Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Mr Lee Kuan Yew crafted a modern island republic as his legacy, says Malaysian PM Najib

Malaysians reacted with grief at the passing of the man who led their closest neighbour for more than three decades, with Prime Minister Najib Razak saying the founding father of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew crafted a modern island republic as his legacy.

Relations between the two neighbours were often testy as Mr Lee clashed with his Malaysian counterparts such as Tunku Abdul Rahman, who spearheaded Malaysia's independence movement, and especially Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who led Malaysia from 1981 to 2003 in fierce competition with Singapore.

But the rivalry has not diluted the regard Malaysians have for Mr Lee, and practically every online news site reported on his death and Datuk Seri Najib's declaration that "his achievements were great, and his legacy is assured".

"I pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's determination in developing Singapore from a new nation to the modern and dynamic city we see today," he said of the man who governed Singapore for more than three decades until 1990.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who also leads the youth wing of Mr Najib's ruling Umno party, echoed the sentiment by calling Singapore "a tremendous legacy" of the late Mr Lee.

Other party leaders expressed their condolences, including Democratic Action Party (DAP) supremo Lim Kit Siang, who called it the "passing of an era".

Jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) noted Mr Lee's "developmental policies that were transparent and efficient, and were successful in attracting foreign investors to the point that his country was dubbed the Switzerland of Asia".

"We must take stock of his efforts in administering Singapore, which focused on the welfare of the people regardless of race or religion," PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said in a statement.

Some like former law minister Zaid Ibrahim expressed misgivings about some of Mr Lee's methods, saying he "was harsh to those who opposed him", but acknowledged his "resolute commitment to integrity in government".

Former New Straits Times Press chief editor Kadir Jasin wrote in his blog that "strongman naturally comes to mind" when thinking about Mr Lee, but of the "many strongmen of Lee's generation... none could quite match his achievements".

shannont@sph.com.sg