Dedicated leader not afraid to implement unpopular policies: Ong Pang Boon

Excerpt from the eulogy by MR ONG PANG BOON, 86, Cabinet minister from 1959 to 1984, who led the ministries of Home Affairs, Education, Labour and the Environmen

The first time I heard of Mr Lee Kuan Yew was during the 1952 postal workers' strike, when I was a student at the University of Malaya.

At the time, the English and Chinese papers reported widely on how this legal adviser representing the unions argued successfully against the colonial government for the unions' and workers' welfare.

Like many other young people, I was deeply impressed by this brilliant lawyer.

So when the People's Action Party decided to contest the 1955 election, I did not hesitate to support the PAP as a volunteer, and was assigned to be Mr Lee's election agent.

But after the election, my employer posted me to Kuala Lumpur, and I thought that was the end of my political involvement.

In 1956, Mr Lee was en route to Cameron Highlands for a holiday with his wife and elder son, and arranged to see me at the Kuala Lumpur Station Hotel.

To my surprise, he asked me to join the PAP as its organising secretary.

I was determined to join the battle for independence from colonial rule, and accepted his offer without a second thought and joined the march for change. I have never regretted that decision.

As the PAP's organising secretary, I had to work closely with Secretary-General Comrade Lee and other Exco members. This gave me a better understanding of Mr Lee.

He was a consummate and farsighted politician, maximising every opportunity to advance his political advantage and the PAP's interests.

Although English-educated, he understood that power rested with the pro-communist students from Chinese schools and the trade unions.

Hence, he was always worried that the PAP could be hijacked by the pro-communists.

We fought with the pro-communists several times in the early years. But we won because Mr Lee had the strong support of like-minded comrades like Dr Toh Chin Chye, Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam.

In 1959, the PAP won the general election on the back of the Chinese-educated voters of Singapore. I joined the first PAP Cabinet, with Mr Lee as Singapore's first Prime Minister.

He was a dedicated Prime Minister with broad perspectives. During Cabinet meetings, there would sometimes be differing views on certain issues but, after active discussion, he was able to accept alternative views and ideas.

I served in the Cabinet until 1984.

What struck me most about Mr Lee was his complete passion for Singapore. He spent every moment thinking of how he could improve Singapore and Singaporeans' lives.

Once he decided that a certain policy was in the interest of his beloved Singapore, he would implement it, even if it meant making himself unpopular.

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