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Think Centre: Statement on Singapore’s first Prime Minister’s Passing

By Think Centre

thinkcentreMr. Lee Kuan Yew was a visionary who inspired a team of exceptional men and a whole generation of Singaporeans to modernize and develop the country. They made Singapore relevant to the rest of the world by plugging the country into the global economy and fought to have the best infrastructure like an international airport, a seaport and telecommunications very early in the game. Because of these foundations firmly entrenched, the country was resilient enough to weather the many economic challenges ahead.

Today, many respect the first generation of Singaporeans and their leaders, chief among them was Lee Kuan Yew. Together with Toh Chin Chye, Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam and many others, they envisioned building a society that strove for full employment and decent income for workers while developing housing, hospitals, schools, and sanitation for its residents.

However, as with the history of many successful leaders, these gains came at a great price. Mr. Lee was not above Machiavellian methods to achieve his aims. He openly employed the very tactics he accused the Marshall government of using to oppress its opponents. He broke the media, unions and civil society with his scant regards for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those who were perceived as a threat were detained without trial or recourse to justice under the Internal Security Act. Debate still surrounds the innocence of many of these students, teachers, social workers, and unionists. Later he even developed the process of bankrupting his political opponents through defamation suits into a fine art, sending a chilling effect across society and suppressing dissent with a violence that is not dissimilar to those countries which deployed secret police and sending social and political activists into exile.

Contention over what was done right or wrong will also continue to be debated by historians and future generations. Many ordinary citizens were also not happy with his tight control over their social behavior, with campaigns from brushing teeth to flushing toilets after use, banning chewing gum, fines for those who litter, caning those who painted graffiti on public property and population control policies. It is undeniable that Singapore is well regarded by the international community for its open economy and achievements. We should now focus on taking care of those whom we have left behind in the name of progress.

With Mr. Lee Kwan Yew’s passing, we hope Singaporeans will face a new era with courage to unshackle themselves from the fears of our past. Building upon our existing foundations, we must march into the future with confidence, while engendering our society with greater respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, to reclaim the original vision of our forefathers, for democracy, equality, justice, and peace. One where everyone enjoys decent work, non-discrimination, and more humane and equal treatment of our fellow residents, leading us toward a more caring society and together with all our neighbours in ASEAN, share in sustainable prosperity.