Lee Kuan Yew, who dominated Singapore politics for more than half a century and transformed the former British outpost into a global trade and finance powerhouse
, setting a Template for emerging markets around the world, died Monday. He was 91 years old.
Mr. Lee’s core principles - including a focus on clean and efficient government, business-friendly economic policies, and social order—helped attract massive investment and many of the world’s biggest companies to Singapore
after he became prime minister in 1959, catapulting living standards to First World status from Third World levels in hardly more than a generation.
Leaders of other countries rushed to copy his model
, with some success, though they often fell short because they didn’t rein in corruption or were governing states too big to manage as easily.
Along the way, Singapore, now one of the world’s richest nations, drew criticism from rights groups that said it attained its developed-world living standards without adopting full Western-style democracy or some of the freedoms taken for granted in Western societies.
“Lee Kuan Yew’s tremendous role in Singapore’s economic development is beyond doubt, but it also came at a significant cost for human rights
,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch. “Today’s restricted freedom of expression, self-censorship and stunted multiparty democracy is also a part of his legacy that Singapore now needs to overcome.”
Mr. Lee argued that Western-style democracy just wasn’t suitable for all nations, and that young countries needed stability and economic development before they could afford the luxuries of democracy and personal liberty in a Western mold.