We all hate politicians don't we? I have never seen a friend, acquaintance or a family member tell me "they love politicians."
And yet there are a few politicians I like and admire. Also I feel being a politician is not easy. You have to have a thick skin and have the ability to take it on the chin.
There's one politician who I admired the most. His name was Lee Kuan Yew. He was the Prime Minister of Singapore for more than 30 years. Though he was often criticized by some intellectuals as a 'political autocrat', what he achieved for Singapore is beyond remarkable.
Let's get into some history - In the mid 60s Singapore was still part of larger Malaysian nation after the British left them in that state. They were a poor nation largely dependent on resources and help from the big brother Malaysia. Malaysia was largely a Muslim nation while Singapore was mostly Chinese and Buddhists.
Singapore got separated from Malaysia just two years after the union was formed and Lee Kuan Yew who was the leader of his political party became the de facto "founder" of Singapore.
But it wasn't easy. This tiny nation had no military of its own, it did not have natural resources it could build its economy on and even for - as basic a need as - drinking water it depended on big brother Malaysia who did not want to do anything with it.
During such a period Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) took over and lead from the front.
Great Britain remained a notional administrative power in Singapore till 1971 but for all practical purposes Singapore was on its own by end of 1965. This was a period of extreme vulnerability for Singapore as they could have been easily gobbled up by a stronger and bigger nation. Singapore's economy was in a terrible shape and there was practically no governance. It was a swamp.
LKY was educated in Cambridge, England and had learnt Economics and Law and he also was a war veteran. He decided right off the bat that Singapore needed to have minimum dependency on any nation. More importantly he knew how crucial having a strong legal framework will help the nation in the long run.
By 1975 he started to heavily invest in infrastructure projects to make Singapore a world class destination for multi national companies. This added with honest and non-corrupt bureaucracy that he built ensured the world's business community found its favorite destination.
Taking advantage of strict laws and brand new infrastructure backed by LKY's no-compromise attitude on corruption, Singapore started seeing huge investments and gains in wealth creation. Singapore was less than 500$ per capita income a year economy in 1970s. It jumped to 50,000$ per capita income in 2000s. This was multi-fold, multi percentage jump in a single generation. That has never happened before and may not happen in the future..
Talking of strict laws, one incident that I read, stands out for me particularly..and that I am quoting here..
An American teenager was found guilty of vandalism in Singapore. According to the country's law he was subjected to "a punishment of four lashes on the bare buttocks with a rattan cane"
Although Bill Clinton, who was the US President then, pleaded with LKY's government to let go of him easy, Singapore still carried out this punishment. But they said as a respect for Clinton's request, they hit him "4 times instead of 6 times; 2 less than normal"
The point of telling this story is simple - In Singapore there's a no-compromise policy on breaking laws. And as harmless as vandalism may sound to normal people, for Singapore it's against the law and it won't matter if you are a citizen of the most powerful country of the world, you will face the consequences. The symbolism and message it sends out to the rest of the world is very powerful. And that symbolism was driven completely by LKY's leadership.
When laws are tough and they are implemented in letter and spirit, a sense of discipline and nationalism comes automatically to the citizens. And when the world sees that, it gets confidence in the working of the country's system and they invest in the nation with assurance and confidence.
And that's exactly what happened with Singapore. LKY knew the importance of perception. He knew if corruption is not arrested at the highest level, the ordinary citizens will soon lose hope and there's no way economy can grow without hope. LKY invested in the right things at the right time. He understood and managed perception well. More importantly he was non-corrupt and a nationalist at heart.
LKY was a brilliant politician. He was brave and courageous. And his biggest achievement will always be taking a small, tiny and poor nation from a position of weakness to an economic super power.
Lee Kuan Yew served as Singapore's Prime Minister from 1959 until 1990. He died in 2015 at a ripe age of 93 years after taking his country through to great heights of progress and prosperity.
Thank you LKY!