If Only—To the memory Of Lee Kuan Yew (1923–2015)

lee kuan yew

By Catherine Lim

You transformed little, obscure, resource-poor Singapore into one of the most successful economies in the world. If today Singapore is described in breathless superlatives—‘best’, ‘richest’, ‘cleanest’, ‘brightest’—it is all because of you.

If only you had done so without so much human cost. If only the high ranking of Singapore in international surveys on economic development were matched by a similar ranking in surveys on human rights.

Your ruling style was distinguished by its efficiency, purposefulness and determination. Once you had established your principles of governance, you followed them with relentless energy.

If only this single-mindedness had not blinded you to the need for change in the evolving political landscape of Singapore. It was extremely painful for concerned Singaporeans to see how the hard reality overtook you at the General Election in 2011, and you had to step down.

You have been described as a great leader. In the many tributes to you, your qualities of greatness were singled out for special mention—your courage, your strength, your vision, your fearlessness, your passion for doing the best for your people.

If only you had shown one more attribute of great leadership—the ability to acknowledge mistakes made and the humility to say sorry for policies that had caused pain and hardship to others.

You were such a wonderful husband and father, the consummate family man. Although you kept your family life private, Singaporeans got to know about it through many engaging anecdotes and family photographs, after your death.

If only this deep sense of family closeness and love had been paralleled by a sense of compassion for the families of those political dissidents who were jailed for decades or had to flee into permanent exile.

You are much admired for your immense love of and devotion to your wife. Singaporeans must have been very moved when they read about how you cared for her in her illness, how you read her favourite novels to her. You had once been reported as saying that if there were an afterlife, you would hope to meet her there.

It must be the wish of even non-believers like myself, that you have been granted this dear wish of yours, your ultimate reward.

This post first published at catherinelim.sg

This entry was posted in Commentaries.
  • GUSSIE91

    Cat………..it is indeed a nice and touching article, I like it.
    Having said that, LKY is still the greatest Singapore founder.

    • nelsonmandala

      indeed greatest founder in KiaSU mentality…
      domestic propblemo..he @ mrs flies overseas
      local big diseases…still flies overseas…
      someore sendin his son the primister on lon oversea matins…

  • Calvin Ang P H

    Well said but too bad there is no “if” in the real world! “If” always come as an after thought after seeing and analysing the whole situation. I can only hope the future true leaders that lead Singapore will do a better job and truly make Singapore a true democracy nation.

  • Hello Howdy

    Many people remembered the First Emperor of China (Xin Shi Huang) for his cruelties and of course, he did some good too in setting many laws with regards to weight, measure etc etc.

    But most people remembered him for his extreme cruelty and some will justify that it was appropriate during his time. Yes, appropriate unless the ones that were tortured and killed were not your FAMILY !

    • Cheng Fu

      Not really. Every person how hears about Qin Shi Huang just because he’s the first emperor of China who united China into one nation. That’s why he’s called “Shi Huang”, the first emperor, in title. Cruelty is not the thing makes him be remembered at all cause we have a list of cruel emperors in history. He’s just one of them, nothing special.

  • Ah Ter Kia

    Cat’s article kind of sums it all. Same few criticisms abt LKY, over and over again. In a funny way, it attests to how much he has achieved, even if it is agreed that he has these few shortcoming.

    • NotSoNutCase

      Few but telling and even destructive shortcomings.

    • Samson

      “How much he has achieved?”

      1. His sons, daughter, daughter-n-law, cousins, uncles etc all in top positions that pay $mils.
      2. 80% could only live in Govt or public funded (basic) flats when Sg is the richest in the World.
      3. All HDB flat buyers use LKY’s wife’s law firm by default?
      4. All dual working families such that our fertility rate is last in the World when again, Sg is so super rich?
      5. Singaporeans going extinct in just 50 yrs.
      6. Sg ended up so elitist that blue collar workers, the worst (albeit important) being cleaners is considered a low acheiver, has not worked hard or has bad genes and therefore deserve the lowest pay but worse, has no right to voice anything?
      7. Our students could score good grades but accept being told what is right to read?
      8. Sg welcoming loan sharks, swindlers, murderers and robbers.

  • NotSoNutCase

    If only he is able to read what Catherine wrote. If only he will agreed to what Catherine wrote. If only ……………………………………. !!!

    • nelsonmandala

      catherine onced told him off when he was alived..he make a promise to catherine..if u ever com back from USA..let c what happenned

    • GUSSIE91

      If only this thread is Not So Nut Case and be it a nut…….

  • Samson

    Economic development is not sustainable if there is no People Development. This is why we are forever dependant on foreigners, I for one am not in awe of just economic development.

  • Ah Ter Kia

    Something like teaching/learning GP or Literature, lah. Like ‘critical appreciation’ in Literature or wat?

  • Ben Shigure Ho

    “If only”… On hindsight every single action taken by anyone can have that tag.

    I wish Catherine Lim would have been more kind as to proffer solutions instead of offering platitudes. Lee Kuan Yew most likely wouldn’t have seen these as “mistakes” or “negatives”. I believe it would be far better to offer objective and viable solutions rather than just pointing out what you think is wrong.

    After all, Catherine Lim has often been described as a worthwhile political commentator on Singapore’s politics.

    • GUSSIE91

      ……..dude, if you read most of all the sensible posting by TOC members, you will read and know the solutions.

      • Ben Shigure Ho

        Sensible postings? Well I’m sure they are sensible. Workable is another thing.

        How would what most have suggested – domestic policy – be viable when it comes to linking up with foreign policy?

        • GUSSIE91

          please tell us, which one is not workable……….?

          • Ben Shigure Ho

            “If only you had done so without so much human cost. If only the high ranking of Singapore in international surveys on economic development were matched by a similar ranking in surveys on human rights.”

            I’ll just share with this one above:
            – No solution(s) offered. Only pointing out what is supposedly a problem. Human Rights issues? How many of our people were lost in the development of our nation? Let’s balance it out here. Many countries enshrine human rights in such a way that you could get away with a lot of things. The Charlie Hebdo case is the most controversial in recent times.

            Perhaps some freedoms are best left governed so that people seek to behave responsibly. I’ve criticized the government many times before, during and after the GE2011. Has my freedom been lost? I have the right to speak freely – but exercised responsibly. Likewise if you offer a challenge to Mr. Lee while he was still alive, would you not expect him to counter your views? We have the freedom to speak, but likewise others have the freedoms to challenge what we say.

    • NotSoNutCase

      May be you think you are better than her. Come on dude show us what you have that Catherine Lim wasn’t able to show us.

      • Ben Shigure Ho

        Me? Better than her? Please don’t say that. I’m sure she’s tons better at postulating ideals than I am.

        As for me, I just go with what either has been proven to work, or what is actually feasible. Culturally-speaking, geographically-speaking, if we had achieved democratic ideals our government would likely have become like the Philippines or Indonesia; or consider the fact that at that point when Singapore came to be we were surrounded by unstable/fascist/communalist/etc governments.

        Would Singapore be as fine as it is today, comparably to other countries in our region?

    • nelsonmandala

      Lee Kuan Yew most likely wouldn’t have seen these as “mistakes” or “negatives”.

      ………….
      leekingyou listenned to u? u muz b dreamin..the onlee person he listenned to iz non ada dan d mpress dowarger..d original 1

      • Ben Shigure Ho

        Learn to spell.

        • Samson

          Learn to think, it is far more important.

  • whshen

    Catherine Lim must have idolised LKY as a GOD. He is only human. Lawyer first then politician.
    What more do you expect from a Lawyer and a politician. Still so idealistic at her age, you gain some you lose some, Looking for perfection, ending up with disappointment.
    Catherine Lim is not really qulified to comment on LKY.
    1st thing – She married an British (Higi Com/Am.) Not too sure if she is still a Singaporean.
    Is her other half having any influence on her, Is she having any other agenda?
    Even she is, I am wondering her offsprings if any, is or has server this nation.
    Human right ranking is bull shit – So is western Democracy. Otherwise all the MNCs are not allowed to invest in Singapore, Nobody would want to come if it is that bad at 153 places, therefore it ranks low in most general population’s agenda.
    I support 2 party politics in Singapore, we are too small to have anything more than 2, otherwise quality will be lacking.
    But never western democracy.
    Look at Europe and America. Then Philippines – American modelled Democracy.
    Is there any real democracy, Is their press free or people really free or under the control of The rich.
    Western Democracy is worst the LKY’s version of Democracy.
    Keep Singapore’s responsible democracy. At the same time, people from the ruiling should show more empathy in small infractions. A difficult defination.
    Improve the benefits to the general Singaporeans. Singaporean First.

    • NotSoNutCase

      Catherine Lim not really qualified to comment on LKY ? Say who ? You ? There were already many who have commented on LKY so who are the one qualified and who are not ? You be the judge to determine who qualified and who not ? You must be kidding me !

      • whshen

        She has always been bias, hiding somewhere and usually nothing constructive for the good of Singapore. She might not be a Singaporean anymore. This is my position. Yo are entitled to yous.

        • GUSSIE91

          all politicians are usually bias, that is norm……….

          • NotSoNutCase

            Except whshen ! Catherine Lim was never a politician.

        • NotSoNutCase

          Even you tend to be bias so what makes you so different ? Sure it is your position am not disputing that at all. Don’t Catherine Lim be allowed her position ?

    • GUSSIE91

      oh my…………how dare you insult the famous world writer C Lim.
      Could you give your own comment please.?

      I am awaiting.

      • whshen

        comment on?

        • GUSSIE91

          about LKY from your view and also your family back ground…….

          • whshen

            In Short – LKY – The Good , The Bad and The Ugly.
            The Father, The Son, and The sweetest husband.
            The Emperor, The Prime minister and The loyal subject.
            He would have been a lesser person if he had not gone into politics. I personally do not associate him with the mandala type. He’s more Geroge Soros type .
            Politics changed him.
            His determination is admirable, his focus in unparalled, his Singlemindedness is his greatest strength but also a weakness which he has few.
            He did more good for the majority of Singaporeans.
            The rest is history as they always say

          • GUSSIE91

            unfortunately……………LKY’s great legacy will be kept in Singapore museum to be displayed w/other artefact prehistoric object like another Singapore to be treated as tourist attraction.
            It is sad………gone w/the wind.