Looking forward: The political scene - Honouring the founding generation

Deciding who to remember and how to do so

March 23 this year, the first anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death, Singapore will pause once more to remember him.
March 23 this year, the first anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death, Singapore will pause once more to remember him. PHOTO: REUTERS

On March 23 this year, the first anniversary of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's death, Singapore will pause once more to remember him.

But with the passage of time, the country will also have the space and distance this year to discuss how exactly to remember Mr Lee - as well as who else, among its founders, to honour.

"It will be interesting to see who Singaporeans would consider to be founders. How many of our first generation of political leaders would Singaporeans be aware of?" says National University of Singapore historian Tan Tai Yong.

 

He and others have floated the idea that the term "founders" should be used inclusively, so as to incorporate a lot more people and go beyond those who actually held political office.

"The term 'founders' should not be limited to a few key political leaders. We should include senior civil servants, community leaders and union chiefs," he explains.

Other questions to consider include how much a memorial should focus on the ideals represented by the founders, rather than solely on their lives and achievements.

These are ideas that the Founders' Memorial Committee - tasked with coming up with the concept of a memorial to honour Singapore's founding leaders - will be addressing in their surveys and focus group sessions. The committee plans to recommend a memorial concept by the end of this year.

And how to remember Mr Lee himself? The People's Action Party, which he founded, will probably focus on its pioneer generation leaders and not Mr Lee alone, says retired MP Inderjit Singh.

"Expect major programmes for the remembrance," he adds.

But do not expect anything that resembles a personality cult.

"Mr Lee was a towering figure who left an indelible mark on modern Singapore. I think his passing will have a lingering effect for a while," says Professor Tan.

But, he adds: "His place in Singapore's modern history is so deeply secured that the immediate absence of monuments in his honour is not going to diminish his legacy in any way.

"His legacy is so deeply rooted that he does not need new physical monuments to remind people of his place in our history."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'Deciding who to remember and how to do so'. Print Edition | Subscribe