The end of an era

The end of an era

SINGAPORE NEEDS to adjust its vision to maintain its role in the region as it begins life without its founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who died at 91 yesterday.

The former Singaporean prime minister and founder of the country died at Singapore General Hospital after a long illness.

"He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans. We won't see another like him," his son and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday in an emotional televised address.

Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha sent the island state condolences on behalf of his government and the Thai people.

"I would like to express my condolences to Singapore for his death. He has been unwell for quite some time and I had wished for his recovery. But this is what happens to people who work hard all their life," Prayut said.

Former Thai prime minister Anand Panyarachun paid tribute to Lee by saying his advice to ASEAN leaders was useful and inspiring. Lee's words and ideas were invaluable and inspired him to pursue the concept of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), he said.

"He encouraged me to pursue the concept of free trade in ASEAN [AFTA]," Anand said, adding that Lee was helpful even though he was no longer prime minister when Anand was in office in 1991.

He was a global leader whose views in politics, economics and other related issues had to be listened to, Anand said.

US President Barack Obama hailed Lee's success in turning a small territory lacking natural resources into a world player in finance, trading and shipping - all the while with a heavy political grip that was long decried by rights campaigners.

Pornsilp Patchrintanakul, vice chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said Singapore without statesman Lee would have to adjust its role on the global stage amid rising competition in the era of liberalisation.

He said Singapore needed to emerge from its period of mourning and adjust itself to maintain its leading role in the region after the passing of its founder.

Singapore should focus on high technology and being the centre of education, research and development for the ASEAN region as well as globally, said Pornsilp, who worked in Singapore between 1975 and 1977.

Prayut was due to visit Singapore today but the two-day trip will now be rescheduled. His planned trip to Brunei will go ahead as planned, however.

Prayut said Singapore enjoyed prosperity and had achieved a higher income status because of the continuation of the government's economic policies despite changes in administration.

He urged the next Thai government to carry on the current military regime's economic policies in order to ensure that the country's economic development does not fall back into "reverse gear".

Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister of Singapore from 1959, when the state gained full self-government from the British. He led Singapore when it merged with Malaysia in 1963 and also when it separated to become a fully independent country in 1965. The merger with Malaysia did not last because of the different political approaches of the leaders, economic differences and racial tension.

Lee stepped down as prime minister in 1990. His successor Goh Chok Tong, now emeritus senior minister, counted on Lee until he left office in 2001.

Lee Kuan Yew remained the dominant personality and driving force in what he called a First World oasis in a Third World region until his last days.

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