AGAINST his doctors’ advice, Singapore’s longest-serving parliamentarian returned to the House yesterday on the occasion of his 90th birthday.
In the Members’ Room after the sitting, PAP, opposition and Nominated MPs sang Happy Birthday to founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew in English, Mandarin and Malay.
He blew out the candle on a cake shaped like the number “90”, and then told them his wish: that Singapore’s Government continues to be clean and honest, and they all do their part to uphold the highest of moral standards.
It was 50 years of clean and honest government that made this transformation possible, and he told MPs that all present had the responsibility to keep it this way.
While frail, Mr Lee spoke with his characteristic conviction at the simple celebration that lasted a mere half hour.
He had been advised by doctors not to attend, and there were reports that he planned to mark his birthday at home with his family.
But a sense of anticipation built during yesterday’s parliamentary sitting as news spread that he would join them.
After parliamentary business was concluded, Leader of the House Ng Eng Hen delivered a tribute that was capped with a standing ovation from the House.
“Mr Lee, with his singular mission and dedication, steered this country to independence and laid the very foundations that transformed Singapore into a modern and thriving metropolis,” he said.
“He led and forged a nation which today is admired worldwide for its prosperity, harmony and stability. In lifting an entire nation and improving countless lives of Singaporeans of several generations, Mr Lee Kuan Yew has left a lasting legacy to all of us and achieved greatness.”
Birthday wishes and gifts poured in from elsewhere.
The Australian Embassy sent him a set of autographed photographs from all the Australian prime ministers he has met over the years, from Mr Gough Whitlam to Mr Kevin Rudd.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Russian President Vladimir Putin sent letters of congratulations.
Chinese President Xi Jinping conveyed his wishes verbally when he met Prime Minster Lee Hsien Loong in Beijing last month.
On his Facebook page, President Tony Tan Keng Yam wrote that “generations of Singaporeans have benefited from Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s lifelong contributions towards creating the peaceful and prosperous Singapore that we know today. Mr Lee reminds us that Singapore is a constant work-in-progress as he continues to work tirelessly to secure our future, even after more than five decades of public service”.
MPs yesterday said that they were moved by the simple parliamentary celebration.
“He is a man clearly befitting of much grander celebrations on his milestone birthday, but he chose to celebrate in a simple gathering among colleagues in Parliament,” said Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).
“There was a certain sadness that he is not as strong as before,” said Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC). “But we are all celebrating that he has reached 90.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he and his family were deeply touched by the many birthday greetings for his father.
He wrote on Facebook late last night: “We deeply appreciated the gesture by MPs to mark his 90th birthday in Parliament this afternoon. Thank you all for your kind words and good wishes.”
By Robin Chan Political Correspondent
The Straits Times, Published on Sep 17, 2013