Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was architect of our modern Republic, says President Tan

Singapore was Mr Lee Kuan Yew's passion, and he continued to serve the country until the last days of his life, wrote President Tony Tan Keng Yam in a condolence letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

"Few have demonstrated such complete commitment to a cause greater than themselves," said Dr Tan, writing on behalf of the people of Singapore.

Mr Lee devoted his entire life to Singapore, he said, from his first position as a legal adviser to the unions in the 1950s to his "undisputed role as the architect of our modern Republic".

When Independence was foisted upon the country, many doubted Singapore would survive.

But Mr Lee rallied the people, leading the Cabinet to "successfully build up our armed forces, develop our infrastructure and transform Singapore into a global metropolis", said Dr Tan.

Many aspects of daily life bear his imprint, added Dr Tan - Mr Lee set up the Housing and Development Board to develop public housing estates, giving "every citizen a stake in the nation".

He had the vision of establishing Singapore as a Garden City during the early years of urban development, and, today, Singapore River forms part of Marina Bay, a valuable source of fresh water.

"Because of Mr Lee's farsightedness, Singapore is hailed as a model of sustainable and inclusive development," said the President.

He noted Mr Lee's "lasting contributions" in building a meritocratic and multicultural Singapore, where the most deserving candidates - regardless of race or religion - would be acknowledged.

That each ethnic group learns its mother tongue, too, allowed Singaporeans to "leverage on our bilingual and bicultural edge to take advantage of the opportunities" around the world.

On top of that, the late Mr Lee "placed service before self-interest", said Dr Tan. While he stepped down as Prime Minister in 1990 to allow for smooth leadership renewal with a team of younger Cabinet colleagues, he continued to serve as Senior Minister until 2004, and then as Minister Mentor until 2011.

Dr Tan said: "He had spent more than 50 years in the Cabinet and was the world's longest-serving Prime Minister when he stepped down in 1990."

And on foreign relations, "Mr Lee's brilliant intellect and candour of opinion led many international leaders and foreign diplomats to seek his views on developments in the region and around the world", noted Dr Tan. For example, Mr Lee was one of the first to recognise China's potential under its then leader Deng Xiaoping's reforms.

In a video message, Dr Tan also credited Mr Lee with building up a capable civil service.

And as Dr Tan told reporters separately yesterday at the private wake at Sri Temasek: "His passing is an end of an era and nobody can replace him.

"But we can honour his legacy by carrying on what he has started, and that is to continue to make Singapore successful and a good home for Singaporeans for many years to come."

waltsim@sph.com.sg