Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

Singaporeans in Yangon, Bangkok and Manila pay tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

The high profile Asean-Myanmar conference in a downtown Yangon hotel opened on a sombre note on Monday, with a minute's silence for Singapore's former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

After that, speaker after speaker at the conference prefaced their remarks with tributes to the late founding father of Singapore.

''His was a voice that spoke clearly and directly, even if his views might be controversial,'' said Professor Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs which co-organised the conference.

''So although he did not set out to speak for Asia, it will be more than Singapore that will feel his passing,'' Prof Tay said at the conference which was attended by two Myanmar ministers and top executives from across the region.

At Singapore's embassies and consulates across Asia, a steady stream of Singaporeans and even locals filed through the gates to sign condolence books for Mr Lee. More are expected to turn up through the week.

In Bangkok, among the first to sign the condolence book was former Thai premier Anand Panyarachun.

Mr Robin Loh, president of the Singapore Club of Thailand, told The Straits Times that Singaporeans were treated with respect across the world - much of it due to what the country had achieved under Mr Lee.

"We living overseas have clearly experienced how others treat us Singaporeans, due to the fact that we are from Singapore - and all this could not have happened without Mr Lee Kuan Yew,'' he said.

Mr Oh Lock Soon, chairman of the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce, said: "For myself, a naturalised Singaporean, being born in Malaysia, I have a lot to thank him for - for being able to live in Singapore, raise a family, have a good career, all due to his wonderful work.''

In Manila, Mr Peter Tay, head of the Singapore Philippine Association, said Mr Lee's presence would be missed.

"His transformative role and leadership in making Singapore the innovation capital that we all know today is immeasurable,'' he said. 

From Yangon to Manila, while the mood among Singaporeans was sombre, it was also phlegmatic.  The Singapore Club of Thailand and the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce have organised an SG50 golf event on Wednesday which will go ahead and participants will observe a minute's silence.

In Yangon, Singaporean Andrew Tan said "I think everybody was expecting this farewell.''

"Everyone also wanted him to have a quick and dignified exit. Given his contribution to his country, it's the least we can do,'' said Mr Tan, who has been in Myanmar for more than two years and is a vice-president of the Singapore Association of Myanmar. The association has over 300 members - more than double the number just over a year ago.

Mr Tan said his sister in Singapore was crying when they spoke over the phone early Monday morning.

"She said it was like losing a father,'' he told The Straits Times. "He was a really strong character, maybe made some errors, he is human, but at the end of the day, it's mostly positive.''

"He was a very simple man...The influence is in everything we see in Singapore, the infrastructure, the law. When you come to Myanmar you appreciate what we have.''

(Additional reporting by Tan Hui Yee and Raul Dancel)