By successfully addressing the unexpected queue problems, post-LKY S’pore passed a tiny test
Come on guys, give yourselves a small pat on the back.
In the hours and days after Lee Kuan Yew’s passing, numerous editorials, commentaries and tributes were paid to Lee by statesmen and people of high status.
But none of the efforts to define the meaning of his life said it better than the solemn and quiet gestures of thousands of people queuing up to pay their last respects to the former Prime Minister.
As of 10pm on the first day of Lee lying in state, 37,022 visitors, 36,200 condolence cards have been issued at Parliament House, according to the Ministry of Communications and Information.
What is Lee’s meaning to his people?
Allow the Prime Minister and Lee’s elder son to sum it up:
“I think the key thing is that with him (Lee Kuan Yew), you will not lose, you will be all right and you will come through”
And Singapore, post-LKY, has come through in a small way today.
1. Nimbleness & adaptability of the public service
Satirical website New Nation hit the nail on the head, when it joked about the government being taken aback by the outpouring of affection for Lee, “after years of abuse by online sites”.
With 10 hours per day initially planned for four days of the state funeral, the government has overestimated the pragmatism of Singaporeans to get on with their daily lives.
One can sense the anxiety of the first government statement today as they attempted to adapt to the long queues.
“There is no need to rush down immediately”, they said in the Remembering Lee Kuan Yew FB page.
When Singaporeans remained undeterred and the numbers continued to pile up, the government made a decision four hours later to extend the opening hours to 24 hours daily.
It provided members of the public with information about an estimated waiting time. It also mobilised ground personnel to distribute water to those waiting in line.
The public transport operators followed the lead by extending all train services and 41 feeder bus services on the first night. Mainstream media helped to alert the public with updates of the waiting time.
While praising the efficiency of Singapore, a Reuters piece on Yahoo News cannot help but needle Singapore with lines like how the queue was “carefully managed”, and how the situation “feels a little choreographed”.
Maybe the community centres tribute sites were planned in advance.
But to criticise how smoothly the organisers manage a nearly 40,000 crowd situation? I will take my well-organised Singapore public service anytime.
2. Politicians with empathy
There will never be a Lee Kuan Yew again, for Lee was a grand artist in the art of politics.
But surely we can do with empathetic and less technocratic leaders and rely on them to lead a “kinder and gentler” Singapore that is also “open and inclusive”.
Despite his personal loss, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remained stoic and took time to greet the visitors who have been queuing for hours.
Both Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen and Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim also visited the crowds in the afternoon.
PM Lee has now become the comforter-in-chief as he wills himself to rally his grieving nation.
PM Lee ended his evening by telling his own residents at Ang Mo Kio GRC to “never say die, and we will get there”.
I’m not sure about using the word “die”, but “we will get there” if you lead us.
3. The warmth and generosity of fellow Singaporeans
Free iced water, canned drinks, slices of pizzas, offer of seats and fans.
Those were the acts of kindness offered by eateries along the way and good Samaritans when Singaporeans queued up.
The “Kampung spirit” that politicians wanted to resuscitate and revive?
No, its time has passed.
However, we have this “Singapore spirit” that unites us in times of crisis (eg SARS). The caveat is that we only do so “when the button is pressed” (National servicemen will get the joke).
Thank you New Alam Shah Restaurant, Japanese restaurant Takumen, Timbre restaurant, Song Fa Bak Ku Teh, Fullerton Hotel, National Taxi Association and Changi Christian Fellowship Church for your generosity today.
Top photo from Remembering Lee Kuan Yew Facebook page.