Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lee Kuan Yew gets all reflective in New York Times interview

This week's Saturday profile in the New York Times is a surprisingly reflective interview with Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister.

The 86-year-old political gunslinger has shown few signs of mellowing with age, most recently advising Singaporeans to work until they drop dead or risk ruining the island nation's economic prospects.

But, in an interview with a newspaper that his lawyers felt compelled to sue again back in March (a fact not mentioned in the piece), he talks rather movingly about his struggle to face the uncomfortable reality of ageing, his wife's illness and his own mortality:

“I can feel the gradual decline of energy and vitality,” said Mr. Lee, whose “Singapore model” of economic growth and tight social control made him one of the most influential political figures of Asia. “And I mean generally, every year, when you know you are not on the same level as last year. But that’s life.”

In a long, unusually reflective interview last week, he talked about the aches and pains of age and the solace of meditation, about his struggle to build a thriving nation on this resource-poor island, and his concern that the next generation might take his achievements for granted and let them slip away.

He was dressed informally in a windbreaker and running shoes in his big, bright office, still sharp of mind but visibly older and a little stooped, no longer in day-to-day control but, for as long as he lives, the dominant figure of the nation he created.

But in these final years, he said, his life has been darkened by the illness of his wife and companion of 61 years, bedridden and mute after a series of strokes.

“I try to busy myself,” he said, “but from time to time in idle moments, my mind goes back to the happy days we were up and about together.” Agnostic and pragmatic in his approach to life, he spoke with something like envy of people who find strength and solace in religion. “How do I comfort myself?” he asked. “Well, I say, ‘Life is just like that.’"

Although he has never seemed fond of apologies, he talks with a hint of regret about the darker days of Singaporean politics, when he locked up a number of political opponents for years without trial:

I’m not saying that everything I did was right but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.

But Lee is not yet ready to go gentle into that good night. The interview concludes with him citing a Chinese proverb: Do not judge a man until his coffin is closed.

Close the coffin, then decide. Then you assess him. I may still do something foolish before the lid is closed on me.  


  1. Mr Mydans and the ever sadder NYT/IHT for which he works have pretty clearly been played by the People's Action Party regime's propaganda apparatus. It cannot have been very hard . . . One needs to understand exactly what the game here is. The dramatic rise in the number of foreigners living in Singapore and the related rise in housing costs have, with other issues, led to rising unhappiness on the ground in Singapore. This situation has made the PAP skittish about the election that it must call by some time next year. It is petrified that it will lose a multi-member constituency. It is working hard across the board to assuage the unhappiness of Singaporeans. Among many others, one element of this program has, it is now clear, been gulling Mr Mydans into having a moving, very well planned chat with the Minister Mentor. Though run in a prestigious foreign paper, this inteview echoes back through the state-controlled media in Singapore and exposes Singaporeans to the human side of a regime from which, as the very same Catherine Lim for whom LKY shows contempt in the interview with Mr Mydans once put it, Singaporeans are separated by a "great affective divide". Will LKY's display of humanity help bridge that divide with Singaporeans? Time may tell. Polling would also tell, but political polls don't happen in Singapore.

  2. >> Not "Ulysses by the Merlion" you are one sad dude. angsty and narrow.

  3. The most decent thing for him to do now is to stay away from politics, keep his wife company and stop coveting for a legacy to honour his own posterity. He has done enough damages to his own namesake.

  4. This shameless monster is trying on a human mask...

  5. "I’m not saying that everything I did was right but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial."

    Honorable? The word does not exist in his warped and narcissistic head.

  6. LKY did well for the country. For that, the nation could pay him a billion dollars or more to him for what he has done and it would not be enough.

  7. It's all politics. This time he's using
    his comatose wife to win some sympathy
    votes for the impending elections. The
    most I can say for him is that he is a
    fair actor. But a rotten human being!

  8. LKY has done a good job. A great statesman where all singaporeans are basking in the glory of this great country>altgough there were regimentation but it was good and healthy to keep the country in a high profile compared with other country. End of the day when the whole drama of man end ..its a sad story ..wane eye..wane heart and everything wanes.Early or late we stoop to fate.Its truly sad.Sir LKY time is fleeting and you are already in the late twilight zone..the beautiful part of the day.Stop clinging to past memories and into the realm of now that you are a spirit.You come a long way from our original home>Took a body to ex[perience this mind related drama.Enough is enough,,,,you are good soul .medidtate on thy soul or self and you would satisfyingly leave this realm of life to higher realm. May god bless you and your wife.I shed tears for a moment when I knew the condition of your wife and you never failed to be beside her.What a great human you are.May god bless you my friend. Ma Ra Na Tha....kumar..Malaysia

  9. Lee Kuan Yew is not human. He gets rid of his
    opponents by locking them up without trial,
    forcing them into bankruptcy with unfair
    lawsuits in his kangaroo courtrooms or drive
    them into exile. More than once he threatened
    his opponents with violence, saying he would
    meet them in a cul-de-sac and that he would be
    bringing with him knuckle-dusters and very sharp
    hatchets. Now that he is about to kick the
    bucket he goes all mushy, trying to win some
    sympathy from those who are used to his
    no-holds-barred tough talk and tougher actions.
    Well, it's too little too late. No one who
    knows what kind of person he is will shed a
    single tear for him.

  10. Credit him for building a modern feudal family dynasty.A true megalomaniac which build no institution to outlast him. Just followed the likes of all feudal chinese past dynastic institutions.Utilise race ,language ,and religion to serve his narrow ends of ruling in perpetuity.His interview is a confession of a dying man conscience who has done many negative things and who fears where he goes next.May he be blessed in any event.Hopefully he did not gain the whole world but loseds his soul.

  11. Lee Kuan Yew gets all reflective in New York Times interview...

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