The name is invoked ever so often. His thoughts and views are replayed time and again.
Even on a topic like gay sex, we cannot escape the looming shadow of Lee Kuan Yew. Five days ago, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that Singapore society would have to decide which direction it wants to take in response to growing calls to repeal Section 377A which criminalises gay sex.
The Minister’s throwaway line was that even founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had been “sympathetic” and “expressed his understanding for those who are gay.”
In fact, just two months ago, there were media headlines like “Lee Kuan Yew’s gay grandson publicly comes out of the closet.” This was in connection with Li Huanwu, son of Lee Hsien Yang, being featured with his partner in Out in Singapore, a media platform for “LGBTQ persons who wish to come out to family, friends and peers in the community.”
In another case, we have had international headlines like this one from The Guardian: “Lee Kuan Yew’s grandson faces legal action by Singapore government.”
This involves contempt of court charges against Li Shengwu, also son of Lee Hsien Yang. A week ago, the green light was given for Li Shengwu to proceed with his appeal to quash a court order that allowed the Attorney-General to serve papers on him in the United States.
Last month, at the National Day rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as a precursor to announcing the Merdeka Generation Package, cried when he recounted Singapore’s struggle for independence and showed a clip of his father shouting Merdeka! He invoked Lee Kuan Yew’s name twice.
More than three years after his passing, it is safe to say that the LKY factor still looms large.
Let’s take the current unravelling of the HDB story. So very often, we are reminded that for decades, Lee Kuan Yew was the architect of the HDB story, even calling Singaporeans “daft” for taking their HDB homes for granted and not cherishing them as a valuable asset. In 2013, he declared: “We intend to keep the value of these homes up, it will never go down.”
And on Ministers’ pay, again it was Lee Kuan Yew who was the prime mover behind the benchmarking of the salaries of politicians and top civil servants against the top earners in the private sector.
So not only his thoughts and views, but also his policies and his forceful defence of them, continue to be a talking point today.
Seldom do we see one man’s legacy being unravelled so quickly. Critics will hit on the deficits while admirers will harp on the positives. The jury is still out.
In any case, we can understand why PM Lee said in a CNBC interview early this year that he could still hear the voice of his father in his head.
Singaporeans, too, are not immune. We are constantly reminded of his words, deeds and promises. No doubt, there will be further reminders come Sunday, 16 September – the day that Lee Kuan Yew would have turned 95.