Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore and one of the most important leaders of the 20th century, has died aged 91, exactly half a century after he helped the small Asian state to gain its independence in 1965.
Mr Lee was Singapore’s first prime minister, and ruled the nation for a period of three decades, starting in 1959. He managed to transform the island from a declining British colony to one of the most extraordinary success stories of the 20th century.
He ruled the country with an authoritarian hand, but also developed huge social engineering plans, which consolidated Singapore’s status as the most business-friendly location in the region. His measures eliminated corruption and built a politically neutral jurisdiction based on the British legal system.
Singapore was transformed from an economically deprived port city of the late 1950s increasing the GDP per capita from $550 to $55,000, according to the World Bank.
Mr Lee’s sharp advice was sought by many US presidents from Lyndon B Johnson to Barack Obama, but also by European leaders like the the former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt.
The founding father of Singapore saw the potential of China under Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader who turned Beijing into the economic juggernaut that is today.
Mr Lee will be remembered as the architect of modern Singapore, an island with a population of a small Chinese city.
Foreign investment found an easy way into Singapore, the country managing to attract many important multinationals such as Google, Procter & Gamble and Caterpillar.
Singapore is the largest ship-bunkering port in the world. Also, the small city-state is the largest foreign exchange trading center in Asia.
Mr Lee was often accused by rights groups of narrowing civil liberties in Singapore’s multiracial society. The banning of the sale of chewing gum except for medicinal purposes, was one of these decisions, but he was still regarded as a moral lighthouse in the country.
The safety and prosperity of the majority of Singaporeans was Mr Lee’s only guide in politics. Mr Lee’s death comes as Singapore facing a crisis, with slower economic growth, challenges to the current government, led by Mr Lee’s eldest son Lee Hsien Loong, and a rapidly ageing population.
The younger Mr Lee’s government has recently started generous spending packages in order to increase social equality.
Image Source: Mothership