'Straight talker who is honest with people'

Mr Lee Kuan Yew celebrated his 90th birthday on Monday. Elgin Toh speaks to Singaporeans from all walks of life to find out what Singapore's first prime minister means to them personally and what they consider to be his lasting legacy

Mr Choo Wye Foo, 76, started volunteering with the PAP in 1954 and joined the party in 1955. A lifelong resident of Tanjong Pagar, he was a pioneer of the PAP branch in the ward.

Mr Choo: In 1963, everyone thought the People's Action Party (PAP) was going to fall at the General Election. Many of my friends from Barisan Sosialis told me to cut my losses and leave the PAP.

But I continued to support the party because of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Mr Lee was honest, upright and straight with people. He had never let the people down. I felt he could do things for the country.

Two occasions stand out in my memory. One was when the first two Housing Board blocks were being built along Cantonment Road in 1963. That's where The Pinnacle@Duxton now stands.

Some PAP committee members said they should get priority for the new flats. But Mr Lee said no. He said: "These flats are not built for the PAP. They are built for the public. If we do that, we will immediately lose our authority as the government of the day."

The other incident was also in those early years. Grassroots leaders then had to take a test on their skills in organising events and their knowledge of current affairs. If you failed, you were kicked out.

I was in the second batch to take the test. Another person from Tanjong Pagar was very nervous and asked Mr Lee: "What happens if we fail?"

Quoting a Chinese saying, Mr Lee said: "Life is a constant struggle. You just have to work hard."

A normal person might try to comfort you and say, try your best, if you fail, we talk again. But Mr Lee did not offer false hope. He is straightforward like that - if you fail, he cannot help you even though he knows you personally.

That was the spirit he brought to the 1963 campaign. From 1962 to 1963, he visited every constituency in Singapore, even the Barisan strongholds. He would walk till the wee hours of the morning. He wanted the people to see him and to listen to their problems.

Some people told him to hold more rallies in Tanjong Pagar and look after his own ground. But he said, "No, I am the Prime Minister. I have to look after the whole of Singapore, not just myself."

On polling night, Mr Lee knew very early on that he had won with a handsome margin. But he wanted to wait for the results from the other constituencies and he was analysing them as they came in. Dr Toh Chin Chye was fighting for his life in Rochore against Dr Lee Siew Choh. Finally, Dr Toh won. It was only then that Mr Lee announced his win.

Before that, he told us: "If PAP loses the war, what meaning is there if I alone win my battle?"

I wish Mr Lee good health on his 90th birthday.

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