The Chamber of the Old Parliament House was where the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew delivered some of his most fiery speeches, and where some of the country’s landmark laws were passed.
Yesterday, past and present parliamentarians filled the historic hall of the building, now called The Arts House, to pay tribute to Singapore’s founding Prime Minister on the first anniversary of his death.
They included Old Guard leaders Ong Pang Boon and Jek Yuen Thong, current Cabinet ministers, Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang, and former MP and presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock.
A spray of yellow hybrid orchids named Aranda Lee Kuan Yew was aptly placed on the seat Mr Lee had occupied – a bittersweet reminder of his long years building up Singapore.
Leader of the House Grace Fu, in her opening address at the remembrance ceremony, said the history of Parliament would be incomplete without a mention of the late Mr Lee, the country’s first Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990.
“His abiding vision of Singapore as a multiracial nation ensured that the protection of minority rights and representation were enshrined in our Constitution,” said Ms Fu, who is the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth.
“Mr Lee’s personal leadership helped set the tone and shaped the Parliament that we know today.”
Mr Lee was 31 years old when he won the seat of Tanjong Pagar in Singapore’s Legislative Assembly election in 1955. He was the constituency’s MP until he died last year at age 91.
Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, former Speaker of Parliament and former Cabinet minister, became emotional as he recounted his memories of Mr Lee.
Mr Abdullah, who entered Parliament after the 1984 General Election, recalled that he was both proud to be speaking in Parliament, and nervous as he worried about what Mr Lee thought of him.
“When I spoke, I was looking at the ceiling, at the Speaker… to avoid (Mr Lee’s) gaze.”
He said that at an earlier lunch with Mr Lee, the late prime minister could sense he was intimidated by his presence.
“He was extra calm and gentle… He wanted me to be myself, do what was right”, he added, and “not pander to what others thought of, or wanted me, to be”.
Former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, a former Leader of the House who was first elected to Parliament in 1984, said Mr Lee was always frank and open with his views. Mr Lee also paid attention to things big and small, he added.
“In one of the lunches I had with him as a new minister in the 1980s, he explained that ministers should drive so they could see the road condition for themselves.”
When plans were made to build a new Parliament building as the old one was no longer adequate, Mr Lee reminded Mr Wong, who was then the Leader of the House, not to build a grandiose monument.
“Taking this sound advice, we built a new functional Parliament House in proportion to our prudent approach to public spending,” said Mr Wong.
Earlier at The Arts House, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong opened a permanent exhibition titled The Parliament In Singapore History.
It traces chronologically the history and milestones of the building, and of Singapore’s Parliament.
The exhibition will be opened to the public from today until May 29.
This article was first published on March 24, 2016.
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