Like South Africa’s first elected President, Nelson Mandela, who is 93 this year, Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew is also attributed largely for leading his country out from a myriad of social problems. Unfortunately, Lee Kuan Yew can only be envious of Nelson Mandela when it comes to having a successful legacy. The latter has became a fashion icon and an inspiration to those who promote peace, equality and the fight against racism. Young people wear shirts with printouts of Nelson Mandela, products with the Nelson Mandela’s branding and nearly everyone has only but good words for the elderly statesman.
For LKY, his legacy are somewhat artificial. Like Nelson Mandela too, there have been conferments and public institutions and scholarships building under his name. But unlike Nelson Mandela, wearing a LKY shirt or making money out of his name is totally out of the question. While the commercial viability of LKY’s name is questionable, it is also noted that LKY has a history of suing and winning defamation lawsuits that bankrupts his naysayers. When it comes to the popularity of LKY, Singaporeans are mixed. While many are appreciative of his contributions, a significant percentage are also critical, especially of his authoritarian policies adopted during Singapore’s early days. One thing for sure, LKY is not the people’s man.
Gone are the days when LKY whispers and everyone listens. Today, his speeches are scrutinized and dissected, and even responded angrily with. Here are some excerpts of his most terrible comments that you would never hear from Nelson Mandela speaking the same about his own people:
“If native Singaporeans are falling behind because “the spurs are not stuck into the hide,” that is their problem”
~ Interview with National Geographic, 20 Oct 2009
“I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races, except Islam.”
~ The Hard Truths, 27 Jan 2011
Particularly to the latter statement, there were numerous calls for apologies from the world’s oldest office holder. But the chapter was ambiguously closed when he said he stand corrected – but the offending statement remains in the book.
Nelson Mandela’s son did not become the President. Neither did his daughter-in-law became the CEO of South Africa’s sovereign wealth fund company. Nelson Mandela did not detain his political opponents without trail for 32 years [Source], nor did he sue his critics into bankruptcy, forcing them to flee the country [Source]. He withdrew from politics when he was 79 years even though Africa still needs his mentorship and trusted advice. Nelson Mandela deserved all the accolades and public tributes for building the foundations of the peaceful and flourishing emerging market.
I wouldn’t say likewise for Lee Kuan Yew.