Singapore’s opposition leader draws flak for tribute to Lee Kuan Yew
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Singapore’s opposition leader draws flak for tribute to Lee Kuan Yew

Workers’ Party secretary-general, Low Thia Khiang, was criticized for his speech in a special session of Parliament dedicated to commemorating the late Lee Kuan Yew.

In the middle of his speech, Mr Low questioned whether “PAP one-party rule is the key to Singapore’s fast economic development, strong social cohesion and the unitedness.”

He then pointed out that “many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation building and policy making; and our society has paid the price for it,” and explained: “This is why Mr Lee is also a controversial figure in some people’s eyes.”

(Contrary to reports by AFP, he did not directly call Mr Lee a controversial figure).

Viewers criticised him for making political comments at a time when the nation was still grieving for the loss of their founding father.

Commenting on Facebook, John Amos Tan wrote: “Very disappointed at his speech. Wrong time and wrong topic.”

Mr Low had also pointed out that the PAP’s success in building the nation, while undeniable, has come at a price. He said, “many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation building and policy making; and our society has paid the price for it.”

Viewers criticised Mr Low for trying to score political points during a eulogy and expressed their disappointment at his failure to give Mr Lee enough credit.

“Very sad. The Opposition refuses to acknowledge all the good things that Lee Kuan Yew has done,” said Ibrahim Hassan.

However, some also praised Mr Low for speaking up for Singaporeans, pointing out that parliament should be a place where different perspectives are challenged.

“The parliament is not a memorial service hall. A parliament speech does not have to be a eulogy singing only praises. Kudos to Low Thia Khiang for daring to speak up and provide a balanced perspective. Time to move on from an era of fear of speaking up and challenging the ruling party,” said David Wong.

Almost two thirds of Mr Low’s speech was dedicated to praising Mr Lee’s achievements. Mr Low credited Mr Lee for making Singapore the prosperous and safe nation that it is today.

Mr Low said: “This is the main reason why Singapore can leap from the Third World to the First World within one generation. The success arose not just from Mr Lee’s extraordinary fighting spirit and his tenacity, but also from his sincerity.”

Towards the end of his speech, he credited Mr Lee for Singapore’s social cohesion despite its diverse population.  “Singapore today is united regardless of race, language and religion. This is an achievement that is not possible without Mr Lee,” he said.

At the end of his speech, Mr Low said: “My deepest respect goes to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.”

Singapore’s daily newspaper TODAY misquoted Mr Low as saying: “Mr Lee did what was right, but silencing opposition has risked disconnecting Singaporeans from their own society.” Mr Low did not make this statement.

It has since apologised and corrected the mistake.

Low Thia Khiang is currently the leader of the Workers’ Party (WP).

The WP currently holds 7 out of 86 seats in a PAP-dominated Parliament.

The PAP, People’s Action Party, is Singapore’s ruling party. It has been in power since 1959.

Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister for 31 years from 1959 to 1990. He stepped down thereafter and took up an advisory role in Cabinet.

He left Cabinet in 2011 after the PAP received its lowest share of the total vote, at 60%.

Mr Lee passed away on March 23. He was 91.

His son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has declared a seven-day period of mourning.

The PAP government has also revoked the right to demonstrate and hold protests at Hong Lim Park, the only place where Singaporeans may freely do so.

The Straits Times and TODAY paper have also warned users that during this time of mourning, insensitive remarks will be removed and users may be banned.

This comes amid a series of efforts by the government and the government-linked media to set the tone for remembering Lee Kuan Yew.

Experts have also noted that the PAP has largely succeeded in constructing a dominant narrative which it has used as a tool for nation building.

A flurry of articles commemorating Lee Kuan Yew’s life and legacy have been published, reaffirming that narrative.

The full transcript of Mr Low’s speech can be found here.