The Sunday Star
Legally Speaking by Roger Tan
IN MEMORY: Sunday Star columnist Roger Tan paying tribute to the late Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew in the condolence book at the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
Spontaneous and emotional outpouring of grief by Singaporeans is indeed a testament to Lee Kuan Yew’s extraordinary achievement in creating a united nation out of a divided, polyglot, multi-racial and multi-religious population.
THE fact that today our Yang di-Pertuan Agong will represent Malaysia at Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral – an epochal event in the history of Singapore – speaks volumes of the island’s founding father as the greatest statesman in South-East Asia.
In fact, President Richard Nixon held him up as a leader of similar stature as Winston Churchill. Most importantly, Lee was also instrumental in the formation of Malaysia and hence he and a generation of Singaporeans were once, albeit briefly, Malaysians between 1963 and 1965.
Born on Sept 16, 1923, Lee read law at Cambridge University and obtained a starred double first and started practising as a lawyer in 1950 for almost a decade. As a legal assistant, he took up cases for trade unions, often on a pro bono basis. This undoubtedly helped him later to generate mass support for him when he became prime minister in 1959.
Almost half a million Singaporeans have already turned up at Parliament House and the 18 community tribute sites to pay their last respects to the nonagenarian. Thousands more did not mind queuing for up to 10 hours the night before in order to reach the Parliament House where the body is lying in state.
This spontaneous and emotional outpouring of grief by Singaporeans is indeed a testament to Lee’s extraordinary achievement in creating a united nation out of a divided, polyglot, multi-racial and multi-religious population. It is ironic that someone who had believed in Machiavelli, making him the most feared person in Singapore, is now someone who is most loved by his people. It is understandable that Singaporeans’ biggest regret is that their founding father would not be there on Aug 9 for their 50th national day celebrations.
Lee was indeed a great leader in every sense of the word. He was humble enough to say sorry if he was wrong and if it was in the best interest of his county to do so. Hence, he had apologised to Malaysia a few times for some of his acerbic comments.
He was also a first-class diplomat whose advice was often sought by leaders of superpowers even though he was just the head of “a little red dot” on the world map.