Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister and founding father, who transformed a small malaria infested island into a global trade hub, passed away in the wee hours on Monday. He was 91 years of age.
The government announced that “Mr Lee passed away peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital today at 3:18 am”. He had been in the hospital for over a month, having been admitted in February with severe pneumonia.
Mr. Lee, who served as Prime Minister for over thirty years, led Singapore to complete independence from British in 1963 (Mr. Lee had been serving as Prime Minister since Britain granted Singapore self-government in 1959) and aided in the short lived merger with Malaysia in 1965. His ‘Singapore model’ of economic development focussed on harnessing the geostrategic location of Singapore (which has already become a bustling port) and skilling the population, making up for the lack of natural resources by building on social capital. He promoted a market driven trade and service based economy, making Singapore one of the four ‘Asian Tigers’ in the 1970s.
Lee’s visionary leadership which made his tiny country one of the most prosperous in the world, with an open efficient corruption free business environment, and high social indicators within the rubric of strong multi cultural meritocratic society, won him the admiration of the leading statesmen world over. He remained unapologetic to his critics for ruling Singapore with a heavy hand (often called ‘soft authoritarianism’) and making it a ‘nanny state’. He believed that a strong state was required for fostering economic growth and prosperity in developing countries and citizens rights to free speech and protests ought to be curtailed if it were in the greater good of the nation. His firm convictions on democracy not being best suited to Asian values, and current needs of development led to several policy debates on the development-democracy trade off for the post colonial developing world.
Mr. Lee was the founder member of the People’s Action Party (PAP), the dominant political party in Singapore. Even after stepping down as a leader in 1990, Mr Lee continued to play an influential ‘advisory’ role in the Prime Ministerial regimes of his successors Mr. Goh Chok Tong and Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, his oldest son and current Prime Minister.
His demise marks an end of an era in Singapore’s political life. The Singapore government has declared seven days of national mourning and flags are to fly at half-staff on state buildings. Condolences flooded in from world over remembering Mr. Lee as a visionary, astute leader with a strong grip on domestic and international affairs. Mr. Obama called him a “true giant of history” and “as one the great strategists of Asian affairs”. Mr. Modi, tweeted that he was “a far-sighted statesman and a lion among leaders”.
A private wake for the Lee family will be held and thereafter, Lee will lie in state at parliament until a state funeral on March 29. Mr. Lee is survived by two sons and a daughter, all holding considering influence in Singapore politics.
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