Conference on LKY: 'Gardeners' with guts

Conference on LKY: 'Gardeners' with guts

Monday is not only Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 90th birthday. Monday marks also the 50th anniversary of the formation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963. On that day, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore merged with Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia.

Mr Lee turned 40 that day, as he proclaimed on the steps of the City Hall: "Singapore (as from today, the 16th day of September, 1963) shall be forever a part of the sovereign democratic and independent State of Malaysia."

It is very difficult to see this straight, but what this means is that today marks also the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence - from British colonial rule.

Aug 9, 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence - from Malaysia.

We celebrated Sept 16 as our national day on only two occasions - in 1963, when Malaysia was formed, and in 1964. By 1965 this independence day was superseded by another, Aug 9 - which of course comes before Sept 16, and always has.

It is within this fortuitous triangle formed by Mr Lee's birthday, the 50th anniversary of Malaysia's founding and Aug 9 that I will try to locate what I think is the signal quality of Mr Lee and his generation of leaders.

I won't talk about Mr Lee's "Big Ideas" as such, as the title of this conference rather portentously puts it, but of a "Big Idea" behind the "Big Ideas" - or more accurately, the "big" sentiment, spirit, emotion, passion that runs through, like a bass line, Mr Lee's public life - and in the absence of which those big ideas would have accounted for nothing.

Those ideas were important, of course. Singapore did undoubtedly essay a number of unique ideas in development: from the early decision to welcome MNCs while the rest of the developing world kept them at arm's length to establishing a unique system of tripartism that built on the German and Japanese models; from CPF to HDB; from GIC to NParks; from the Presidential Council for Minority Rights to the system of Group Representation Constituencies (or GRCs) - the list is very long.

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