Mr Lee Kuan Yew 1923 - 2015 :Lying in state

S'pore lucky to have Mr Lee, says Chiam

His contributions to S'pore outweighed the criticisms made by the opposition

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's contributions to Singapore outweighed the criticisms made by the opposition, said old adversary Chiam See Tong in a touching tribute yesterday afternoon.

"Singapore is very lucky to have Mr Lee as her first Prime Minister," the leader of the Singapore People's Party told reporters, after paying his last respects to Mr Lee, who is lying in state at Parliament House.

Recounting the first time he met Mr Lee, Mr Chiam said he was struck by how stern he was.

"He said, 'Who is this oppositionist?' I don't think he knew me at that time. And he said, 'Mr Chiam, I'll see you in Parliament.'

"But the way he said it, it was as if he said, 'I'll see you in the boxing ring.' "

An emotional Mr Chiam also acknowledged that Mr Lee was a "great debater", but one who never humiliated him, even during their frequent clashes in the House. "In Parliament, he clobbered me. But... I never lost my dignity or decorum."

Looking back into the hall, where several hundred people were filing past Mr Lee's casket, Mr Chiam murmured: "This is where he worked."

Earlier in the hall, Mr Chiam, who celebrated his 80th birthday two weeks ago, got out of his wheelchair and walked slowly towards Mr Lee's casket.

Supported by his wife, Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, and Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, he climbed a few steps towards the casket to bid Mr Lee a final farewell.

Dr Balakrishnan later said in a Facebook post that Mr Chiam insisted on climbing the steps, although he was physically infirm. "They had mutual respect for each other's integrity, gumption and unflagging passion."

Mr Chiam's daughter Camilla had also accompanied him to Parliament House.

The family were later received by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching, who clasped Mr Chiam's hand throughout the exchange.

Mr Chiam, the longest-serving opposition MP until 2011, had earlier this week penned a heartfelt condolence letter to PM Lee on his father's death.

In the letter, he said the late Mr Lee was to Singapore what former British prime minister Winston Churchill was to his country. "He was there, just as Britain needed Winston Churchill during World War II - always taking a strategic and long-term view of Singapore."

Mr Chiam added: "His absence from our 50th National Day Parade later this year will be particularly poignant to us."

rachelay@sph.com.sg