South China Morning Post – Lee Kuan Yew is not Singapore’s founding father

I refer to the 23 Mar 2015 SCMP report “Singapore mourns as founding father Lee Kuan Yew dies at 91”.

Lee Kuan Yew is not Singapore’s founding father because he never once fought for our independence. When Lee merged Singapore into Malaysia in 1963, he exchanged British sovereignty for Malaysian sovereignty without any improvement to our independence. When Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia, Lee was crying, he didn’t even want independence. How can someone who didn’t fight for our independence, didn’t even want us to be independent and was crying instead of rejoicing when we became independent be called our founding father? Wouldn’t that make a mockery of what founding means?

Worst of all, Lee worked for the Japanese when Japan conquered Singapore while others fought and died defending Singapore. To honor Lee Kuan Yew is to tell young Singaporeans that next time the enemy comes knocking; their priority would be to save themselves and not defend Singapore even if it means working for the enemy because that is what the nation of Singapore honors.

SCMP wrote:

Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew died early on Monday morning after more than a month in hospital, leaving a legacy of an unlikely country he steered to independence in 1965 and transformed into a global city within one generation.

Lee Kuan Yew was not Singapore’s founding prime minister for Singapore had no prime minister at the point of our founding in 1819. It was only 140 years later in 1959 that Singapore had a prime minister.

Singapore was far from being an unlikely country. We had been prospering for nearly 140 years before Lee Kuan Yew took charge. We had all the trappings of a nation – British law and governance, excellent civil service, free trade and enterprise, schools, hospitals, police force, roads, buildings, excellent port and even public housing. We were in many aspects already a country except in name.

Lee Kuan Yew not so much steered Singapore to independence in 1965 than got kicked out of Malaysia instead.

In Lee Kuan Yew’s own words, Singapore was already a metropolis back in 1968. So Lee didn’t transform us in one generation. Instead, when Lee inherited Singapore, Singapore was already quite well transformed. We were already the 5th most important port in the world in the 1930s, the most important communications centre in the Far East in the 1950s, the third richest in Asia in per capita GDP in 1960 and the city with the most number of cars per capita at that time.

SCMP wrote:

A statement from the office of the current Prime Minister, his son Lee Hsien Loong, said, “The Prime Minister is deeply grieved to announce the passing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore.

PM Lee was wrong to elevate his father to founding status because his father never did anything that qualified him as founder or founding father.

SCMP quoted Kerry Group controlling shareholder, Robert Kuok saying:

“Lee Kuan Yew was a giant of a man. His mind, sharp as a fine blade, was focused on pursuing his wish of establishing a just, fair and decent society. And no-one, whether friend or foe, can deny that he achieved this.

Lee’s purported gigantism stemmed from the unjustified piling of the good work others onto himself. How can Mr Kuok say with all his conscience that Singapore is a fair and just society when we have Dr Chia Thye Poh and Dr Lim Siew Hock detained for 32 and 19 years respectively without trial? How can he say Singapore is a fair society when our GINI index has always been the top three amongst First World nations for the past 30 years?

SCMP wrote:

“He pursued his aim with great determination, never giving in to the many set-backs and disappointments, with all this taking a heavy toll on his health …’’

Not true. When Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia, Lee Kuan Yew cried countless number of times and ended up convalescing for 6 weeks at Changi chalet. Not just that, when Barisan and PAP split in 1961, Lee was also staring at the ceiling as though staring at defeat.

When Lee Kuan Yew got back to Singapore, he invited the members of the Convention to attend his press conference. He was crying. I don’t understand him at all. On one hand, he worked so hard for merger. Having gotten the cupful, he shattered it. And then cried over it. He held two successive press conferences, and in which both he cried. On the third morning I went to work, and saw the press boys again. I asked Lee Wei Ching, his press secretary, “Why are they hanging around here?” Another press conference! I told Lee Wei Ching, “You ought to tell the Prime Minister to go to Changi and take a rest. Call the press conference off! Another crying bout, and the people of Singapore will think the government is on its knees. So he went to Changi, staying at the government bungalow for six weeks. There was a big time gap … between our last parliamentary meeting and the next meeting. More than five months. One would have thought with such a big event, Parliament should be immediately summoned and the announcement made to Parliament. The opposition came at me. Why is there no Parliament sitting? So I had to hold the fort. I was not appointed to act for him while he was away. When he went off to Changi, Parliament did not meet. So Singapore had a Parliament in suspended animation. Keng Swee and Lim Kim San saw me and asked me what was the constitutional position. Has he recovered? What if he does not recover? So what happens? I said I thought he was getting better, although I could not see him and telephone calls were not put through.

[Excerpt of an interview with Dr Toh Chin Chye, published in ‘Leaders of Singapore’ by Melanie Chew, 1996]

During the Big Split … Dr Goh Keng Swee … recalled Dr Toh Chin Chye visiting him in his Fullerton Building office in 1961, after seeing Mr Lee, saying: ‘I have just come from Harry’s office. He was staring at the ceiling just like you did. You should snap out of this mood. The fighting has just begun. It is going to be long and nasty. But if we keep wringing our hands in anguish, we are sure to lose.

[Straits Times, What if there had been no Toh Chin Chye?, 4 Feb 2012]

SCMP wrote:

In his 31 years as premier, Lee was indisputably a transformative leader. He dealt decisively with leftists and communalists, those who pursued race-based politics to divide society. He led Singapore to an ill-fated merger with Malaysia in 1963. When it was evicted from the Malaysian federation in 1965, he found himself in charge of a city state that suddenly had independence thrust upon it.

Lee wasn’t so much a transformative leader than a leader at a time of transformation. Lee’s so-called decisive dealing of the leftists was nothing more than the continuation of tactics first devised by the British and then used by the Lim Yew Hock government. Singapore ended up being transformed for the worse, not for the better with outstanding talents of that era like Lim Chin Siong, Dr Lim Siew Hock and Dr Chia Thye Poh ruthlessly and unjustly robbed of their rightful place in Singapore history.

Lee’s so-called decisive dealing of the communalists or raced-based politics was hypocritical for his own colleagues Dr Toh Chin Chye and Mr Lim Kim San admitted that it was Lee himself who contributed to racial tensions.

The events of 1963-1965 appear to be substantially a clash of temperaments and world views, with consequent misunderstandings among the key players. Lee’s own colleagues tell a story of Lee Kuan Yew in overdrive, aggressively engaging in brinkmanship and pushing the Malaysian experiment to the precipice. Lee found it difficult to exercise self-control in front of a microphone and developed a pattern of making outrageous and inflammatory speeches, which Toh Chin Chye later characterised as anti-Malay. When Lim Kim San, a key cabinet minister during the period was asked by Melanie Chew whether he counseled Lee to tone down his speeches, he replied “Oh yes! We did! But once he got onto the podium in front of the crowd, paah, everything would come out. Exactly what we told him not to say, he would say!” Lee at this time was driving himself to the brink of a breakdown, and his judgment was impaired by a regime of prescription drugs designed to help him cope with the stress. He was not at his best and all his prejudices about Malays and his fears about the future were given a free rein, just at the time when he needed to keep them under strict guard

[Constructing Singapore: Elitism, Ethinicity and the Nation-building Project, Michael D Barr and Zlatko Skrbiš, page 29-30]

SCMP quoted Lee Kuan Yew saying:

In his memoirs, The Singapore Story, Lee said if he had not done these things, Singapore would have been a “grosser, ruder, cruder society” and it was to ensure it became a cultivated, civilised society in the shortest possible time. “First, we educated and exhorted our people. After we had persuaded and won over a majority, we legislated to punish the wilful minority. It has made Singapore a more pleasant place to live in. If this is a ‘nanny state’, I am proud to have fostered one,” he wrote.

Lee himself had demeaned Singaporeans as animals with spurs not stuck deep enough into our hides. So Lee has created a society where he alone can be gross and rude. Why should Singaporeans share in Lee’s hypocritical pride?

SCMP wrote:

Lee and his colleagues led a country comprising many first- or second-generation immigrants or their offspring, one that was poor, with inadequate sanitation and woeful living conditions for the most part …

That’s unfair generalization. There were those whose living conditions were poor and those whose living conditions were better. Lee Kuan Yew belonged to the latter group as did many later generation Singaporeans and their offspring.

SCMP wrote:

… the People’s Action Party has remained in power for a continuous 56 years, the longest record for any party currently in power.

Not true. The Workers’ Party of Korea has been in power for longer – 66 years since 1949. The similarity between PAP and WPK cannot be more obvious.

SCMP quoted Henry Kissinger saying:

… Lee Kuan Yew … took a seaport which had lost its original purpose and transformed it into one of the most significant creative efforts of his period… Since Singapore lacks natural resources, he accomplished all this by relying on the scope of his vision and the quality and determination of his people.”

How could Singapore have become the most important communications centre in the Far East in the 1950s if our seaport had lost its original purpose?

Singapore was the most important communications centre in the Far East, not just for shipping but a focal point for airlines, telecommunications and mail distribution at the beginning of the 1950s.

[The Economic Growth of Singapore: Trade and Development in the Twentieth Century, W. G. Huff, pages 31-33]

Furthermore, our seaport was transformed under the wisdom of Dr Winsemius:

“So being in Singapore, I think at that time Dr Goh was once more Minister for Finance or in his capacity of Deputy Prime Minister and indeed I thought I need a pusher; I need really a pusher. So I went to Dr Goh, said ‘Look here, that are my figures on the North Atlantic container-run. And it is going to happen here. I can guarantee you that. I can’t get them moving. And the World Bank is against it. They consider it too early. There is only one way, with the same figures, you and I go to the Harbour Board, to PSA, and in principle you tell them that you would consider it unwise to put it off. Even if there is a chance, let’s say half a year that container port is lying idle, using interest and doing nothing, Singapore has to be the first one as to attract it.

“’And you should tell them, in my opinion, at least give them very clearly the impression if they do not come with a plan to rapidly make a container port that you will continue to have them by the planners. On the other hand, if they do come with it, in as far as co-operation from Finance or even the Cabinet would be needed, that you will give them that protection.’

“So Dr Goh practically dictated them to build that container port regardless of the World Bank.”

[Dr Albert Winsemius’s oral history interview, Accession Number 000246, reel 12]

Singapore has one important resource. Our strategic location at the maritime chokepoint between Europe and the Far East was our valuable resource that was the reason for our founding and prosperity.

The vision that Kissinger mentioned wasn’t Lee Kuan Yew’s but Dr Winsemius’ but it was up to Lee to communicate that vision (after the fact) to dignitaries all over the world as though it was his.

SCMP wrote:

Lee was more circumspect when he looked back on his life. “I did some sharp and hard things to get things right. Maybe some people disapproved of it. Too harsh, but a lot was at stake and I wanted the place to succeed, that’s all.

What was still at stake that Lee had to detain Dr Chia Thye Poh and Dr Lim Siew Hock till 1998 and 1982 respectively? What threats did Dr Chia and Dr Lim pose to Singapore’s success right up till 1998 and 1982 respectively?

SCMP wrote:

At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life,” he once said.

Lee Kuan Yew inherited a successful Singapore from the British; a successful Singapore was what all Singaporeans got from the British, not just Lee Kuan Yew.

Singapore became even more successful following Dr Winsemius’ strategy; it was Dr Winsemius who gave all Singaporeans, not just Lee Kuan Yew, an even more successful Singapore.

If Lee Kuan Yew had been a rickshaw puller, would he not have given up his life pulling the rickshaw? If he had been a lawyer, would he not have given up his life practicing law? Was there anything Lee could have done that wouldn’t entail giving up his life?

SCMP wrote:

… Ko, who works for Singtel, a Singapore telco, told the Post: “I feel sad about the passing of a great leader. He built Singapore up in one generation. I hope his successor will protect his achievements.”

Not true, Singapore wasn’t built in one generation, neither was Singapore built by Lee Kuan Yew.

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One Response to “South China Morning Post – Lee Kuan Yew is not Singapore’s founding father”

  1. 21cgts Says:

    VERY nicely written and logical!

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