Musings on Mr Lee's legacy from ordinary people he touched

Musings on Mr Lee's legacy from ordinary people he touched

Like many Singaporeans, Madam Ranjani Rangan has been closely following news of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's health in recent days.

Yesterday, the 38-year-old banker felt so strongly about the negative comments from some netizens that she wrote a heartfelt Facebook note on Mr Lee's contributions to Singapore.

She expressed the hope that those who had criticised him for what they see as a "dictatorship" will hopefully appreciate what he and his team of leaders had done for the country.

"We may not be able to afford big homes or have large cars, our country is too small for long drives, there is less freedom of speech, the work culture may not be as flexible as in the West, and the weather is a bit too warm with a lack of the four seasons - however, where it truly matters, we have it all laid out for us," she wrote, citing Singapore's quality education, healthcare, infrastructure, transport and security.

"We don't understand how good we have it here," Madam Rangan said when contacted. The fourth-generation Singaporean lived and worked in Britain and the United States for 12 years before returning home in 2008.

Like her, others have written commentaries on Mr Lee's legacy. Several mentioned that some of Mr Lee's decisions and views remain controversial, but pointed out that on balance, his leadership was critical to Singapore's progress.

[[nid:182485]]

Miami-based Beverly Murray, who grew up in Singapore, wrote about Mr Lee on her blog earlier this month, and titled her post The Most Brilliant Politician You Never Knew.

In her post, which has been circulating on social media, she highlighted how former US president Richard Nixon once described Mr Lee as a man who "might have attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone" were he born in another country. She also described how his push for what is the best - not just the individual's best - was an ethos instilled at school throughout her growing-up years in the 1980s, even as she and her classmates felt alienated by this focus on the practical over the poetic.

They have since relocated to Shanghai, Perth, New York and London, but she feels they too are likewise pensive about Mr Lee's impending departure.

"No display of gratitude seems excessive in (the) light of your tremendous legacy. But I'm happiest to report that your people - scattered and disparate as they may be - have indeed found poetry," she wrote. "In doing so, they may have uncovered the spirit of what it really means to be Singaporean at heart."

Mr Daniel Wagner, chief executive of Country Risk Solutions, who had lived in Singapore, wrote a piece on The Huffington Post about his time as an expatriate.

A big part of the reason for Singapore's efficiency, he said, was "the effective manner in which the Government operates, much of which is due to the legacy of modern Singapore's founder, Lee Kuan Yew".

"Say what you will about the type of democracy LKY created, and nurtured, after stepping down as prime minister in 1990, the net result is an economic miracle unrivalled in South-east Asia that has punched way above its weight for decades," he wrote.

Mr Wagner noted that many people have criticised Singapore's political system, but said Mr Lee and his People's Action Party "have consistently delivered the goods - in a big way".

"If you ask me what LKY's legacy is, I would say it is a textbook case about how to make something really meaningful out of very little - how to transform a tiny island nation into an economic goliath," he said.

"How to create a safe haven in a region filled with churning waters. And how to constantly evolve in order to survive and thrive."

Extracts from three commentaries on Mr Lee Kuan Yew in recent days

"Lee Kuan Yew's Legacy" - Daniel Wagner, writing in The Huffington Post

"Many people have criticised Singapore's political system, characterising it as a 'one party state' masquerading as a democracy.

They note the restrictions on freedom of speech, the severe penalties for criticising the government or its officials, the latent or overt discrimination of Malay and Indian minorities, and the overly paternalistic nature of the 'nanny' state. Depending on your vantage point - as a Singaporean, expat, minority or overseas foreign worker - some or much of this will ring true, or simply not be perceived as relevant or necessarily important.

It is all part of the Singapore story.

What is certainly true, however, is that LKY and his People's Action Party have consistently delivered the goods - in a big way. If you ask me, I don't particularly care if a government has a small 'D' in its 'democracy', or whether it listens to my phone calls, or makes laws against jaywalking and chewing gum...

What matters to me is whether I can live in a place that is safe, clean, efficient, and gets the job done. On that score, Singapore's government gets an A+.

Having moved from Singapore to Manila, I can tell you, I missed much about Singapore for a long time.

Even today, having been back in the States for eight years, I wish much of what works so well in Singapore could be transported to the US.

We could learn a lot from 'the Singapore way'."

"A letter to our founding father, from a returning Singaporean" - Ranjani Rangan, in a Facebook note and e-mail

"Today I feel proud to call myself a Singaporean, to sing our national anthem loudly at every opportunity I get, that my children today are citizens, when my expat colleagues rave about Singapore and want to make Singapore their home, that I am living in a little red dot First World country that is envied by so many around the world, and feel extremely proud to produce my red passport to the overseas immigration officers whenever I travel.

And all this pride is only possible because of you, our founding father, Mr Lee, and your A team of leaders who had developed and shaped Singapore to what it is today and continue to do so."

[[nid:181784]]

"The most brilliant politician you never knew" - Beverly Murray, who moved from Singapore to the United States when she was 16

"Singapore needed doctors, engineers, teachers, and lawyers.

There was no room for whimsy or creativity, a perspective neatly summed up by Lee's maxim that 'poetry is a luxury we cannot afford. What is important for pupils is not literature, but a philosophy of life'.

Therein lay my big unspoken conflict. As a Singaporean, I revelled in our shared destiny, fiercely protective of my beloved little country that not only survived, but (also) thrived against all odds.

Yet the writer and dreamer in me felt cast out to sea, mere flotsam in the gritty ocean of nation-building practicalities. It is one thing to speak of my American immigration experience at 16 years of age. It is quite another to realise that at 11 years old, I already felt like an immigrant in my own country of birth.

To experience this so viscerally as a child was simultaneously liberating and devastating.

It all but sealed my fate as a perpetual nomad...

Now, decades later, an old man lays dying while I - 10,000 miles away - am strangely, deeply moved. My instincts tell me that I am not the only one...

You gave us a republic, Mr Lee. No display of gratitude seems excessive in (the) light of your tremendous legacy.

But I'm happiest to report that your people - scattered and disparate as they may be - have indeed found poetry."

zakirh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Mar 21, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.