Tribute To Lee Kuan Yew – Part 1

Part 1: A candid obituary

So powerful once, yet so helpless in his last few weeks… hooked to a ventilator for dear life until he passed away this morning at 3.18 am.

For about half a century LKY hogged the stage, relentlessly pursuing power, slamming down opponents, but unswerving in his determination to turn a little red dot into a precious pearl.

His authoritarian ways resulted in great economic success, but also claimed many victims.

It will take time to look at such a towering and controversial figure in perspective. History may be the best judge.

A litmus test of his greatness is: How long will Singapore remain stable and prosperous without him?

I think his baby – Singapore – will take his demise in stride and life will proceed as normal except during the short mourning period.

This is double-edge: it can be seen as a compliment or otherwise, for the departure of great leaders will usually stir a storm in their wake that will take time to settle.

You can say many good things about Lee: brilliant lawyer, fearless politician,peerless nation builder, but he is no prophet, no revolutionary, no Mandela.

He leaves behind him a first class civil service, a developed economy,highly-literate and technologically savvy population and though not perfect, a stable society based on multi-racialism, meritocracy and rule of law.

But he also leaves behind him a rather meek and depoliticised populace, obsessed mainly with material comforts, and a ruling party determined to maintain its monopoly on power by fair or foul means.

What has become apparent especially in the latter part of his life is that his first class mind that can analyse the toughest of problems with logical precision and prescribe solutions based on pure logic and reason is both an asset and a liability.

They have their limits as shown by his past policies: no alternative to merger within Malaysia, the two child policy that brooked no opposition and his embrace of globalisation to the extent of becoming even more capitalist than the capitalists.

It is also the over-reliance on both logic and reason that led him from day one of independence to discriminate against the Malay minority in the security services; a policy that is still being wound down by his successors.

That, I suppose is why, despite his boast of rising from the grave if he felt the Singapore ship was off course, he fail to act when the present government put growth first and the people last in the years leading up to the last general election.

He could not because they were just following in the path that he had laid out. If he had, would PM Lee junior have to apologise to the electorate a few days before polling day for ‘’mistakes’’.

As can be shown from his past actions since independence in 1965, he is no idealist reformer. He is not interested in tearing down the old and building a brave new one, but only in making the existing one more workable through two basic principles: equal opportunities and meritocracy.

His brilliance too has its limits and his much respected skills as a geopolitical strategist appears to be limited only to the Far East, Japan, China and Taiwan.

For,as the records show, he was one of the earliest and most ardent supporters of the Iraq War, a war that Bush initiated more to exact revenge from the Muslims rather than to make the world safe.

The consequences of that disastrous war, which claimed hundreds of thousands of victims, continue to be played out in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, as well as in Paris, Copenhagen, Madrid and around the world. The only winners were Bush’s right-wing clique and the industrial-military oligarchy.

In fighting tooth and nail for what he wants, mainly power, he can be both determined and cunning, and even ruthless and vindictive against anyone standing in his path.

Just look back at his political life and you will not have any difficulties in finding how he had bent the laws and stretched the rules to outmanoeuvre his opponents: the flawed 1962 Referendum on merger, the vain attempt to get the PAP to take over from the MCA in the Umno-led Alliance, the frantic struggle for Malaysian Malaysia and the jailing of opponents after independence.

Even now, it is difficult to say whether Lee wanted power for power’s sake or he wanted power to build a better world for us. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.

I have often asked myself what Lee would do if he had lost through a fair vote.Would he hand over power peacefully or would he continue the battle to the bitter end, even if it results in the burning of Singapore?

The story of his political life is like the story of a firebrand who slowly evolves into an arch conservative, more rightists than the rightists, accepting the widening wage gap as inevitable and seemingly callous towards the woes of the working class.

But people of my generation must be grateful to him. Almost all of us had benefitted in many different ways from Lee and the PAP.

And that was why we had preferred to look the other way and stifled our conscience to the victims of his authoritarian rule. They ranged from those who were detained longer than justified to those held behind bars on charges so flimsy that few believe in the government story.

Most observers now believe that the so-called Marxist conspiracy was a cynical exercise to clear the deck of possible threats and potential opposition to his hand-picked heirs.

Anyway, Lee has run his race and we should thank him and move on. Just as many Chinese continue to revere Mao for his contributions, we too must always respect and revere Lee for all the good that he had done in building Singapore to what it is today.

In mourning him, we must also spare a kind thought for his victims…..Lim Chin Siong, Poh Soo Kai, Chia Thye Poh, Said Zahari, Vincent Cheng, Teo Soh Lung and so on…and give them their just dues.

Let us use this opportunity to work for reconciliation and the healing of past wounds. Let the exiles from Tan Wah Piow to Francis Seow return in peace to the land of their birth.

Forgive but not forget

Honour but not whitewash

Mourn him but respect his opponents


Source: Ismail Kassim

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