Staying true to convictions

Among the reflections on the death of Singapore's founding Prime Minister is an "end of an era" theme that posits both that there will never be another Lee Kuan Yew and that leaders of his ilk are unlikely to be seen again.

All these are unique: Mr Lee's extraordinary personal attributes, the circumstances that shaped his character and beliefs, and his lifetime achievement - great in and of itself and also because of the odds stacked against him - and his abiding devotion to his singular cause: Singapore.

Mr Lee remained at the helm for 31 years, which is rare in a democratic polity. Even after stepping down, "he put every waking moment into making Singapore successful", as Education Minister Heng Swee Keat noted.

Singaporeans would hope that the single-minded pursuit of public service as a lifelong calling, and the laser-like focus on what is in the best, long-term interest of Singapore, which Mr Lee

exemplified, will remain alive in Singapore, across the political spectrum, for a long time to come.

Unswerving commitment to fundamental principles and a willingness to stay on track over the long haul are all the more relevant in a modern polity, given that attention spans, news and electoral cycles all seem to be getting shorter these days. After all, countries are likely to face setbacks from time to time - for example, when the economic cycles beyond our control work against us or events conspire to turn the public mood, with longer-term issues being set aside for more immediate concerns.

Mr Lee never flinched from tackling heart and mind issues - reflected in the ideological struggle against the communists, conflict of foundational principles during the days of merger with Malaysia, and bid to ensure "everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion", as he put it 50 years ago. His convictions ran through his veins.

Some have questioned the present relevance of "conviction politicians" in an age of shifting attitudes and swing voters, swayed by sound bites and social media. Of course, leadership styles everywhere are bound to change with the times to suit the make-up and mood of the people. Besides, as Mr Lee himself often asserted, "policies are not meant to be cast in stone".

Yet, whatever may come, many would hope that Singapore always stays firm in its convictions and beliefs in the founding ideals that Mr Lee championed and lived by: multiracialism, meritocracy, good governance, zero tolerance for corruption, a belief in education, hard work, discipline and self-reliance. While the job of governing Singapore will no doubt grow more complex, and even contentious, in the years to come, most would agree that fractious politics leading to political paralysis would be ruinous for the nation.