A Tribute to Lee Kuan Yew, 16 September 1923- 23 March 2015

One week on and Asia Outlook takes a look a look at the life of Singapore’s founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Credited with building Singapore into one of the world’s wealthiest nations when the country separated from Malaysia in 1965, the passing of Lee Kuan Yew marks the loss of a true giant of history. He died aged 91 on 23 March.

The announcement came from Lee’s son and current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, prompting a whirlwind of tributes from world leaders and civilians as he addressed the world: “We won’t see another man like him. To many Singaporeans, and indeed others too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore,” he solemnly announced and declared a period of national mourning from 23-29 March.

 US President, Barack Obama dubbed Lee a “true giant of history” while the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon called him a “legendary figure in Asia”. Chinese leader Xi Jinping also praised Lee as an “old friend of the Chinese people”.

As the most quotable of Asian leaders, Lee Kuan Yew’s exceptionally long tenure on the diplomatic stage, “his brilliant intellect and ruthless pragmatism earned him the accolade of ‘statesman’ from more world leaders than any other personality in the Asia Pacific region”, said the BBC in its tribute. 

“Lee, a Cambridge-educated lawyer, was widely credited with building Singapore into one of the world’s wealthiest nations on a per capita basis with a strong pervasive role for the state and little patience for dissent,” commented the Guardian.

Often called blunt-spoken and stubborn in his convictions, Lee was not always able to overcome Differences with his ASEAN partners. He often said he cared little whether he was liked or not, reinforcing that it was about doing the right thing for a country trying to establish a name for itself in Asia. However, eulogies to the leader from neighbouring countries are not insincere. He clearly played an outsize role in building the stability and prosperity of Singapore and will long be remembered for his actions.

In a letter of condolence to Lee’s son, Singapore’s President, Tony Tan, said: “Mr Lee dedicated his entire life to Singapore from his first position as a legal advisor to the labour unions in the 1950s after his graduation from Cambridge University to his undisputed role as the architect of our modern Republic. Few have demonstrated such complete commitment to a cause greater than themselves.”

 The founding father of Singapore led the city-state for more than three decades and in recognition of his importance to the nation and indeed the world, members of the public were given opportunity to pay their respects as his father would lie in state from 25-28 March at Parliament House, ahead of the funeral which took place on 29 March.

Flags flew at half-mast on government buildings until yesterday (Sunday).