Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, died in the early hours of Monday morning at the age of 91.
As an outsider it’s been interesting to watch how Singapore mourns, and I can’t help but compare it to Australia. However, it’s a completely unbalanced comparison as Australia has no ‘founding father’. We don’t have one individual that we can point at and say ‘we are what we are today because of him or her’. One of our former Prime Ministers, Malcolm Fraser, passed away last week. There were articles and stories about his achievements and a state funeral will be held this coming Friday, but it’s an entirely different level to what I’m seeing here. Actually the only comparable Australian event I can think of is that of Phillip Hughes, a young cricketer who was tragically struck on the head during a match last year. Much of the response to Phillip’s death was, I believe, to do with his youth and the unexpectedness of his death.
Lee Kuan Yew was neither young nor was his death sudden, so those elements are missing here. I spent time this morning talking to Singaporeans who are queueing to pay their respects at the Parliament, where Mr Lee is lying in state. They all spoke of how much they respect Mr Lee for what he did for Singapore and how he built the tiny island into the business centre it is today.
On Monday morning none of the commercial radio stations were playing their regular music, rather they were all playing sad, classical pieces. A week of national mourning was declared and flags were lowered to half mast. The Esplanade Theatre cancelled all non-ticketed events. Communities have a central place where people can go to pay their respects to Mr Lee and condolence books can be signed outside the Istana.
The queue must be at least a kilometre long. People began arriving during the night, well before Mr Lee’s body was driven from the Istana to Parliament. The line was filled with all manner of people. Some had flowers. some had notes. It’s very, very hot out there today and most of the queue is not shaded but everyone seemed happy to wait. Eager to pay their respects to the ‘founding father of modern Singapore’.
Vale Lee Kuan Yew