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Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew passes on at 91


Lee Kuan Yew  //Photo: Singapolitics

Lee Kuan Yew //Photo: Singapolitics

Lee Kuan Yew, the statesman who transformed Singapore from a small port city into a wealthy global hub, has died at the age of 91.

The founding father of Singapore was taken to hospital with pneumonia in early February, following which the government said, on March 18, that he had been placed on intensive care, because his condition had “deteriorated further”, it said.

Mr. Lee led Singapore for 31 years and was widely credited with transforming the small port city into today’s global financial hub.

He stepped down in 1990 but has remained a key political figure.
His son, Lee Hsien Loong, is Singapore’s prime minister and the city state is this year marking 50 years as an independent nation.

The government said in late February that Mr. Lee was “sedated and on mechanical ventilation”.
It said he had contracted an infection and was being treated with antibiotics.
“Mr. Lee Kuan Yew remains critically ill in the ICU and has deteriorated further,” the brief statement from the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday. Lee served as the city-state’s prime minister for 31 years, and continued to work in government until 2011.
Highly respected as the architect of Singapore’s prosperity, Mr. Lee was also criticised for his iron grip on power.

Under him freedom of speech was tightly restricted and the courts targeted political opponents. The announcement was made “with deep sorrow” by the press secretary of Prime Loong.

“The Prime Minister is deeply grieved to announce the passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore,” his office said in a statement.

It said Mr. Lee passed away peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital at 03:18 local time on Monday (19:18 GMT on Sunday).

A charismatic and unapologetic figure, Mr. Lee co-founded the People’s Action Party, which has governed Singapore since 1959, and was its first prime minister.

The Cambridge-educated lawyer led Singapore through merger with, and then separation from, Malaysia – something that he described as a “moment of anguish”.

Speaking at a press conference after the split in 1965, he pledged to build a meritocratic, multi-racial nation.

But tiny Singapore – with no natural resources – needed a new economic model.

“We knew that if we were just like our neighbours, we would die,” Mr. Lee told the New York Times in 2007. “Because we’ve got nothing to offer against what they have to offer. So, we had to produce something which is different and better than what they have.”
Through investment in schooling, Mr. Lee set about creating a highly educated work force fluent in English.

He reached out to US investors to turn Singapore into a manufacturing hub, introducing incentives to attract foreign firms.

Singapore also became a centre for the oil-refining industry. The city-state grew wealthy and later developed into a major financial centre.
But building a nation came with tight controls – and one of Mr. Lee’s legacies was a clampdown on the press.
These restrictions remain today. In 2014, Singapore stood at 150 in the Reports Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, below countries like Russia, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

Dissent – and political opponents – was ruthlessly quashed.
Today, Mr. Lee’s PAP remains firmly in control. There are currently six opposition lawmakers in parliament.

Other measures, such as corporal punishment, a ban on chewing gum and the government’s foray into matchmaking for Singapore’s brightest – to create smarter babies – led to perceptions of excessive state interference.

But Mr. Lee remained unmoved.

“Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up,” he told a rally in 1980. “I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.”

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