Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father and first prime minister of Singapore who transformed that tiny island outpost into one of the wealthiest and least corrupt countries in Asia, died this Monday morning. He was 91.
His death has thrown Singapore into seven days of national mourning following the death of its founding father. A statement posted on the prime minister of Singapore’s official website said:
“The prime minister is deeply grieved to announce the passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding prime minister of Singapore. Mr. Lee passed away peacefully at the Singapore General Hospital today at 3:18 am.”
Mr. Lee was prime minister from 1959, when Singapore gained full self-government from the British, and even in 1965 when Singapore separated from Malaysia until 1990, when he stepped down. Late into his life he remained the dominant personality and driving force in what he called a First World oasis in a Third World region.
His leadership was sometimes criticized for suppressing freedom, but the formula succeeded. Singapore became an international business and financial center admired for its efficiency and low level of corruption.
When Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, Mr. Lee called it his “moment of anguish” — he had seen himself in a never-ending struggle to overcome the nation’s lack of natural resources, a potentially hostile international environment and a volatile ethnic mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians.
Mr. Lee said in an interview with The New York Times in 2007:
“We are ideology-free. Does it work? If it works, let’s try it. If it’s fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one.”
US President Barack Obama described him as a “giant of history” whose advice had been sought by other world leaders.
The Chinese foreign ministry called him “a uniquely influential statesman in Asia” and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply saddened” by Mr Lee’s death.
A private family wake is taking place on Monday and Tuesday as state television broke away from its normal schedules and broadcast rolling tributes.
May his soul rest in peace.