On Lee Kuan Yew and what he said

One Man's View Of The World

For the retirement fund, please

A few loose thoughts on Lee Kuan Yew, who found himself in the spotlight again as National Day came around. Just to be clear, I haven’t read his new book, but have read snippets of it online.

1. First off, I find it odd that Channel NewsAsia/TODAYonline uses the title “former Minister Mentor” to address Mr Lee, while The Straits Times and foreign media use “former Prime Minister”. The latter is more appropriate because it recognises the fact that he was once the leader of the country (not to mention the longest serving). What his last cabinet position was is secondary. Mediacorp, please take note.

2. Just a few years ago, it was the “Hard Truths”. Now, a more humble sounding “One Man’s Views of the World”. Perhaps — just perhaps — this is acknowledgement from the man himself that he could be wrong sometimes?

3. I know hard cover books are a lot more profitable, but can Straits Times Press please do us all a favour by publishing ebooks? It’s time to move with the times, Straits Times!

4. It is becoming apparent that there is a deliberate effort by Mr Lee’s people to stop the media from showing the frailty of the old man, especially when he’s moving about with assistance. Jeremy Grant of The Financial Times, who was at the book launch at the Istana, tweeted that there were strict rules forbidding video and photo taking when Mr Lee arrives, and these were only allowed after he was seated. During the NDP broadcast, we saw Mr Lee appearing at the entrance for a moment before the camera cut away to the spectators. When the camera moved back to him, he was already at his seat (which they have placed right by the entrance anyway). For this I’d say to Mr Lee: For goodness sake, you are turning 90 next month. Most people don’t even make it that long. There is no shame in being old and frail.

5. Having said that, former President S R Nathan is just a year younger but looks in much better health. Do keep this in mind if ever the time comes when you have to choose between which job of President or Prime Minister to take on.

6. For a man whose party and government have always been notoriously thin-skinned, hiding behind the “foreigners should not interfere with our domestic politics” stand to fend off external criticism, Mr Lee continues to crave dishing out his unsolicited and unwelcome opinion on others, especially Malaysia.

7. Mr Lee thinks that it is “absurd” to suggest that his “Stop At Two” policies of the 1970s are responsible for our current low birth rates. He is right if we look only at current birth rates as a ratio between births and residents. But if those “Stop at Two” policies had caused a reduction in birth rates in the 70s, they would have reduced the population base of people of birth giving age today. This means a reduction in the absolute number of babies today, which in turn would cause a reduction in the old-age support ratio in years to come. So I don’t think it can be denied that those policies have long and persistent repercussions even into the future. It is kind of pointless, though, to blame him for a problem that couldn’t be foreseen such a long time ago.

8. Mr Lee said of Workers’ Party MP Chen Show Mao:

Chen, however, has not turned out to be so brilliant. In Parliament, he makes good prepared speeches, with a written script, but in the followup, he is all over the place. It simply does not gel for him. If he has a keen mind that has thought through subjects deeply, he certainly has done a good job of concealing it in his performances. That is not just my view. The journalists reporting on political news, and voters sitting in the public gallery may have felt the same way. The weight of public expectation of the man, given his rather impressive resume, has probably added to the disappointment.

This sounds eerily familiar because, when I met up with a journalist friend earlier this year, this was indeed his exact same comment on Mr Chen’s parliamentary performance as well. Perhaps there was one or two incidents in Parliament that gave everyone around this opinion? Chen Show Mao, time to show them what you’ve got!