Sad Goodbye to Mr Lee Kuan Yew – Father of Singapore
Lee Kuan Yew, our founding father of Singapore, was extraordinary because most Singaporeans watched how a country flourished when he was alive. Therefore, they felt a deep sense of bonding and gratitude going through the evolution of Singapore together with him.
Other great men from other countries had done the same thing in the past but their heroic deeds were learnt from academic sources and people had not lived in the era when these great men were alive. But Singaporeans went through the time with Mr Lee Kuan Yew so they felt immense pain when he passed away.
Mr Harry Lee Kuan Yew, also known as LKY, passed away on the 23 March 2015 at 3:18 am in Singapore General Hospital after being warded in the intensive care unit of the hospital on the 5 Feb 2015 for severe pneumonia. The whole nation was deeply grieved by the death of this extraordinary man.
The traditional mounting of the vigil guards during the lying in state period at the Parliament House was the highest form of respect to the national leader. 4 uniformed officers stood at each corner of the casket with their heads bowed, bodies facing away and a ceremonial sword inverted. A senior officer who led them stood at the head of the casket facing inwards.
Singapore was declared 7 days of the national mourning period for his death by the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (son of Mr Lee Kuan Yew). National flags were flown half-mast in respect to him.
Joining the mourning on 29 March, New Zealand, Bhutan and India declared one day of mourning with their national flags flown half-mast and no official entertainment for India on that day. Several Tamil Nadu villages in India had put up banners of Lee Kuan Yew by citing that our leaders have provided them jobs to better their life by escaping from poverty.
During this gloomy period, one can see how united Singaporeans stand in cohesion together with the rest other than the annual National Day on the 8 August. Members of the Public were allowed to pay their last visit to Lee Kuan Yew in the Parliament House from 25 to 28 March 2015, 8 pm. 18 tribute centres were also set up all over the island to allow people to write their tributes and to offer flowers for the beloved Father.
Thousands and thousands of people flocked to queue up paying their last respect to the great leader even though the weather was hot and humid at 33ºc. Tentages were set up by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) to provide shade for the people during the queue.
It did not dampen the determination of people from queuing after the first day knowing that the average queue time was 8 hours. Frail elderly people, young children and mothers with babies were among the ultra-long queue. Many people were seen tearing with grieve and some fainted during the queue.
Their queuing perseverance and replies were soul-touching with a common understanding that Lee Kuan Yew had dedicated all his entire life fighting for a thriving Singapore and 8 hours of the queue was nothing compared to his lifelong commitment to making things happen.
The waiting time escalated up to 11 hours on 27 March 2015 (Friday evening), with people continuously pouring in after their work as the wake opened 24 hours for public viewing with the support of the trains and buses running throughout the wee hours as well on Wednesday and Friday.
All of them were ingrained with the undisputed notion that without his mighty leadership, there will not be a successful Singapore. It was also the last time where they could show their appreciation to him in return by paying their last respects.
Some charitable companies gave out free decals, free flowers, free food and drinks and lending umbrellas to the people in the queue out of goodwill to commemorate the event. Kind volunteers doing their part of contribution were seen picking up rubbish left over by the people.
Everyone participated in the event warmheartedly with a sense of gratitude and unity. They aspired to carry out one of the well-known legacies passed down by Lee Kuan Yew which is to unite Singaporeans together.
A local company, Breadtalk, that was seen exploiting a business opportunity during this period were harshly criticized by the netizens for wanting to make a profit out of a dead person. The netizens demanded that their marketing products be given free to the people in the queue.
With an apology to the public in view of the insensitive activity to the current context, the company ceased its marketing activity immediately. They donated S$30,000 to the Community Chest which was their original intention when sales of all proceed from their marketed products would go to charity.
On the last day of the funeral procession, it rained heavily in Singapore in the morning. Many said that heaven cried for Lee Kuan Yew. Still, it did not deter thousands of weeping Singaporeans who waited along the road to send him off on his last journey on the road.
The deeply respected Father of Singapore was accorded the highest honour where a 21-gun salute was fired by four ceremonial 25-pounder guns as the gun carriage transported Mr Lee’s body from Parliament House and along the Padang area on the 29 March 2015.
It was estimated close to half a million people went to pay their respect during the 82 hours queue rain or shine. Everything was well organised and people were orderly and patient. Truly a One Nation United Singapore. It is likely that one will never see such an enormous queue happening in Singapore ever again.
I have received something from Facebook that goes like this: “Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away at the age of 91 years old on 23.3.15. So 91-23-3-15=50. Singapore celebrates its 50th birthday this year. Mr Lee Kuan Yew cried for Singapore 50 years ago about the separation from Malaysia. And 50 years later, the nation cries for him.”
As I am not one who has a keen interest or great knowledge in the political matter generally. However, the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew made me stay at home to watch the news and documentary series about his enormous contribution where the TV programs were played repeatedly on his speech and how others think about him.
It brought me intangible benefits because it was at this time, I was able to learn from the media what are the great contributions he had done for Singapore. Because for all I know, he contributed to Singapore greatly, but I was not able to list out precisely the policies that he had implemented.
Through this channel, I wanted to keep a memory of the miracles he had done from the news and documentaries by penning them down while I accounted for the 6 days that I had stayed at home to learn about him even before I was born when my fellow citizens braved the hot weather to pay him the last respect.
I wanted to play a small part by spreading the knowledge to the whole world on what I had learnt about his history as part of my little contribution to a man I deeply respected.
One could read and write about his eulogy days and nights easily since he was the longest-serving prime minister in the world. There were a lot of publications and write-up about him online. I tried to do excerpts on some events which were representatives of some important evolutions in Singapore.
He had an envision to make Singapore be world number 1. Being the first Prime Minister in Singapore from 5 June 1959 to November 1990 and the youngest to be elected at the age of 35, he became the longest-serving prime minister in world history.
Upon his retirement as a Prime Minister, he was never retired in the political world. He knew many people would be relieved about his retirement thinking that he would enjoy his life from that day onwards, but they were wrong and would be disappointed, he said.
He was always seen involved in politics in one way or another and travelled extensively to build rapport with other world leaders and speak about Singapore and other world affairs after retiring from the Cabinet. He was the only person to hold the honour of Minister Mentor (MM), a position created by the Cabinet of Singapore from 2004 to 2011.
Mr Goh Chok Tong (second Prime Minister in Singapore from 1990 to 2004) recounted one incident where he and Lee Kuan Yew went to attend a formal dinner together. Lee stopped and invited him to enter first because he was the Prime Minister. He told Lee that they have known each other well and should dispense such formality.
Lee told Goh that although both of them acknowledged the familiarity of their relationship, others would not know. Lee said if he could not respect him as a Prime Minister, how would others respect him? Lee Kuan Yew was really respectful and considerate about how a small action would affect Goh’s status.
Under his great leadership and foresight, he made enormous contributions and changes to Singapore from a third-world to first-world status in a few decades. His challenge was how Singapore could maintain its level by being always extraordinary.
He always worried about the future of Singapore throughout his life and felt that Singapore was his responsibility and obligation to build up a future. Shouldering this heavy burden, he always contrived ways and ideas to make Singapore better and plan early on his foresight.
His emphasis was to always remain competitive and hardworking so that it becomes a motivation for us to move on. He has built a lot of foundation for Singapore Internationally over the years. When people talk about him, they think of Singapore.
He has given Singapore dignity and pride for what he has achieved for us. This little red dot which is hardly visible on the map is a shiny star. Nobody would believe back then Singapore would become remarkable and successful today.
He was always taking Mandarin classes even at the age of 91. When he went for holidays in Fraserhill with his family, he would engage a Chinese tuition teacher even for a short period of time.
On 4 February 2014 which was one night before he was warded to hospital, he was still taking his Mandarin class which unfortunately urged out to be the last one. His spirit of lifelong learning to his own age was indeed a precious inspiration for everyone never to stop learning in our life.
Lee Kuan Yew had a convincing style of speech and was well-versed in many subjects internationally which won him a lot of respect and friends from all over the world. 170 Foreign dignitaries and leaders from 27 countries attended his State Funeral during the 4 days of the funeral.
The man well known for ruling Singapore with the iron fists, Lee Kuan Yew was not only dedicated to the country’s welfare, but he was also a very devoted husband and father which has touched my heart on his ability to balance both his work and his family life extraordinarily well.
He met his wife Madam Kwa Geok Choo in school. She caught his attention because she scored better than him in the examination. They went to Cambridge University together and got married secretly in England on 30 September 1950 without the knowledge of their parents which were against Chinese tradition at that time.
During a speech in 1994, he said, “You either have the Western view – you marry the woman you love or the Eastern View – you love the woman you marry. Well, I tried to match both, and I think it wasn’t a bad choice.” Madam Kwa was fondly remembered by him not just being an intelligent woman, but a devoted woman who took good care of him and their children while he fought his entire life to build Singapore.
Mdm Kwa suffered from a stroke on 26 October 2003. Lee Kuan Yew made it a point to be by her bedside every day reading her the news and her favourite poems. Even when he was overseas, he would excuse himself in the midst of the conversation and made it a point to call home every evening to talk to his wife even when she could not talk during her sickness but his dedication to her never wavered. It was not an easy period for him.
His daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling remarked that his health has taken a turn for the worst ever since her mother’s death in October 2010. It was inevitable that Lee Kuan Yew missed his wife very much because the couple had stayed married for 60 years and were seen almost inseparable whether at home or overseas.
One would be utterly shocked and lost for word looking at Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s humbled house because it speaks of simplicity and more notably, the beauty of frugality when Singapore has the highest paid ministers in the world. Even his obsolete squarish monitor could attest to his frugality.
It was stated in his will to have his 100 years old pre-war bungalow built by a Jewish merchant to be demolished after his death if his daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling moved out of the house as the cost of maintenance would be very high.
Many Singaporeans were against the idea because it had historical value and was seen as part of the heritage where this highly-respected man stayed and to be reminded of the existence of LKY. One of his sons, Lee Hsian Yang, urged Singaporeans to respect his father’s decision.
Fortunately, at this point in time, his house would not be demolished yet as Dr Lee Wei Ling has expressed her wish to continue staying there. “A will of any person cannot override the ordinary law of the land” if the state viewed his house of national importance and will preserve it.
Born on 16 September 1923 to a Hakka family, his family spoke English and Malay. He was illiterate in Chinese and learned Chinese in 1955 for 8 months at the age of 32 and Hokkien (Chinese Dialect) at the age of 38 so that he can communicate with the Chinese who neither understand English nor Malay during his leadership.
He learned the Japanese language during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945 and act as a translator for the Japanese during World War II. His university education is postponed due to it. He studied law at Cambridge University in 1948 and has developed an interest in politics because he was seen as a colonial subject in England and he didn’t like that.
He saw no reason why they should be governing him and they were not more superior. He wanted to change that. He believed he must hold power in order to change the destiny of Singapore. He began his political life in 1950 when he returned to Singapore.
Corruptions were very rampant under the British Colony. When Lee Kuan Yew became the first Prime Minister in 1959, the People’s Action Party (PAP) formed on 21 November 1954 by him was the ruling government that eradicated corruption. He had zero tolerance for corruption and swore to get rid of them because corruption would weaken the foundation of Singapore.
He always adhered to the principle that leaders, people and the system should be clean and integrity should be maintained at all times. He said if a political system is good, the leaders are bad, then the government will be bad.
As such, he had a high expectation of the quality of the ministers chosen and their behaviours because they represented Singapore and the way others perceived Singapore. This explains why Singapore ministers are paid the highest in the world because only the most talented people are recruited with high salaries to keep them in the civil service and to prevent them from involving in corrupted activities.
Lee Kuan Yew first set himself a good example for the nation to follow. In 1960, he rejected a US$ 3.3 million bribe from the CIA worth US$ 26 million for discovering their covert operation.
Singapore declared its independence from the British in 1963. He believed that Singapore as a small island state could not survive after the independence thus he joined Malaya, North Borneo (now known as Sabah) and Sarawak to form Malaysia on 16 September 1963 which happened to be his birthday, having received supports from Singaporeans through voting.
It is not easy to work with the leaders in Malaysia because they have conflicting ideas. Lee Kuan Yew was against policies that sided with Malay supremacy. He wanted policies that were fair to both Malay and non-Malay.
In May 1965, he used fluent Malay to speak in a Parliament sitting. He spoke Malay so fluently and better than most of them which put many leaders into shame. His speech was seen as detrimental to the future of Malaysia. This became a turning point in history where the leaders saw him as a threat to become a Prime Minister in Malaysia.
Singapore was kicked out of the Federation of Malaysia by Prime Minister Abdul Rahman as a result. One can understand the tremendous pressure and his moment of anguish that he had gone through during his emotional breakdown when he declared “I have a few million lives to account for, Singapore will survive”…
With this undying promise and determination, we are what we are today – A prosperous nation ever since the separation from Malaysia on 9 August 1965 when Singapore gained its independence.
Lee Kuan Yew went around the world to rally support and for other states to recognise our independence immediately. He hoped to attract investors so as to create more job opportunities for Singaporeans.
When he was in England and appeared on the TV regularly, a man overheard 2 patrons sitting in the café passing off a remark, “This man should be England Prime Minister!”
During that period, he also helped Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) to get the first transcontinental flight to take off for London on 2 June 1971 after which MSA split into 2 entities – Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Malaysian Airline System (MAS) in 1972.
In 1963, Lee Kuan Yew felt the threat from Indonesia and a lot of explosions happened. He united the citizens and insisted that they should stand firm to brush the invaders off. A total of 29 bombs were recorded by March 1965.
The most serious case was the bombing in MacDonald house on 10 March 1965 where 3 people were killed and at least 33 people were injured. Within 4 days, 2 Indonesian marine agents involved in the bombing were arrested.
They were hanged later for murder in Singapore after an unsuccessful appeal to the Federal Court of Malaysia on 5 October 1966 by Indonesia. From the perspective of a small country, a fearless Lee Kuan Yew never succumbed to the pressure from a bigger country.
The then Indonesian President Sukarno was furious about this and swore to take revenge on Lee Kuan Yew. He asked the bodies to be shipped back. It aggravated the bilateral tie between Singapore and Indonesia because the 2 men were seen as heroes in Indonesia. They were buried with full honours at the National Heroes Cemetery.
On 27 May 1973, through some help from the Indonesian Ambassador in Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew went to Jakarta to pay his respects to the 2 men and offered flowers at their graves. Such formality was praised by the Indonesian press and the relationship between the 2 countries were appeased and became better.
In 2014, a navy frigate in Indonesia named in honour of Osman and Harun for their roles in the MacDonald House bombing would be refrained to call in Singapore ports and its naval bases or partake in any training exercises, or sail alongside with ships from the Singapore Armed Forces as declared by Singapore Minister for Defence Ng Eng Heng in parliament.
Lee Kuan Yew knew that having English as the first language would bring about international opportunity and would be a common language in Singapore to unite the multi-racial culture in Singapore. He also recognized that one needed to understand their mother tongue in order to understand our roots and culture.
Promoting bilingualism was one of the most challenging policies to carry out. Many students failed in their language exams while trying to master both English and their mother tongues at the same time. This affected the result of their other subjects as well. The statistic has shown that less than 40% of the students had the competency to master 2 languages at a time.
Speak Mandarin Campaign was implemented in 1979 by him to encourage the Chinese to speak more Mandarin instead of dialects so they could use it anywhere in Singapore for communication among the different dialect groups in Singapore. Mandarin contains a cultural traditional root that is identifiable to all Chinese. It was argued that Mandarin was more economically valuable than dialects.
Lee Kuan Yew quoted that Singapore could not depend on other people’s tolerance and therefore, we need to build up our army. “Every boy and girl will learn what it is to defend this country”. With the help from the Israeli army, the first batch of army completed their National Service training on 16 July 1967.
Singapore was surrounded by larger neighbouring countries, Indonesia and Malaysia which had a tense bilateral relationship were constantly in confrontation with each other between 1963 and 1966. Singapore did not have a good relationship with these 2 countries at that time. Building our own defence system was one way to guard against the enemy’s attack.
Additionally, with the announcement made in 1968 on the withdrawal of British troops, Lee Kuan Yew was even more determined to strengthen our own military system with the loss of protection from the British military.
He believed that a 2-years national service would enable citizens to develop a sense of belonging for the country and to keep fit by recalling them back once a year. Enhancing national security would also give more faith to the investors to come. Singapore survival was very important to him and he would not allow anyone to destroy the country.
Shortly after Singapore gained its independence in 1965, it was dealt another blow when the economy has just stabilized. The British announced in 1968 that in 1971, they would withdraw all their troops from Singapore due to the devaluation of the pound sterling. The withdrawal date was brought forward 3 years earlier than the agreed date of 1975.
Singapore depended on its economy and its security on the British army heavily. The British Military bases contributed over 20% of the Gross National Product (GNP) to Singapore. 1 in 10 people had direct employment and this provided jobs to 70,000 people. The foundation of the Singapore Armed Forces was also weak because it was less than a year since they were established.
Lee Kuan Yew told Singaporeans not to be depressed or anxious when the British withdrew their troops. One speaker in the documentary program said that Lee Kuan Yew was angry. Lee told Dr Goh Keng Swee (Minister of Finance then and later second Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore from 1973 to 1984) that he could not promise the safety of the British if they withdrew their troops. Dr Goh replied back to Lee, “You speak like a hooligan now” and LKY just smiled.
These two videos by SPH Razor was two of my recommended videos for an overall understanding of the legendary man behind the rapid success of a nation in under 15 minutes’ time. Some scenes were touching and denoted critically how much effort Lee Kuan Yew had wanted to build Singapore the way he had visualised.
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