Parliamentarians, Old Guard leaders pay tribute to Mr Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with past and present parliamentarians at The Arts House to pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew on the first anniversary of his death.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with past and present parliamentarians at The Arts House to pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew on the first anniversary of his death. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

The Chamber of the Old Parliament House was where the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew delivered some of his most fiery speeches, and where some of the country's landmark laws were passed.

Yesterday, past and present parliamentarians filled the historic hall of the building, now called The Arts House, to pay tribute to Singapore's founding Prime Minister on the first anniversary of his death.

They included Old Guard leaders Ong Pang Boon and Jek Yuen Thong, current Cabinet ministers, Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang, and former MP and presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock.

A spray of yellow hybrid orchids named Aranda Lee Kuan Yew was aptly placed on the seat Mr Lee had occupied - a bittersweet reminder of his long years building up Singapore.

Leader of the House Grace Fu, in her opening address at the remembrance ceremony, said the history of Parliament would be incomplete without a mention of the late Mr Lee, the country's first Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990.

  • Glimpses of history at Old Parliament House

  • The Old Parliament House, now known as The Arts House, was a storied building that has played many roles.

    It was Singapore's first courthouse in the early 1800s, and when the country gained independence, became Parliament House in 1965.

    Visitors can now learn more about the building's history, as well as Singapore's Parliament, through a new and permanent exhibition in The Arts House.

    Panels hung on the building's walls present Singapore's history in chronological order.

    The exhibition features the country's colonial roots, when the building was used as a courthouse, and also covers the period to Singapore's struggle for self- rule, merger and then independence, when the building became the first Parliament House.

    The display also highlights the various landmark legislation passed in Parliament which would shape and define Singapore. They include the Women's Charter and the Employment Act.

    Planning for the exhibition, which is supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the National Heritage Board, took about a year, said Ms Lee Chor Lin, chief executive of The Arts House.

    "I hope the exhibition will help visitors remember the spirit and tenacity of our generation of pioneer leaders, and better understand the key role of our Parliament," she said.

    From today to next Thursday, visitors can watch a documentary with excerpts from the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's memorable speeches. Guided tours are available from today to May 29.

    At its launch yesterday was Mr Soh Boon Keow, 82, who was the Parliament House caretaker for 48 years, before retiring in 2002.

    He remembers his first close encounter with the late Mr Lee.

    Mr Soh had accompanied the then Prime Minister as he walked from the Old Parliament House to his City Hall office, and was tasked to buy lunch for him.

    "The weather was hot. Mr Lee noticed that I was not wearing shoes. He asked if my feet hurt, and I told him I'm already used to it," said Mr Soh, who used to go about barefooted as he had no money for shoes.

    Back in the Old Parliament House later that day, Mr Soh was told he would be able to collect two pairs of canvas shoes each year.

    "An officer told me that it was the Prime Minister's instruction. I was very touched," said Mr Soh.

    Pearl Lee

His abiding vision of Singapore as a multiracial nation ensured that the protection of minority rights and representation were enshrined in our Constitution," said Ms Fu, who is the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.

"Mr Lee's personal leadership helped set the tone and shaped the Parliament that we know today."

ENCOURAGING

Hewas extra calm andgentle... He wanted me to be myself,do what was right.

MR ABDULLAH TARMUGI, former Speaker of Parliament and former Cabinet minister, on the reaction of Mr Lee after the late prime minister sensed he was intimidated byhis presence.

Mr Lee was 31 years old when he won the seat of Tanjong Pagar in Singapore's Legislative Assembly election in 1955. He was the constituency'sMP until he died last year at age 91.

Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, former Speaker of Parliament and former Cabinet minister, became emotional as he recounted his memories of Mr Lee.

Mr Abdullah, who entered Parliament after the 1984 General Election, recalled that he was both proud to be speaking in Parliament, and nervous as he worried about what Mr Lee thought of him.

"When I spoke, I was looking at the ceiling, at the Speaker... to avoid (Mr Lee's) gaze."

He said that at an earlier lunch with Mr Lee, the late prime minister could sense he was intimidated by his presence.

"He was extra calm and gentle... He wanted me to be myself, do what was right", he added, and "not pander to what others thought of, or wanted me, to be".

Former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, a former Leader of the House who was first elected to Parliament in 1984, said Mr Lee was always frank and open with his views. Mr Lee also paid attention to things big and small, he added.

"In one of the lunches I had with him as a new minister in the 1980s, he explained that ministers should drive so they could see the road condition for themselves."

When plans were made to build a new Parliament building as the old one was no longer adequate, Mr Lee reminded Mr Wong, who was then the Leader of the House, not to build a grandiose monument.

"Taking this sound advice, we built a new functional Parliament House in proportion to our prudent approach to public spending," said Mr Wong.

Earlier at The Arts House, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong opened a permanent exhibition titled The Parliament In Singapore History.

It traces chronologically the history and milestones of the building, and of Singapore's Parliament.

The exhibition will be opened to the public from today until May 29.

WATCH THE VIDEO ONLINE

Parliamentarians remember founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew http://str.sg/ZtuJ

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Parliamentarians, Old Guard leaders pay tribute to Mr Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe