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Lee Kuan Yew: Judge the Man by the Prosperity We Enjoy

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Probably no Singaporean besides Lee Kuan Yew has ever been loved, and hated to such a degree.

For every comment we’ve seen praising Old Lee, there’s bound to be another wishing he’d burn in hell.

We’ve heard of how Old Lee crafted Singapore into the nation it is today, building a propsrous city despite the odds stacked against us ever making it.

We’ve also heard tales of his ruthless streak, and alleged human rights abuses such as the unfair detention of supposed dissidents using the Internal Security Act as a guise.

The biggest question when looking back at the life of this man and his contributions remains: Would Singapore be better without Lee Kuan Yew at the helm?

We can speculate, but we’ll never know for sure.

What we can answer is this: “Has Singapore prospered under its first ever Prime Minister?”

 

(1) Housing

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As Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew assembled a great team of leaders in their own right, people with brilliant ideas.

He gave them the rein to develop those ideas, so long as they were practical, and stood up to reason and feasibility.

One of those that changed our landscape forever – HDB flats.

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Despite the West criticising how such high-rise monsters would stain our landscape, the issue at hand was, “how can the government house the expected boom in Singapore’s population, affordably?”

Deputy Prime Minister Goh Keng Swee spearheaded this development.

Against all opposition, especially the poor sould who had to be evicted for flats to be built, it was done.

Generations of Singaporeans 40 years down the road have a place to call their own.

(2) Transport

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Planning started in 1967, and took place throughout the 1960s.

Foreign specialists were brought in to assist state boards in the planning of what would be the most ambitious transport project in Singapore’s history.

The first train line was launched in 1987.

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In 28 years, we’ve a public transport network that can rival the best in the world.

We can sneer at Singapore’s MRT network, compared to say, the London subway.

The tube opened in 1890.

This was Singapore in 1890.

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The MRT is still a work in development, as we can see from the many breakdowns it continues to suffer.

But we can take pride in how quickly work progressed.

Guess who started the ball rolling.

(3) Education

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In 1966, Lee mandated that all students learn a “mother tongue” – the language associated with their ethnicity.

This, besides the English language.

This came at a time when most former colonies were trying to strengthen their own national identity by falling back on their ethnicity.

“If we were monolingual in our mother tongues, we would not make a living. Becoming monolingual in English would have been a setback,” he wrote in his memoirs. “We would have lost our cultural identity, that quiet confidence about ourselves and our place in the world.”

Today, we can deal with the West, our most prominent neighbours, Malaysia and Indonesia, and the rising global power – China.

At that time, Lee Kuan Yew spoke English and Malay.

He would go on to learn Mandarin and other dialects well into his thirties just so he could communicate when the time came for it.

The man lived as an example of adaptibility, and forced us to be versatile as well – for our own benefit down the road.

(4) Society

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The greatest criticism of Lee Kuan Yew has to be his iron-fisted rule, and his ruthlessness when it came to clamping down on people who opposed his policies.

As theories go – Lee played the Malaysia card to get Singapore out of British rule, then he antagonised the Malaysians so Singapore would get the boot and forced to become independent, giving him a free rein to sculpt this nation according to his vision.

That’s pretty damn well-played!

1950s Singapore was marked by the Maria Hertogh riots, Hock Lee bus riots, and the Chinese Middle School riots.

The 1960s – the Prophet Muhammad Birthday riots and Konfrontasi, which was essentially an Indonesia-Malaysia issue, which led to insugencies spilling over to Singapore.

That culminated in the MacDonald House bombing

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This was the climate in which Lee Kuan Yew had to forge a nation.

Would anything besides an iron-fisted approach work?

A united China came about only because of a ruthless Qin ruler.

The next united China was built on the back of another single-minded leader, Mao Zedong.

These legendary men brought China out of civil war, forged stability out of destruction, and enabled China to prosper today.

The same goes for Singapore, albeit on a less dramatic scale.

Leadership must adapt to the times, and Singapore in its infant phase as a nation demanded stability and unity.

Lee Kuan Yew got that done.

In Sum

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Look around you.

50 years – that’s what it took to build all this.

Some overseas might still mistake Singapore for a part of China, but on the whole, our nation is globally recognised and respected.

We have prospered – on the domestic front, and on the foreign front.

That was what Lee Kuan Yew wanted, that is what he set out to build, and that’s what we enjoy now.

50 years.

Times have changed, and Lee’s methods might not work today.

But they did then.

It’s time to push forward, to adapt to a new world order, and to better Singapore.

All this, while respecting the band of men who brought us this far.

Lee was the leader of that band.

 

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