Lee Kuan Yew: A life examined

Lee Kuan Yew: A life examined

In the week of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthday, international media outlets from The Economist to the South China Morning Post dissected his achievements and leadership style, lauding the elder statesman's commitment to long-term planning but singling out his use of repressive laws.

After attending a Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy conference on Monday on his "big ideas", The Economist, in its Asia blog Banyan, wrote that Mr Lee's leadership was "less about big ideas than a big personality".

The former prime minister was a pragmatist and empiricist who always went with what worked and was prepared to change his mind when the facts changed, the writer added.

Mr Lee's "big ideas" were that social order and the rule of law were necessary elements for the success of the country, said the blog, which is published without naming the writer.

"So Singapore's (law) imposes harsh punishments - including caning and the death penalty - for some crimes, and retains a draconian act allowing detention without trial of those deemed a threat to national security," the writer said.

But whether Mr Lee was right in using such repressive laws, and bringing defamation suits against political opponents, remains an open question, he suggested. However, he acknowledged that the praise Mr Lee has attracted this week is understandable.

"Singapore is, by almost any reckoning, a success story: prosperous, stable, orderly, efficient, clean, largely free of corruption and playing an influential international role out of all proportion to its tiny size and a population of just 5.3 million."

"And even Lee Kuan Yew's fiercest critics would find it hard to argue that none of this is thanks to his leadership." Mr Lee's legacy, said the South China Morning Post in an editorial on Tuesday, is the success story of modern Singapore.


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