Mr Lee takes the spotlight - with no pomp or fanfare

SINGAPORE - FOR more than a week, Members of Parliament had tried their best to keep news of a special tribute for former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew under wraps.

On Monday, the cover finally came off, and it happened in a way befitting of Mr Lee's strict standards.

A simple tribute with no pomp or fanfare, and then from Mr Lee himself, a clear message for the future - continue to keep the Government honest and clean, he told his colleagues.

At 4.20pm, Mr Lee entered Parliament's main Chamber.

With the help of his security officers, he made his way to his seat. All eyes were on him and it seemed as though everyone was holding their breath collectively in respectful silence.

The handful of people in the public gallery strained their necks to see what was going on below.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing paused midway through his speech, before resuming.

When he finished, Dr Ng Eng Hen, as the Leader of the House, rose to read a short but stirring tribute to Mr Lee.

Singapore was not born into greatness but hardship and poverty, Dr Ng said. But Mr Lee, with his singular mission and dedication, forged Singapore into a nation which today is admired worldwide for its prosperity, harmony and stability.

He said: "In lifting an entire nation and improving countless lives of Singaporeans of several generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has left a lasting legacy to all of us and achieved greatness."

For the many who were in Parliament, it was an emotional moment. They were there to honour Mr Lee, and yet, it was painful for them to see him slowed by time, needing help to walk and stand.

Dr Ng pointed out that Singapore's first prime minister has been a member of the legislature since 1955, when he won his first election. He has not looked back since and today, 58 years later, he is still holding the fort in Tanjong Pagar GRC.

 

 

In his heyday, Mr Lee was a daunting figure in Parliament. He put his mark on many laws and policies, and set the tone for politics, forcefully taking down opponents who challenged him without giving any quarters.

In his first speech in the then Legislative Assembly, Mr Lee, who was one of three People's Action Party members in the opposition, was at his fiery best.

He wasted no time in attacking the Labour Front government led by David Marshall, focusing on the future of Singapore as he railed against the shackles of colonialism and pushed for full self-government.

On Monday, at the age of 90, he came out fighting once more - attending Parliament against his doctors' advice.

Some men are so important in a nation's history that they eventually rise above politics.

And on Monday, the House stood united to give Mr Lee a rousing ovation. Members from all parties went up to him, one after another, to wish him a happy birthday.

Tellingly, one of the first to do so was Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang.

A long line formed after him which included other WP MPs and Non-Constituency MPs, and also Nominated MPs.

The final handshake came from Mrs Lina Chiam, the wife of opposition veteran Chiam See Tong who locked horns many times with Mr Lee from the 1980s.

Leaning in close to speak to him, her head bowed, she said: "May God bless you with good health."

The day's session began ordinarily enough with ministers answering questions to a sparsely filled Chamber.

There were some tell-tale signs of what was in store, such as Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC) who entered the Chamber with a giant white envelope - Mr Lee's birthday card.

Then by 4pm, more and more MPs began to arrive, eventually filling up almost every seat in the House before Mr Lee's entrance.

And as it has been many times in Parliament's history, the day was Mr Lee's.

chanckr@sph.com.sg


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