Lee Kuan Yew: Going quietly

On his death, Mr Lee Kuan Yew was widely (and misleadingly) described as almost the sole architect of Singapore's success. Yet he had ensured that his own going caused no disruption. Nor did his long withdrawal from political leadership. And that, for his generation, was one of his most remarkable contributions: quitting office voluntarily in the first place.

In Timor Leste, Mr Xanana Gusmao has just copied him, standing down as prime minister while staying in the Cabinet.

But it was not common among 1960s independence leaders or Asian autocrats. In China, it took death to end Mao's long and often-violent reign in 1976. Of the five leaders of the founding members of Asean in 1967, all but Mr Lee departed amid chaos on the streets.

Nowadays, orderly leadership transitions are more common, even in China. Singapore has managed two, thanks partly to Mr Lee's role in picking and grooming his successors. As for the succession to the next generation, that, oddly for such a far-sighted leader, is a problem he has left for his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to solve.


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