There is a tinge of sadness and lament in many who hoped that Lee Kuan Yew – the man who has influenced Singapore in an indelible way, who brought Singapore to independence with a strong team of leaders with conviction, and a people with determination to economic success – will remain. It is hoped that the certainty of a man who has directed the country in such a firm manner without doubt will not fade away into the background.
The vision and imagination of him as a leader who is overlooking, ensuring that things don’t fall behind, is continuously present. As much as all who wish him well are genuinely concerned for his well-being, it is also for what he has done and his unwavering strength in charting a country through many decades of peace and progress that those bouquet of flowers or sentences of gratefulness are truly appreciative for.
But is lamenting and feeling sorry and feeling full of despair the best way to celebrate Lee Kuan Yew’s life? This is a man who have, by all means, witnessed the Second World War, took part vigorously in a decolonization movement, navigated a small country through the Cold War, watched the race riots, took an active hand in developing a relatively undeveloped country, fought the Malaysians politically, established his own brand of ideology and idea of polity, drove a country to economic progress, maintained its stability at all costs, and lead it to what is an unrivalled level of development that few countries in the world of the same size and starting point can say the same for.
In other words, this is a man who has lived an extremely rich and full life. A life of struggles and rivalries in which many critics have pointed out, but also a life of unquestionable and proud achievements that few men or women of the same age can say to have achieved in theirs. A man full of zest and firmness in what he was doing, when he did it, with the conviction and shrewdness of an experienced politician.
Would it do any good to pity and feel wistful at the condition of this man, who has passed the threshold of mortality that every human being has to face at some point in their lives? What justice would it do to the beliefs of a man who has put his whole life and energy to developing the foundations of a nation to start pitying and feeling despair, who has together with others, but as one of its principal architects, created the institutions, laws, government, and economy of a formerly unnoticed and unremarkable country?
Instead of despair and sorrow, we should celebrate. Celebrate not because we feel compelled to but because the achievements of this man has been so remarkable, to all those who have experienced it. Celebrate because the impact of what he has done has been far reaching, beyond the context of one man. Celebrate because we respect and appreciate these accomplishments, not because we revere them. Celebrate because we have good reason to believe that the good accomplishments of this man far outweigh the negative ones. To his harshest critics, celebrate because not agreeing and seeing in the same light is not good reason not to celebrate what he has done.
Yet, the best way to celebrate the life of Lee Kuan Yew is to uphold the foundations that he and others have laid down in his time and generation. This includes an honest and un-corrupt government, a government of integrity, a truly meritocratic and just society, transparency in institutions, a system of checks and balances, a just judiciary, a dynamic economy, and a country free from external influence. These are still a work in progress, and it would do injustice if these foundations, which were the most important to Lee Kuan Yew and others, were to deteriorate.
The effort and work of generations do not embody themselves merely in one person, yet there are individuals who sometimes rise above the fray to take the reins and lead to what is unexpected. In the case of Singapore, there was nothing that was expected, for the nations that went from one authority to another that plunged into disarray were the norm. Nobody really cared what would happen, and Singapore could have been another territory or space in another nation. But a few men and women saw what was possible and had the vision, who despite conflicts with the support and determination of a people, worked together to achieve what was unimaginable.
Lee Kuan Yew was a man who had that vision.