leekuanyew

Emotional session as MPs laud the man who cared

Some choke back tears as they speak of Mr Lee's legacy

Keeping promises is a strong Lee Kuan Yew trait that forged the bond he had with Singaporeans, who trusted him through painful and disruptive policies.

In chaotic times and through tough measures that would pay off only later, his steel, clarity and confidence became theirs, said Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen in a stirring address yesterday at a special Parliament sitting to pay tribute to Mr Lee.

He died on Monday, aged 91.

Trade unions were crushed, work hours extended and conscription entrenched in a "fundamental overhaul of what Singaporeans were accustomed to", Dr Ng, who is Defence Minister, recalled of the country's nascent years.

Mr Lee and his Government chose to persuade Singaporeans to do, again and again, what was necessary but painful because, as the man himself declared in 1968, "we are not an easy-going people". A soft people would leave things be and hope for the best, he said then.

But, he added, because "we have restless minds, forever probing and testing, seeking new and better solutions to old and new problems, we shall never be tried and found wanting".

And Mr Lee and his Government delivered, said Dr Ng, who throughout his speech quoted from several parliamentary addresses of Mr Lee's to, he said, "capture the essence" of the most electrifying presence the House has ever seen.

Mr Lee always reminded his younger colleagues to "under-promise and over-deliver", added Dr Ng. "Say less and do more. What you promise, you must deliver and more. Mr Lee walked his talk."

In her opening remarks of tribute, Speaker of the House Halimah Yacob said Mr Lee was a "conviction politician".

People could see he did not make decisions for his own self-aggrandisement or personal benefit, but for the benefit of Singapore, she said.

"People respected and followed him because of one very important element: trust," she said.

Both Madam Halimah and Dr Ng spoke of Mr Lee's distaste for "froth over substance", for "silver tongues and sweet, empty promises" and for vanity structures.

In 1999, Mr Lee had said of the new Parliament House's modestness that "behind the understatement lies great strengths of character, integrity and determination".

"That is what will see Singapore through, not the grand statements and monuments in brick and mortar or steel and concrete, with which so many other new nations try to impress themselves and their followers." Mr Lee could very well have been describing himself and his own life with that statement, said Madam Halimah.

Former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, voice choking with emotion, recalled a Mr Lee who, unlike what some think, would listen, could be persuaded and respected his successors' decisions even when they differed from his. "When many leaders of his time hung on to power, Mr Lee was a firm believer and practitioner in self-renewal of leadership," said Mr Wong.

Dr Ng said Mr Lee never had the time for the question of how history would judge him. Once, he replied: "I'll be dead by then."

"Mr Lee, we would like to tell you that Singaporeans have decided," said Dr Ng. "Thousands upon thousands have lined the streets. They queued for hours under the hot sun to pay their respects here. They did so spontaneously (in) an outpouring of gratitude and admiration for what you have done for their lives."

He added: "They have pronounced the final judgment on your life's work. It is a great work that has surpassed all expectations. It is called Singapore, and filled with Singaporeans who love and revere you."

rchang@sph.com.sg