Published:  12:35 AM, 07 January 2019

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew, the statesman who transformed Singapore from a small port city into a wealthy global hub, died at the age of 91 on 5 February 2015. As Singapore's founding Prime Minister, Lee dedicated his life to Singapore, and served his country till his final days. His vision to build a prosperous, meritocratic and multiracial Singapore defied expectations. When others doubted our chances of survival, he strove for excellence.

Today, much that defines Singapore bears his influence: security and the rule of law, the country's cultural diversity and its economic progress, its public housing and its gardens. Without Lee's strong leadership and immense contributions, the Singapore that we know today would not have existed.

Singapore is a small, heavily urbanized, island city-state covering only 278 sq miles in Southeast Asia, located at the end of the Malayan Peninsula between Malaysia and Indonesia. Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign city-state and island country in Southeast Asia. Distance from Bangladesh to Singapore is 2,866 kilometers southward. This air travel distance is equal to 1,781 miles.

Lee Kuan Yew was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, governing for three decades. He is recognized as the nation's founding father, with the country described as transitioning from the third world to first world in a single generation under his leadership. Lee was the first and longest serving Prime Minister of Singapore.

It boasts striking high-rise structures. You can get a good visual orientation to the city as you cross the Benjamin Sheares Bridge on the East Coast Parkway, which links the airport to the city center. The Singapore cityscape looks magnificent, particularly at night when buildings are brilliantly lit. Offshore, there appears to be another city all lit up because of the many ships anchored there - Singapore is one of the busiest seaports in the world.

Many of the city's attractions are clustered closely together. Orchard Road, the shoppers' haven, is located in the northern part of the city center. Chinatown, where you will find Boat Quay, is just to the southeast of Orchard Road, while Little India is northeast. Sentosa Island, with its many amusements, is directly to the southwest of the city center. These frequently visited neighborhoods, as well as more suburban areas, remain a bustling hive of pedestrian activity well into the evening.

With a population of 5.61 million and GDP for USD349.66 billion, it has continuous strong economic growth. Singapore has become one of the world's most prosperous countries, with strong international trading links. Its port is one of the world's busiest and with a per capita GDP above that of the leading nations of Western Europe. The education budget remains at one fifth or more, and many of its practices, such as, racial harmony continues remains intact.

The political situation in Singapore is stable. The People's Action Party (PAP) had a 15-year monopoly in parliament during 1966 to 1981, winning all seats in elections before J. B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers' Party of Singapore won the Anson constituency in a 1981 by-election. The PAP rule is termed authoritarian by activists who see some of the regulations of political and media activities as an infringement on political rights, perceiving them as authoritarian.

The government of Singapore underwent several significant changes. Non-Constituency Member of Parliament was introduced in 1984 to allow up to three losing opposition parties candidates be appointed as MPs. Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) was introduced in a 1988 amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act to create multi-seat electoral divisions, intended to ensure minority representation in parliament. Nominated Member of Parliament was introduced in 1990 to allow non-elected non-partisan MPs.

Singapore became part of Malaysia on 16 September 1963 following a merger with Malaya, North Borneo, and Sarawak. However, it was an uneasy union.

Disputes between the state government of Singapore and the federal government occurred on different issues, especially the federal policies of affirmative action, which granted special privileges to Malays guaranteed under Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia. Singapore's chief minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and other political leaders began advocating for equal treatment of all races in Malaysia, with a rallying cry of "Malaysian Malaysia!"

The state and federal governments also had conflicts on the economic front. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) leaders feared that the economic dominance of Singapore would inevitably shift political power away from Kuala Lumpur. Despite an earlier agreement to establish a common market, Singapore continued to face restrictions when trading with the rest of Malaysia.

In retaliation, Singapore refused to provide Sabah and Sarawak the full extent of the loans previously agreed to for economic development of the two eastern states. The situation escalated to such intensity that talks soon broke down and abusive speeches and writings became rife on both sides.

Seeing no alternative to avoid further bloodshed, the Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman decided to expel Singapore from the federation on 9 August 1965. On that day, a tearful Lee Kuan Yew announced on a televised press conference that Singapore was a sovereign, independent nation.

In a widely remembered quote, he uttered that: "For me, it would be a moment of anguish. I mean for me, it is a moment of anguish because all my life….you see the whole of my adult life…. I have believed in Merger and the unity of the two territories. You know it's a people connected by geography, economics, and ties of kinship." The new state became the Republic of Singapore.

As a tiny island, Singapore was seen as a nonviable nation state, much of the international media was skeptical of prospects for Singapore's survival. Besides the issue of sovereignty, the pressing problems were unemployment, housing, and education, lack of natural resources and lack of land.

The unemployment rate ranged between 10-12% and it threatened to create civil unrest. A large portion of the population lacked formal education, even when this statistic counted Chinese schools which the British did not recognize. Entrepot trade, the main use of Singapore's port and the original reason for Singapore's success in the 19th century, was no longer sufficient to support the large population.

Singapore then invested heavily to promote economic growth. The Economic Development Board was set up in 1961 by Goh Keng Swee and national economic strategies were formulated to promote Singapore's manufacturing sector. Industrial estates were set up. The government offered new investors tax holidays of 5-10 years.

Singapore's port gave her an advantage over her neighboring countries, being a favorable spot for efficient exports of refined goods and imports of raw material. This meant that industries in Singapore found international markets easily, and cheaper prices for raw goods. Singapore's growing industrialization meant that entrepot trade had been extended into processing of imported raw materials into exported finished products-leading to higher value-added goods which brought more income to the island.

The service industry also grew at this time, sparked by demand for services by ships calling at the port and increasing commerce. This progress helped to alleviate the unemployment problem. With Winsemius's help, Singapore attracted big oil companies like Shell and Esso to establish oil refineries in Singapore which became the third largest oil-refining centre in the world by the mid-1970s.

The new direction that Singapore took demanded a skilled labor force to engage in her revised role of refining raw goods, as opposed to the traditional natural resource extraction industries of her neighbors. Its leaders decided early on that the population would need to be fluent in the English language, as they would be communicating and cooperating with expatriate employers or business partners abroad, and English was adopted as the medium of education for all schools.

The education system was designed to be rigorous and intensive, with emphasis on immediately practical, rather than intellectual, applications, such as on technical sciences as opposed to political discussion or philosophy. A large portion, around one-fifth of Singapore's budget, was devoted to education to facilitate a large and competent workforce upon graduation. The government of Singapore currently maintains it at this level.

There was a lack of good housing and a proliferation of squatter settlements. Combined with the high unemployment rate, this led to social problems from crime, a low standard of living, and unrest. The other deleterious effect of squatter settlements was that many of these were built of highly flammable materials, were poorly constructed and thus posed a high fire risk. A prominent example in this case is the Bukit Ho Swee Squatter Fire that broke out in 1961. In addition, there was poor sanitation, which led to the spread of infectious diseases.

The Housing Development Board set up before independence continued to be largely successful under Lim Kim San. Huge building projects sprang up to provide cheap, affordable public housing to resettle the squatters, hence removing a serious social problem. 25,000 apartments were built in the first two years. It was remarkable that, within a decade, the majority of the population had been housed in HDB apartments.

Another problem facing Singapore was the lack of national identity and unity among most of the population. Many people were born in foreign lands and still identified themselves in terms of countries of origin, rather than being Singaporeans. This posed possible problems of loyalty, reliability and the possibility of racial riots. In order to resolve racial tension, a policy to create national identity through education in schools and flag raising and lowering ceremonies was implemented.

This is constantly re-emphasized within the curriculum and National Education, a compulsory program of which the main goal is to inculcate students with a sense of national fraternity. The Singapore National Pledge, written by Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, was introduced in 1966 emphasizing unity among the people regardless of race, language or religion.

Following its independence, Singapore set out to establish itself as a more modern region and within a couple of decades grew into one of the world's most prosperous nations. This modern economic powerhouse's seaport is one of the busiest in the world; in addition, Singapore has become a major worldwide banking, shipbuilding and petroleum center.

Within the last few decades, this melting pot of cultures has moved on to the "A List" for international travellers, and is today one of the most sophisticated tourist destinations on the planet. In short, Lee Kuan Yew was undisputedly the most well-known man in Singapore for bringing the country to its present covetous state of height. He is also the most talked about person both in his country and across the world.

The writer is a senior citizen who writes on politics, political and human-centered figures, current and international affairs

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