Lee's contributions and highlighted his role in leading Singapore from mudflats to metropolis and in building a multiracial society.

Speaker Halimah Yacob kicked off the proceedings, recounting how Mr Lee entered the colonial Legislative Assembly as the Member for Tanjong Pagar in 1955.

He led the People's Action Party to victory and self-government in 1959. He went on to lead Singapore for 31 years till 1990 as Prime Minister, and remained in Cabinet until 2011. He was still representing Tanjong Pagar when he died on Monday, aged 91, the longest-serving MP.

Madam Halimah highlighted remarks he made in 1999, when MPs moved from the old Parliament House to the current building. Noting that Parliament was an arena for the contest of ideas on policies, he said: "In this Chamber, we are playing for keeps. The future of Singapore and its people… is not a question for light-hearted banter."

Matters of life and death, of policy and politics, were raised by Mr Lee over the decades.

Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen highlighted one milestone - Mr Lee's call to Singaporeans to adapt to the reality of the British military withdrawal in 1968, taking away one-fifth of Singapore's GDP: "Adapt and adjust, without any whimpering or wringing of hands." He added that "the world does not owe us a living and ... we cannot live by the begging bowl".

That hard-headed approach would extend to debates on bilingualism, the judiciary, ministerial salaries and race, among others.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's Final Trip to Parliament

Mr Lee leaves Istana for the last time
People line streets to watch as gun carriage takes casket to Parliament
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2015

OUTSIDE, thronging the roads, the public were waiting. But inside Sri Temasek on the grounds of the Istana, the family of Mr Lee Kuan Yew gathered after sunrise as the private wake for their pa-triarch drew to a close.

Just an hour later, the casket containing Mr Lee would leave the two-storey house for the journey to Parliament House and four days of lying in state.

But for now, in quiet moments away from the public eye, the extended families of Mr Lee and his late wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, paid their respects.

After them, Mr Lee's immediate family members stepped forward to say individual goodbyes, all dressed in white shirts and black trousers or long skirts.

The first was younger son Lee Hsien Yang, followed by his wife Lee Suet Fern, and their sons Shengwu, Huanwu and Shaowu.

Mr Lee's daughter Wei Ling, who had lived with her late parents in the family home in Oxley Road, went next.

Last of all came Mr Lee's elder son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, his wife Ho Ching, and children Xiuqi, Yipeng, Hongyi and Haoyi.

Over Monday and Tuesday, they had received and hosted more than 5,200 visitors at the private wake held at the official residence of the Prime Minister in the Istana grounds. Mr Lee died early on Monday at the age of 91.

Too soon, 9am came - the hour when the gun carriage waiting in the driveway outside would carry Mr Lee away.

Inside, the Lee family watched solemnly as a team of white-jacketed pallbearers from the defence services and police draped the Singapore flag over the casket. As the officers - their headgear removed as a mark of respect - carried the casket onto the gun carriage, and the strains of Beethoven's Funeral March No. 1 filled the air, the family filed out of the hall and into the public eye.

Among the group of at least 20 people were grandsons Yipeng and Huanwu bearing a portrait of their grandfather, with Yipeng's left arm resting at times on his cousin's shoulder in solidarity.

The ceremonial procession on foot behind the carriage was led by PM Lee, the chief mourner.

Slowly, slowly, the family trailed the carriage to the beat of a military drum, as it descended the hill, for about 70m.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Suet Fern walked hand-in-hand, their heads frequently bowed. Behind them, Mr Lee's grandchildren walked together, hands at their sides. Daughter Wei Ling was not in the procession as she was unwell.

Along the way, through the grounds of the Istana, they passed a military line of honour and representatives from Tanjong Pagar GRC, the constituency where the late Mr Lee was an MP, and the Teck Ghee ward in Ang Mo Kio GRC, where PM Lee is an MP.

The gun carriage then went past the main Istana building, where President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and staff paid their respects, while a bagpiper from the Singapore Gurkha Contingent played Auld Lang Syne.

As the first part of the ceremonial procession ended, still within the grounds of the Istana, the Lee family proceeded separately by vehicle to Parliament House, where Mr Lee's casket will lie in state until 8pm on Saturday.

They were there to receive the casket when it arrived just before 10am, bearing silent witness as it was transferred from the gun carriage to its bier. As the pallbearers removed the national flag from Mr Lee's casket and marched off, the family was ushered forward.

PM Lee stood front and centre, his wife beside him. The grandsons placed Mr Lee's portrait on a pedestal before the casket.

Then, as one, the Lee family bowed once in front of the head of their family before departing.

The Lee Kuan Yew I remember

Our chief diplomat to the world
By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew was the most famous Singaporean in the world. For nearly half a century, he personified Singapore to the world. During his long tenure as Prime Minister (of independent Singapore), from 1965 to 1990, he was the principal architect of Singapore's foreign policy.

Later, as senior minister and minister mentor, he continued to give his successors valuable advice on our external relations. It would not be wrong to say that he served as our chief diplomat to the world.

Singapore is a very small country. However, it enjoys a role and influence in the world not enjoyed by other countries of similar size. A British newspaper once wrote that Singapore punches above its weight. This is due to three factors: our record of domestic achievements, our skilful diplomacy and the Lee Kuan Yew factor.

Why was Mr Lee so greatly admired by foreign leaders? Because of his intellectual brilliance, his power of analysis and judgment, his eloquence and charisma, and his willingness to share his candid and disinterested views. His longevity also gave him an advantage as he evolved from being the brilliant Prime Minister of Singapore to being a wise elder statesman.

Mr Lee travelled extensively on behalf of Singapore. He befriended and earned the respect of many foreign leaders, in government, business and academia. He had an impressive global network. For example, he was respected by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, German leader Helmut Schmidt, French leader Jacques Chirac and Japanese leader Kiichi Miyazawa. He knew and was respected by every American president, from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama. Two of America's thought leaders, Dr Henry Kissinger and Dr George Shultz, are among his many admirers.

One of the greatest honours the United States can confer on a foreign leader is an invitation to address a joint session of the US Congress. I will never forget Oct 9, 1985. On that beautiful autumn day, Mr Lee addressed a packed joint session of Congress.

At that time, the protectionist tide was running strong in the US body politic. In his speech, which received several standing ovations, he explained why it was in the strategic interest of the US to continue to support free trade and open economies. The senator sitting next to me, Mr Edward Kennedy, confided in me afterwards that he was not previously aware of the linkage between free trade and US strategic interests in the world. The speech did help to stem the tide of protectionism in the US Congress.

Mr Lee's enduring contribution to Singapore's foreign policy can be summed up in the following seven principles.


First, our foreign policy is based on pragmatism and not on any doctrine or ideology. The scholars who have written that Singapore's foreign policy is based on realism are mistaken. If it were based on realism, we would not have attached so much importance to international law or to the United Nations. Our constant lodestar is to promote the security and prosperity of Singapore.


Second, we rely, first and foremost, on ourselves. Believing that the world does not owe us a living, Singapore did not seek foreign aid from the developed countries. We did not want to develop a dependency mentality. Instead, we concentrated our energies on attracting foreign investment and creating jobs for our people. We started building up our armed forces and introduced national service in order to develop a capacity to deter aggression.


Third, we accept the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. We have no illusions about the world. We take a clinical attitude towards facts and realities. This does not mean that we are passive and fatalistic. Not at all. We have been extremely proactive in taking the leadership to form such groupings as the Forum of Small States and the Global Governance Group. We know that we live in an unfair and dangerous world. We know that small countries will always be vulnerable to the pressures of bigger countries.

Lee Kuan Yew and his red box

Mr Lee's red box and his unwavering dedication to Singapore
By Heng Swee Keat, Published The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2015

MR LEE Kuan Yew had a red box. When I worked as Mr Lee's principal private secretary, or PPS, a good part of my daily life revolved around the red box. Before Mr Lee came in to work each day, the locked red box would arrive first, at about 9am.

As far as the various officers who have worked with Mr Lee can remember, he had it for many, many years. It is a large, boxy briefcase, about 14cm wide. Red boxes came from the British government, whose ministers used them for transporting documents between government offices.

Our early ministers had red boxes, but Mr Lee is the only one I know who used his consistently through the years.

When I started working for Mr Lee in 1997, it was the first time I saw a red box in use. It is called the red box but is more a deep wine colour, like the seats in the chamber in Parliament House.

This red box held what Mr Lee was working on at any one time. Through the years, it held his papers, speech drafts, letters, readings, and a whole range of questions, reflections and observations. For example, in the years that Mr Lee was working on his memoirs, the red box carried the multiple early drafts back and forth between his home and the office, scribbled over with his and Mrs Lee's notes.

For a long time, other regular items in Mr Lee's red box were the cassette tapes that held his dictated instructions and thoughts for later transcription. Some years back, he changed to using a digital recorder.

The red box carried a wide range of items. It could be communications with foreign leaders, observations about the financial crisis, instructions for the Istana grounds staff, or even questions about some trees he had seen on the expressway.

Mr Lee was well-known for keeping extremely alert to everything he saw and heard around him - when he noticed something wrong, like an ailing raintree, a note in the red box would follow.

We could never anticipate what Mr Lee would raise - it could be anything that was happening in Singapore or the world. But we could be sure of this: It would always be about how events could affect Singapore and Singaporeans, and how we had to stay a step ahead.

Inside the red box was always something about how we could create a better life for all.

Lee Kuan Yew: Family Man

Devoted husband and caring father
Close-knit family and a small circle of friends - these are the people who got to witness the tender, nurturing side of Lee Kuan Yew
By Robin Chan And Sumiko Tan, Deputy Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2015

LEE Kuan Yew was a man with few close friends. Those who knew him best and saw his tender, caring side came mainly from his tight family circle.

But others who interacted with him caught glimpses of the private man away from his public persona as Singapore's hard-driving, straight-talking first prime minister.

At home, he was ever the devoted son who cared deeply for his mother, Chua Jim Neo, even if he upset her once by cancelling her driving licence when he decided she had become too old to drive.

She was an English-speaking Straits Chinese matriarch famed for her Peranakan culinary skills who died in 1980, aged 75. He greatly admired her for standing up to her temperamental, more carefree husband in order to keep the family finances healthy and raise her children properly.

He was less close to his father, Lee Chin Koon, who worked at the Shell oil company first as a storekeeper, then later in charge of various depots in Malaysia, and had a love for card games. He was 94 when he died in 1997.

Mr Lee had three younger brothers and a sister who looked up to him and had regarded him as the man of the house during long periods when their father was away. "He was a wonderful big brother because he was responsible, caring, and when we were young, he'd give us good advice," said his youngest sibling, Dr Lee Suan Yew.

Mr Lee had two sons and a daughter, whose achievements he was proud of. "He was not a demonstrative person, which was common with many of his generation," said younger son Hsien Yang.

Most of all, though, he was a devoted husband in a long, happy marriage. His wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who died in 2010 at 89, was the bedrock of his life.

She was a partner of the law firm Lee & Lee, and he had been prime minister, but their home at 38 Oxley Road was a rambling pre-war bungalow filled with furniture from an earlier era.

They had no shower for the longest time, preferring to scoop water from a large earthenware jar at bath-time. It was only after Mrs Lee had a stroke in London in 2003 that their children installed a shower before she returned home.

"It's a very humble house. The furniture has probably never been changed. Some of the pictures are yellow already," said Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee, an MP for 20 years in Mr Lee's Tanjong Pagar GRC, who visited in 2002.

The house had been Mr Lee's home since 1945, and his wife moved in after they were married in 1950. They did not move to the official Sri Temasek residence in the Istana compound after he became prime minister, because they did not want to give their children "a false sense of life".

Their two sons left home when they got married. Daughter Wei Ling still lives there today.