A Kadir Jasin
IT is nearly impossible to appropriately describe the Singapore strongman, Lee Kuan Yew, who died at 3:18am today at the Singapore General Hospital. He was admitted on Feb. 5 for pneumonia.
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Strongman naturally comes to mind because that is how the global media often described him. But he was more than that. There were many strongmen of Lee’s generation around the world but none could quite match his achievements.
Lee was neither an absolute dictator nor a democrat. He ruled with iron fists but unlike other strongmen he did not ruined his country in the name of nationalism and race. It might even be inaccurate to describe him as a nationalist - a pragmatist maybe.
|LKY: A strongman to the end|
Just one example – the quest for independence. Lee rode on Indian, Malayan and Indonesian nationalism to gain independence for Singapore while making sure that the Chinese-dominated colonial outpost was not “swallowed” up by its bigger Malay/Muslim neighbours.
He rode on Malay nationalism led by the likes of the late (Tan Sri) Abdul Samad Ismail and Yusof Ishak while tugging on the coattail of the British to ensure that Singapore was safe from possible the Malay/Muslim hegemony in the post-colonial era.
But Lee was much more fearful of communism led by China although he was very much the product of leftist political movement. In the post-World War II, Singapore was the hotbed of socialism and communism.
What truly differentiated Lee from other strongmen was his success in transforming Singapore from a British entrepot trading centre into one of the most developed economies in the world while cutting a unique political path.
To borrow the description of a Kuala Lumpur-based Singapore diplomat, Lee ruled Singapore using the economy instead of politics.
The Bloomberg new service wrote that Lee helped transform Singapore from a colonial trading centre into one of Asia’s most prosperous nations during 31 years as its first elected prime minister.