Singapore after Lee Kuan Yew – What’s next?

By: Kai Teo

First of all, Buddha Mag would like to offer our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew – the man who turned Singapore from a godforsaken British outpost into the economic superpower it is today.

The people of Singapore have loads to be thankful about. Our standard of living, the safety of the nation, the insane cleanliness, and the list goes on. Yes. This man is pretty damn super. His every decision has the power to affect the lives of 6 million inhabitants in the little red dot, for better or worse.

And in the darkest hour last night, death finally caught up with our Superman. The nation is left mourning this morning, and all our Facebook feeds are flooded with beautiful eulogies and heartfelt messages of love and gratitude.

I was disgusted. Not at how much Singaporeans praised our founding father to the skies, but at the hypocrisy of the online community. For the past few years, countless Singaporeans have ridiculed the authoritarian government, made tasteless satires of this man, calling him all kinds of names, and even accusing him of being a dictator.

But today, the entire country crumbled to its knees and worshipped his legacy – a model of economic progress and ethnic equality that we have taken for granted. For one day, we stopped complaining. 

Do we really need to lose someone before we start cherishing him?


We always knew what he has done for us. But instead of showing gratitude, we’ve hidden behind our anti-government sentiments and trolled the Internet, talked shit about the public transport system, and threatened to vote for the opposition parties. We have been an angry people, and we didn’t hesitate spewing our hate online.

But today, Singapore’s netizens showed more love than hate. It’s rare, and it’s beautiful.

How long would this last before the next fare hike comes along and then we go back to the hate? I wouldn’t dare speculate.

Mr Lee’s authoritarian style of running the country worked really well before the era of free information, when our only source of information was the local media, which was tightly controlled and censored. When the 56k modem came along, we realised that things were done very differently in other parts of the world. We found out that democracy was practised more freely in other countries. We figured what was freedom of speech and press, and how liberating it could be. That was when we turned against our own system.

We became a people consumed by hate and dissatisfaction. Everyday while we’re commuting to school or work, we hate the government for us not being able to get a seat on the bus. When some member of parliament says something that we don’t like to hear, we hate the government for not listening to our needs and wants. When the CPF minimum sum goes up, we hate the government for robbing us. 

But has our hate, our satires, and our comic strips changed anything?

Mr Lee at Singapore's National Day Parade.

Mr Lee at Singapore's National Day Parade.

Well, the policies didn’t change for sure. The complaining only made us more disgruntled, more miserable, and everyday, we felt more trapped in a system that we couldn’t do anything about.

When we tried anything too brazen, we were brought down by the law. So we stuck to memes, trolling, and writing insensitive Facebook comments. It was our only avenue to vent our frustrations, and we went all out. It feels like our young population are behaving like defiant teenagers who choose to pick up smoking just because Mama told us not to.

So when the news of Lee Kuan Yew’s passing reached me, I was eager to know how Singapore will decide to move on from here.

Is the authoritarian style of governance going to loosen up? Is the country (both government and people) going to stop chasing the empty pipe dreams of everlasting economic progress and focus on humanity instead? Will we finally become a true leader of the future, not just having the biggest Ferris wheel in the world, but having the most forward-thinking citizens?

There is no way of stopping global information from getting to our citizens today. We know that human rights are highly valued in many nations in the world, we know that gays can now get married in many places, we even know that marijuana cures cancer and has been legalised in many other parts of the globe. How long more is the government going to insist that such progress towards a better world is not suitable for our more-conservative Asian values?

No, our people will not go on riots and strikes and overthrow the government. We’re not miserable enough. Many of us are satisfied with our ok-paying 9–5 jobs, HDB flats, occasional Bangkok trips, and after-work beers at Boat Quay. But we’re always complaining. Because we know that we could have a little more.

But Singaporeans don’t want a revolution. And to be honest, we don’t really dare to vote in an opposition party. Their lack of experience and financial resources scare the shit out of us. Their arguments at the rallies often focus on only one or two issues and tell us nothing about how the big picture would be like. Sure, you’d lower CPF minimum sum and withdrawal age and all that, but what are you gonna do with the country’s increasing dissent from the immigration policy, while balancing that with a continued economic stability? We would rather stick to what we know.


We feel safe with the way things are now. We’re not happy. But we feel secure. 

While there might be many hoping for change, there would be more wishing that things would stay the same.   

But we all know that today’s generation can no longer be ruled by an authoritarian state. We want civil servants that serve the people. Not elect people to govern us. Lee Kuan Yew’s way of doing things has built the country into a super nation that the world highly respects, but it has long started to show its own set of flaws.

We as a people want change. But we don’t know how to. And we don’t really dare to say it. As a people, many of us are still frogs in the well when it comes to homosexual rights, gender equality, and other forms of governance such as democratic socialism.

We as a people need to grow. We need to open ourselves up to the true values of humanity – love, unity, respect, freedom. We need to break away from the fetters of senseless traditions while embracing the ones that are truly progressive for the human mind and spirit. We need to start building a society that truly cares. And we need help from all the citizens, which include our civil servants.

Mr Lee, we thank you for bringing our country up into the global spotlight, we thank you for making us proud to be Singaporeans, and we thank you for how many of us have comfortable homes to live in today. We mourn your passing.

But we would also like to use this chance to bring your legacy to the next level and usher in the new generation of citizens – one that works hand-in-hand with the government instead of being afraid of it, one that respects traditions but is not tied down by it, and one that can finally understand that one man’s freedom only ends where another’s freedom begins.

Let us all use this chance to reflect on ourselves as human beings. Let us stop hating and stop governing, and find out ways to really work together to implement policies that benefit all people of the country and bring us into a brighter future of humanity.

Mr Lee, when you were in power, you made brave decisions despite them being unpopular. And today, we need the same bravery in our people to make forward-looking decisions for a new era of democracy, justice, equality, happiness, and progress for our nation. Rest in peace, now let the next generation make you proud.  

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