Lee's legacy: Fostering harmony, going green, leadership renewal

From left: Foreign secretary of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with other speakers Kishore Mahbubani, Chan Heng Chee, Zainul Abidin, and RSIS senior fellow Shashi Jayakumar at The Enduring Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew Forum on March 23, 2016.
From left: Foreign secretary of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with other speakers Kishore Mahbubani, Chan Heng Chee, Zainul Abidin, and RSIS senior fellow Shashi Jayakumar at The Enduring Ideas of Lee Kuan Yew Forum on March 23, 2016. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Four speakers at a discussion on Mr Lee Kuan Yew's legacy highlighted what each saw as his most enduring idea. The event at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy was attended by 600 students, academics and diplomats. Charissa Yong reports

MULTIRACIALISM

Former senior minister of state Zainul Abidin Rasheed recounted how he was nearly killed during the 1964 racial riots on the way home from school.

"I saw with my own eyes people being maimed," said Mr Zainul, who escaped a group of Chinese attackers in Lavender Street, only to witness Malays attacking Chinese in Geylang Serai a few hours later.

The experience made him deeply appreciate Mr Lee's determination that Singapore would be a multiracial state. Mr Lee set up institutions to ensure minorities would always be protected and have a place here. These included the introduction of GRCs in 1988 and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in 1990.

Multiracialism is a work in progress, but it remains the cornerstone of Singapore's existence and of its future, Mr Zainul added.

A CLEAN AND GREEN SINGAPORE

The drive from Changi Airport to town along tree-lined highways is a visible legacy of Mr Lee.

His drive to make Singapore a clean and green city made Singapore stand out from other less- developed countries, said Ambassador-at-Large Chan Heng Chee, chairman of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities.

"Was Mr Lee a natural gardener? Did he have time to smell the flowers? He certainly did, and he made time to look at so many details," she said, citing the species of creepers on overhead bridges as an example.

Mr Lee also wanted to ensure that all Singaporeans had access to green parks, not just the rich. "For Mr Lee, the greening was a matter of social equity," she said.

IMPACT ON THE WORLD STAGE

When Mr Lee died last March, several world leaders came to pay their last respects.

This reflected their personal respect for him and his impact on the world, said India's top diplomat Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

He recounted how India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told him that Mr Lee was unique because he brought rapid changes to Singapore in just 20 years.

Other world leaders saw Mr Lee as a visionary, whose advice on international politics was highly sought after, he added. Mr Lee was always thinking of the future and was uncompromising about trying to get there, he said.

RENEWAL OF THE PAP

The People's Action Party's constant drive for leadership renewal is inherited from Mr Lee. "For him, the sooner the process starts, the better," said the head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security Shashi Jayakumar.

Mr Lee, the PAP's co-founder, chose to field younger candidates in the general elections and by-elections of the 1960s and 1970s, to give them valuable political experience.

He also urged backbenchers to be constructive critics and debate policies rigorously in Parliament.

This political foresight and willingness to push the envelope has been passed down to his successors, said Dr Jayakumar.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Lee's legacy: Fostering harmony, going green, leadership renewal'. Print Edition | Subscribe