Lee Kuan Yew's conviction and personality shaped Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew's conviction and personality shaped Singapore
On the right, Mr Lee braving the rain at the opening of the PAP branch at Pulau Bukom Kechil on April 3, 1966.

On his 90th birthday, Mr Lee Kuan Yew can look back with some satisfaction at what he has achieved. An independent, thriving Singapore transformed beyond recognition from the one he first led in 1959. Two successful changes in prime ministers since he stepped aside in 1990. These were his two lifelong projects, which he has largely accomplished.

SINGAPORE - No need then to, as he famously put it years ago, leap out while being lowered into his grave if he saw something not right?

Or is there?

Was there a hint of regret at a job not yet complete when, at an interview last year for the book One Man's View Of The World, he spoke about the younger generation's lack of understanding of what made Singapore succeed?

Where is the miracle, he had asked, mimicking the question younger Singaporeans pose when they see today's successful Singapore, but without experiencing the difficulties their fathers and grandfathers experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.

He had read out loud a letter from an admirer thanking him for making the country what it is.

"My family is deeply grateful and has benefited from your magnificent leadership and solid contributions that have enabled our nation to achieve peace, happiness, progress, prosperity, solidarity and security all these good years," the writer noted.

How wide the gap between the writer's generation and the one that now took Singapore's success for granted, Mr Lee had lamented.

At 90, when he should be past worry, Mr Lee frets still.

But, in fact, he needn't.

Singapore's younger generation embodies many of the values he tried very hard to instil in this young, fragile nation when he led it to independence and to a brave new world.

Those nation-building years laid the foundation for today's young, not just the physical infrastructure which has been renewed to a fault, but also, more important, the cultural and social DNA.

For Mr Lee, the Singapore he strived for wasn't just so that it could boast the best port or public housing or export competitiveness. Ultimately, it had to be about Singaporeans, as a people, whether they had the wherewithal to make it as a country.

And so he was relentless in wanting to imbue them with the values he believed were necessary for success, urging, sometimes cajoling and, occasionally, scolding them to do better.

If you read those early missives, they were always values-laden: No one owed Singapore a living, it had to be exceptional or it wouldn't survive, there was no place for idle passengers in this journey to excel, and so on.


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