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LEE KUAN YEW 1923 - 2015

Parliament pays emotional tribute to its longest-serving MP

Eleven parliamentarians take turns to deliver heartfelt eulogies that reduced many to tears

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (centre right, in black) and his wife Rosmah Mansor paying their respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew at Parliament House. With them are PM Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching.


THE chamber in the House was packed on Thursday. Members of Parliament (MPs) had filed in and taken their seats, but one place in the front row remained glaringly vacant.

A bouquet of white flowers lay on the seat once occupied by Lee Kuan Yew, the MP for Tanjong Pagar who died on Monday at the age of 91.

During a special two-hour sitting held to pay tribute to Singapore's first prime minister, 11 parliamentarians took turns to deliver heartfelt eulogies that reduced many to tears.

Defence Minister and Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen, in an emotional speech on "our longest-serving and most illustrious member", said of the MP of 60 years' standing: "When he was admitted to Singapore General Hospital a few weeks ago for pneumonia, Singaporeans from all walks of life watched anxiously, increasingly worried as his condition worsened.

"Despite the outpouring of deep wishes and fervent prayers - elderly men and women with arthritic joints knelt and prostrated themselves for his recovery - Mr Lee's chair sits empty today. His loss is deeply felt."

For Mr Lee, who did not believe in monuments, it was "befitting and poetic" that he had become Singapore's "greatest icon", said Dr Ng. He added that Mr Lee "never believed that physical monuments or towering edifices engendered or sustained greatness", and had rejected these as foundations for Singapore's success.

Dr Ng also noted the many glowing tributes paid to Mr Lee in the past week from leaders and in the media across the world: "Ministers and MPs from Australia and New Zealand have held special sessions in their parliaments in his honour. World leaders are disrupting their schedules to come personally to attend his funeral service. This recognition is seldom given to even leaders of great countries, let alone a little red dot."

Earlier, Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, describing Mr Lee's death as a "great loss to parliament and the people of Singapore", said: "(He) was an outstanding parliamentarian and his speeches in this House were never dull or inconsequential. It was in this House that he fought many battles and shaped numerous policies to set Singapore on the right trajectory."

She urged MPs to uphold Mr Lee's legacy of a responsible, effective parliament, adding that it was also a duty they owed to Singaporeans.

Opposition chief Low Thia Khiang was among the other 10 MPs who rose in tribute to the elder statesman. Speaking in Mandarin, the Workers' Party secretary-general acknowledged Mr Lee's achievements, calling him an "extraordinary political leader" who took Singapore into the first-world league in one generation.

But Mr Low also said the interests of some Singaporeans were "sacrificed" in the nation-building process over the years, and that society "has paid the price" for it; he said Mr Lee was a "controversial figure" in some people's eyes, and that a one-party system was not the key to Singapore's transformation.

But even so, Mr Low expressed his deep respect for Mr Lee for building Singapore from scratch, and acknowledged that the unity Singapore society enjoys today would not have been possible without Mr Lee's work.

Former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng said it was wrong to think that Mr Lee brooked no dissent and was an autocrat. "While Mr Lee has strong views, he also listened. When convinced, he would change his views. Beneath his public persona as a tough-minded man who suffered no fools, he had only the interests of Singaporeans at heart," said Mr Wong, whose eyes reddened as he spoke.

After the tributes, a minute's silence was observed before everyone filed out to where Mr Lee lay in state.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife were among the more than 70,000 people who paid their respects on Thursday, the second day of the four-day public wake.

Although the venue is open 24 hours and until 8pm on Saturday, the queues to enter Parliament House remained long through the day, with the wait as long as eight hours.

Mr Najib told reporters: "All Singaporeans owe him a huge debt of gratitude. (Mr Lee) Kuan Yew is also a man who helped shape South-east Asia as a region of peace and prosperity. He will go down as one of the great men in history, whose vision and leadership helped make this world a better place. I would like to thank him for strengthening the bilateral ties between Malaysia and Singapore."

Ahead of Sunday's funeral, more world leaders have confirmed their attendance at the service, to take place at the University Cultural Centre of the National University of Singapore (NUS). The US will be represented by a delegation that includes former president Bill Clinton, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former US ambassador to Singapore Steven Green. Among the other leaders coming are Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sunday's 15.4 km procession from Parliament House to NUS will pass such places as the Singapore River and various heartland areas. Ten people - including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Hsien Yang - will deliver eulogies.


IN DEPTH: Lee Kuan Yew: 1923-2015