Singapore parliamentarians today paid rich tributes to the country’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, commending him for transforming the city-state from third to first world country, within a single generation.
The lawmakers, dressed mostly in black and white or wearing a black ribbon or white flower, paid tributes to the late leader and rose for a minute of silence in the House, as people wept outside on the streets, mourning the loss of the 91-year-old patriarch who passed away on Monday.
A bouquet of white flowers was placed on Lee’s vacant seat in the House, where he has been a member since Independence in 1965.
“My deepest respect goes to founding prime minister,” opposition leader and secretary-general of the Workers’ Party, Low Thia Khiang said and described Lee as “an extraordinary political leader” who took Singapore from third world to first.
Low also commended Lee for managing the interests of different groups in Singapore’s early days, uniting and building a multicultural Singapore.
“Lee was able to build mutual trust with Singaporeans and take them in a common direction. This is the main reason why Singapore can leap from third world to first in one generation,” he said.
Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob noted that Lee did not set out to be a politician - he was driven to assume office by conviction.
“Lee took his parliamentary duties seriously, even in his old age,” noted Halimah, adding that Lee always reminded the country that that it could make it big.
Halimah also added that Singapore will continue to make it only if there are “tough-minded people who know the difference between froth and substance”.
Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen said: “We in this House weep with Singaporeans here and abroad. Lee did not have time for flattery or silver-tongued politicians. Lee’s acid test for any idea was whether it would make Singapore better.”
Noting that many of Lee’s early policies were painful and unpopular, he said, “Crushing labour unions, extending work hours and conscription (a compulsory national service in the military for male youths) were among these policies.”
World leaders, including Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, are due in Singapore on Sunday for the state funeral service for Lee.
Meanwhile, Singaporeans continued to line up for hours to pay their respect to the late leader, who was prime minister till 1990, but continued to wield influence on local and international politics and economics as Senior Minister and Mentor Minister in the cabinet.