By Ethan Guo
The older you are, the wiser you become. Does this adage really hold true?
At 91, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew has lived far longer than most of us would hope or be able to.
Having been Prime Minister, Senior Minister and Minister Mentor – not to mention the “founding father of modern Singapore” – his legacy is not in question.
If people were asked to describe him in one word, adjectives like “tough”, “brutal”, “stubborn” and “strong” might roll out. Resolute and determined, Mr. Lee seldom wavered in his decisions or opinion.
While no one would question his contributions towards nation building, many started doubting his relevance to today’s politics.
Make no mistake – Mr. Lee is as sharp as ever. Those who’ve had the chance to meet and converse with him recently say his brilliance shines through the ageing façade.
But his resistance to evolve and change made him a liability to a government struggling to identify with modern voters.
Thus following the 2011 general elections, Mr. Lee stepped down from the Cabinet in a sudden and surprising decision, offering our younger leaders “a clean slate”.
It was a sad way for an eminent leader of his stature to step away from the limelight.
With his clout and cache of goodwill, Mr. Lee was more than capable of gaining continued support. All he had to do was mellow with age.
As father of a nation, he had to be stern and adopt a no-nonsense approach. As grandfather however, he could afford to be the voice of reason, and to even pamper a little bit.
All he had to do, as the young would say, was “chill” and let go. Having famously said he’ll come back from the grave if anything went wrong in Singapore, letting go perhaps would’ve been a tall order.
But it’s certainly not impossible, and Mr. Lee would single-handedly be an example for all among our pioneer generation to keep up with the times, stay relevant, and adapt.
His knuckle-dusting days are over. We no longer want to see Mr. Lee taking on the opposition and “fixing” them. Not especially when we’re actually yearning for more opposition in parliament.
What we want is a well-respected sage who dispenses an alternative take, a view from someone who’s seen it all but doesn’t necessarily know it all. What we need is a mediator who could moderate between the resistant conservatives and the hawkish liberals. As a seasoned politician who’s governed for nearly 50 years, what is there for him to lose?
Alas perhaps it’s this “baby” of his that he’s too attached to. As the saying goes, we’ll always be three years old in our parents’ eyes. So too will Singapore always be stuck in its post-Independence days for Mr. Lee.
And similarly, as children, we always want our parents to trust and be proud of us. It’s time for Mr. Lee to believe in the country and the people he fostered, and to have faith that Singapore will not fail.
He’s no longer the head of our government, a mentor to ministers or even a minister in the cabinet. But it’s not too late for Mr. Lee to still be caretaker of our nation.
As caretaker, he need not reprimand or retaliate. He need only listen with an open mind and soothe with a big heart. That’s a lot to ask perhaps of a man who’s all-PAP at the very core. Yet it’s not impossible so long as Mr. Lee detaches himself from the sideshow and stays above partisan politics.
I would not have such expectations of any other man. But Mr. Lee is no ordinary man. And this is my one wish for him this year.