Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

CNN's Fareed Zakaria pays tribute to Mr Lee Kuan Yew on his GPS cable TV show

Leading CNN journalist and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria yesterday called Mr Lee Kuan Yew the most interesting man he had ever interviewed on his popular hour-long GPS show which airs on the American cable news network each week.

"People often ask me who is the most interesting political figure you've ever interviewed. The answer to that question died last week and was put to rest today in a state funeral," said Zakaria, 51, a Mumbai-born American, leading in to a 5-minute tribute to Mr Lee that aired nationwide in the United States yesterday.

During his show's seven years on the air, Zakaria has interviewed more than 600 people from 60 countries, including more than 35 heads of state,

"What made Lee Kuan Yew special?" he asked. "Most political figures can either talk a good game or do stuff. Men of great ideas are rarely also men of great action. Lee was first class at both, conceptualising and strategising but then also executing. He saw the big picture but then he could fill in the details."

Zakaria's GPS, an acronym for Global Public Square which focuses on international issues and foreign affairs, made its debut in 2008, and he interviewed Mr Lee that same year. It airs twice each Sunday in the United States and four times weekly on CNN International, reaching more than 200 million homes.

In 2003, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told New York Magazine that Zakaria "has a first-class mind".

Zakaria went on to say that when Singapore was expelled from Malaysia in 1965, it had " no resources to speak of, other than a plucky young leader, Lee Kuan Yew".

"He built the city-state into one of the world's great ports, entrepots, and service centres, so much so that today Singapore is one of the world's richest and most advanced economies," he added.

While Zakaria described Singapore's political system as "closed, with one party, Lee's, ruling since its independence", he added that "its courts are independent and its administration is highly effective and regarded as clean by most international observers.

"Its economics system favours free markets and free trade, but with the government playing a large role in guiding, investing and encouraging at all levels," he said.

Zakaria wound up the segment, and his show, by airing clips from his 2008 interview with Mr Lee.

In an answer to one of Zakaria's questions about his governing style and success as compared to the US system, Mr Lee said: "Do I want to be like America? Yes in its inventiveness, in its creativeness.

"But do I want to be like America with its inability to control the drug problem? No. Or the gun problem? No.

"These are my choices. I go by what is good governance, what are the things I aim to do - a healthy society that gives everybody a chance to achieve his maximum."

zach@sph.com.sg