Update, March 27, 2015, 3.30pm: This article has been amended. It was previously written in this piece that The Straits Times did not misinterpret Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang's Mandarin speech. It turns out ST committed the same error as Today but deleted the misinterpretation of Low's words without flagging it. Today, however, apologised for the error.
Today newspaper has issued an apology for truncating and misrepresenting Workers’ Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang’s Mandarin tribute to Lee Kuan Yew in Parliament.
In Today's original Facebook post, they took snippets of what Low said out of its original context and misinterpreted him to have said:
The PAP's one-party rule was not the reason for transformation, he said. "Many Singaporeans were sacrificed."
"Mr Lee did what was right, but silencing opposition has risked disconnecting Singaporeans from their own society."
However, Today's version of Low’s speech in English does not match the video recording or transcript of his speech.
The misrepresentation was made worse as it suggested that Low was using his tribute in parliament to explicitly criticise Lee's legacy, when what Low was driving at was acknowledging the challenges Lee faced, while reflecting on the way forward for politics in Singapore and suggesting that the PAP’s one-party rule had its costs.
This was what Low said:
“This is the main reason why Singapore can leap from the Third World to the First World within one generation. The success arose not just from Mr Lee’s extraordinary fighting spirit and his tenacity, but also from his sincerity."
“However, I don’t think that the PAP one-party rule is the key to Singapore’s fast economic development, strong social cohesion and the unitedness. This is because many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation building and policy making; and our society has paid the price for it.”
What was not reported by Today was that Low had also acknowledged Lee’s achievements in creating a multiracial society and bringing about economic prosperity to Singapore.
Towards the end of his speech, Low said:
“Singapore today is united regardless of race, language and religion. This is an achievement that is not possible without Mr Lee."
“My deepest respect goes to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.”
However, Low's tribute could still be considered the harshest among the 11 speakers who paid tribute to Lee Kuan Yew during the special parliamentary sitting on March 26.
News wire AFP reported that "Singapore opposition chief draws flak for hitting Lee's rule", summing up the online sentiments to Low's perceived polarising speech in the midst of national mourning for Lee Kuan Yew.
You can check out the video for yourself. Low starts speaking from 40min 20sec:
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This is Low's full speech transcript:
"The founding Prime Minister was an extraordinary political leader born out of (a) turbulent and uncertain era. Singapore at that time was a small island and an unnoticeable city. Economically, it relied on entrepreneurial trade. Militarily, it relied on the protection from the British troops.
When Singapore was forced to leave Malaysia, I don’t think many would have believed that Singapore could survive on its own, not to mention to have imagined our achievements today. We all know that during that period the country was to be rebuilt from scratch, and there was high unemployment rate. Our neighbours were not particular friendly either.
To survive we must have a global vision, attract foreign investments and become part of the international market. However this could put Singapore in danger of becoming big countries' vessel and the pawn in the international political arena which can be sacrificed at any time.
These internal and external challenges were a great test for Mr Lee. With outstanding wisdom and courage, he traversed among the big countries and promoted Singapore's values to them and the potential benefits that Singapore can provide. He had won the respect of the leaders of these major powers. Without his efforts, our economy could not have been successful and Singapore could not have achieved its status and a living space today.
For a small country to survive, besides a strong military defence, the political space is the key to maintain national interest and survival. In Singapore, fighting for independence and continuous political struggle awakened Singaporeans' political awareness. In the process of political movements and fighting together, consensus was forged between the people and Mr Lee, as well as a common direction and mutual trust. This is the main reason why Singapore can leap from third world to first world within one generation.
The success arose not just from Mr Lee's extraordinary fighting spirit and tenacity, but also from his sincerity. However, I don’t think that the PAP one party rule is the key to Singapore's fast economic development, strong social cohesion and unitedness. This is because many Singaporeans were sacrificed during the process of nation building and policy making and our society has paid a price for it.
This is why Mr Lee is also a controversial figure in some people’s eyes. He crafted policies based on the situation then, and made rational judgements out of the interests of the country, however the choice and implementation of policies is not just a rational decision, it should also take into consideration human nature and the sensitivity. Only by doing so, can we avoid hurting people's feelings, and creating resentment. If accumulated over a long time the resentment could become a potential political crisis and affect people’s unity and their identification with the country.
From my dealings with Mr Lee in Parliament, I don’t think he was an autocrat who didn’t listen. If you have strong reasons and tight arguments, and can win him over in a thought through policy debate, I think he will consider your views.
I also know he was someone who hated empty-talking because he thought time was precious and there were too many things to do.
Singapore is a multiracial society and every race has its own language and culture. In the early years of nation building everyone hoped to maintain their advantages in this new country. How to manage the various conflicts of interest, unite people and build a national identity was a tremendous challenge.
Countries with similar situations as we were in the early days are still facing the same social conflict brought about by multiracialism, multiculturalism. Some even face the danger of disintegration. Singapore today is united regardless of race, language and religion. This is an achievement that is not possible without Mr Lee. My deepest respect goes to founding prime minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew."
Update, March 27, 2015, 3.15pm:
It turns out The Straits Times had deleted one of their tweets that is similar to Today's Facebook post that misinterpreted Low's Mandarin speech but did not flag the tweet's removal.
Check out the location of the missing tweet:
Leader of the Opposition Low Thia Khiang rises to speak, in Mandarin. He begins by calling Mr Lee an extraordinary political leader— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
In its founding years, Singapore was in danger of becoming a pawn of big power geopolitical games, says Mr Low— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
"With outstanding wisdom and courage," Mr Lee traversed big countries on either side and charted a path for Singapore— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
In Singapore, fighting for independence awakened Singapore's pol awareness. In the process, consensus was forged between pple & Mr Lee— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
A common direction & mutual trust was forged between Mr Lee and the people, says Mr Low. This was reason for Sg's leap from 3rd world to 1st— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
But the PAP's one-party rule was not the reason for transformation, says Mr Low. Many Singaporeans were sacrificed.— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
[Missing tweet should have been here]
The Mr Lee he knew was not an autocrat, says Mr Low. But some of his decisions were controversial.— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
Singapore's racial and religious harmony is a great achievement of Mr Lee's, says Mr Low.— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
Other countries have disintegrated over ethnic differences but not Singapore. Mr Low ends: "I have deep respect for Mr Lee." #leekuanyew— The Straits Times (@STcom) March 26, 2015
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