ST Asian of the year: Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, is The Straits Times Asian of the Year.

The editors of this newspaper picked Mr Lee, who died in March, as their unanimous choice from a crowded field for the annual award, now in its fourth year.

The city-state's prime minister for 31 years, Mr Lee was widely respected as the architect of Singapore's prosperity, transforming it from a backwater port city into a wealthy global hub.

The Straits Times Asian of the Year award recognises an individual or organisation that has contributed significantly to improving lives at home or in the wider neighbourhood.

The inaugural award, in 2012, went to Myanmar President Thein Sein. The 2013 award was shared by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe, while last year's winner was India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

 
 
 

The citation bestowing this year's award posthumously on Mr Lee said: "No other Asian has made such an impact as Mr Lee had this year."

His passing was a reminder of how big a role he played in steering and shaping modern Singapore. He was both a visionary and a radical thinker, and his views and policies laid the foundation for what Singapore stands for.

"He played key roles in introducing policies and attracting investments that turned Singapore into a modern economic success story.

"At the forefront of his policies were good governance and clean government, and his belief in a meritocratic, multiracial and multi-religious society. He eschewed ideological positions or political correctness, and said often that he was guided in his political judgments by looking for 'what works'."

He was also a strong voice for a secure and stable region, centred around Asean, as well as for continuing the presence of United States forces in the region to help keep the peace.

His standing at home and abroad was clear from the way people in the Republic and the world responded to his passing. The long line of luminaries who paid him tribute from around the world, as well as leaders who flew in for his funeral, spoke volumes for the respect he commanded. Flags were also flown at half-mast in New Zealand and India.

Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, who chairs the panel that picks the ST Asian of the Year, said: "Mr Lee's passing galvanised this nation, reminding Singaporeans of the significance of the Jubilee year celebrations of our nation's independence.

"The reaction abroad was just as moving, with a myriad of world leaders as well as respected academics and commentators expounding on how he had shaped their thinking on issues and contributed to their understanding of Asia and the world.

"This reflected the standing that he had established for himself, and Singapore. As this SG50 year draws to a close, we thought it was fitting to remember Mr Lee with this award."

READ MORE: A giant on the global stage

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2015, with the headline 'He won the world's respect, in life as in death'. Print Edition | Subscribe