Lee Kuan Yew is not an idol for Myanmar

Nay Tun Naing
Lee Kuan Yew meets Indonesian dictator Suharto in Jakata during February in 2006. (Photo-AFP)


The former Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew passed away on March 23 morning. Even though it was the end of the long life of a normal person, it was a great loss for Singapore.

Lee shaped the harbor city into a rich country. The Singaporeans were sadden by his departure.

Most of the Myanmar Facebook users shared the condolence.

It may be seem ordinary for scores of Myanmar youth migrants were working in Singapore.

However, it raises a worry if the Myanmar people consider him an idol and were saddened by his death.


Lee Kuan Yew was a dictator. In truth, he was the father of democratators—democratically elected dictators. Not only Lee, his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad was also a democratator gaining the power who improved their countries and championed “Asian Values”.

Lee’s actions were those of dictators. As Thailand suppresses criticisms against the King, Singapore suppresses criticisms against Lee Kuan Yew government.

At the same time, the policy of prioritizing the government was used and the opposition politicians were oppressed through unfair fines. The freedom of press was also relatively low compared to the economic growth.

He managed to hide the true face of authoritarian government via development. However, the civil freedom was limited.

Singapore’s development was achieved through economic improvement. Even though Singapore developed thanks to Lee’s economic policies, we cannot forgot that the policies also led to countless exile politicians.

Lee himself admitted the fact. He said it during an interview with American journalists.

He said, “I can’t say all my actions were right. But I did with a good intention. Sometimes, I imprisoned (some people) without proper trial”.


In truth, Singapore is only a city-state. Just like a Roman or Greece city-state. A city-state, in fact, is a city. The development of a city does not has a permanent effect for the whole country.

Lee founded a city-state with his definition of Asian values. Asian values are derived from Confucianism and the first loyalty is to the family. The second is the nation.

Confucius himself disapproved blind loyalty and both of the values can prove problematic.

Lee chose the Asian values for Singapore. He did not calculate divergence of the individuals. Even though it was fruitful for a small city-state like Singapore, its long-term effect is to be considered.

Even now, there are challenges on how Singapore will manage post-Lee Kuan Yew era.

Although there are physical improvements, the psychological declines are a challenge for Singapore. Lee’s Asian values become a joke.


Myanmar does not need a leader like Lee Kuan Yew.

What Myanmar really needs is a resilient democracy. Not a democratatorship like Singapore. Myanmar is different from Singapore or Malaysia.

Singapore’s development is purely economic. Myanmar cannot achieve development only through economy. Myanmar has a long history. There is lots of divergence based on Buddhism. While Singapore has considerably low population, Myanmar has different ethnicities and is located between overpopulated China and India.

Neither Singapore nor Malaysia is icon for Myanmar. The closest one would probably be India.

Moreover, Lee Kuan Yew cannot be compared to independence architect Gen. Aung San nor democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi. Myanmar’s political figures are much more similar to Gandhi, Nehru, or Indira Gandhi from India.


What is more, Lee’s sentiments toward Myanmar cannot be considered as honest. His policies and actions toward Myanmar are usually for the interest of his own nation. He helped prolonged dictatorship in Myanmar.

In 1996, Lee mentioned that only the (Myanmar) military can uphold international stability and peace and that questionable situations would rise if Aung San Suu Kyi gain administrative power. He saw Aung San Suu Kyi as an obstacle for Myanmar.

He indoctrinated the idea to his successor, Goh Chok Tong.

Successive Singaporean governments ignored Myanmar’s democracy and human right.

Instead, they brokered arm deals, making money by bypassing economic sanctions and letting the cronies and the junta open bank accounts for money laundering.

Still, the leaked Intel from wikileak showed Lee’s strong criticisms toward Myanmar military juntas. He called them “stupid” and “dumb”. He even went as far as dealing with the juntas was like “talking to the dead”.

The criticisms were made in 2007 but were intended for the good of Myanmar people. The uttered the words simply because the junta damaged his interests.

He recommended Khin Nyunt to follow Suharto’s methods of changing from military government to civilian government. Myanmar military leaders did not accept the idea at first because Suharto was ousted. In 2004, Khin Nyunt was also ousted. At that time, Singaporean hotels investing in Myanmar following Lee’s advice lost millions of dollars.


Lee Kuan Yew’s son Lee Hsien Loong slightly changed the policies toward Myanmar under his administration. He initiated dealings with Aung San Suu Kyi while maintaining a good relationship with military leaders.

Lee Hsien Loong commented in 2013 that Myanmar will get a qualified leader if Aung San Suu Kyi is elected in upcoming 2015 elections.

Nevertheless, it was not for the good of the public of Myanmar. It was an attempt to defend the interests of Singaporeans.

Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Malaysis’a Mahathir are not good friends to Myanmar public.

There are numerous questions on the intentions of Singapore in reaping Myanmar’s educated and make them work for the interest of Singapore. What is sure is Lee is not an idol for Myanmar even if he is for Singapore.

Likewise, what Myanmar needs is not a democratator as in Singapore. Myanmar needs a strong democratic system.