SHE is called “Mother Suu” and he was till recently the “Minister Mentor”. She is the living icon of non-violent struggle for democracy against the military tyranny in Myanmar, and he, acknowledged even by his most ardent critics, has made Singapore one of 20th century’s most famous economic success stories. She, Aung San Suu Kyi – the leader of Myanmar’s opposition, was in Singapore last month for her first-ever visit here, and he, Lee Kuan Yew – the former Prime Minister of Singapore, celebrated his 90th birthday on September 16.
Both, Suu Kyi and Lee, went to UK for studies and returned home to form their respective political parties. While Lee co-founded the People’s Action Party in 1954, Suu Kyi on returning home in 1988, established the National League for Democracy (NLD) the same year.
But the similarities end here.
While Lee was at the helm of Singapore’s government for almost three decades, between 1959 and 1990, Suu Kyi would go on to spent almost 15 years, between 1989 and 2010, under house arrest. She also wins the Nobel Peace Prize “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” in 1991.
While none can deny Lee’s contribution in Singapore’s economic growth – no. 1 in investment potential, world’s easiest place to do business, second most competitive city, most stable business environment in Asia-Pacific; one work that remains unfinished by his own admission is the falling fertility rates of Singapore. “I cannot solve the problem, and I have given up. I have given the job to another generation of leaders. Hopefully, they or their successors will eventually find a way out,” Lee candidly admits in his just-released book, One man’s view of the world. [For a detailed story on Singapore’s fertility history, please click here]
Other common criticisms of Lee, as noted by The Economist newspaper, in its Banyan Asia column, What’s the big idea, include the provisions of Internal Security Act and defamation lawsuits.
In contrast, for 68-year-old Suu Kyi, the journey has probably just begun with next milestone being Myanmar’s general election scheduled in 2015, which she has repeatedly demanded should be “free and fair”, making Myanmar “a real democracy”.
Interestingly, she has already indicated her desire for Myanmar taking a very different path from that taken by Lee when he shaped Singapore. During her visit, she spoke on how Myanmar and Singapore can learn something from each-other.
“I would like to say that I have in the last year been to many affluent societies, but I still think that we have something to offer that the richer countries don’t have. We still have spiritual values. We still have a certain spirit of generosity, of believing in the possibility of human beings to rise above themselves that we can offer to the world. So even now, although we have not made the transition to a genuine democratic society, I am confident that we have something to offer to the world and of course the rest of the world also has much to offer to us. So let it be a mutual give and take. It is not that we are a poor nation asking for help and assistance, which we need. But we are also a nation, rich in certain values that we would like to share with the rest of the world,” she said in her speech at the Singapore Summit on September 21.