8-hour queues in Singapore as thousands wait to bow before Lee Kuan Yew’s coffin
Procession carries former premier’s casket to Parliament House, where Singaporeans from all walks of life queue for hours to say goodbye
Thousands of people queued patiently in Singapore yesterday to pay their last respects to founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, waiting for up to eight hours to bow before his coffin.
At 9am, a hushed silence fell on the streets at the tail-end of the usually bustling shopping district of Orchard Road as Lee’s casket was taken by gun carriage from the Istana, the state residence, to Parliament House. Lee died on Monday at 91, succumbing to severe pneumonia.
When his casket, covered in the red-and-white Singapore flag, arrived at Parliament House, people waiting outside on the footpaths chanted: “Thank you, Mr Lee.”
Lee’s body will lie in state until Saturday. Visiting hours were scheduled to be from 10am to 8pm, but were extended to 24 hours a day as long lines formed.
Family and friends had earlier held at two-day private wake at the Istana. Yesterday was for all Singaporeans. And people of different walks of life – the embodiment of the pledge of “one united people, regardless of race” that Lee had urged his citizens to believe in when Singapore became independent in 1965 – showed up. A Buddhist monk in a saffron robe was spotted in the queue, as was a group of Catholic nuns, clutches of schoolchildren in uniform, and office workers, many in black or white, the traditional colours of mourning in the city-state.
Catholic nun Sister Geraldine Lim queued to pay her respects with her colleagues twice, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. “He’s a fantastic remarkable father to us. We’d been praying for him since he was sick,” she said.
Another nun with her, who did not want to give her name, said she had followed the cortege on foot for more than 1km when it moved from the Istana to Parliament House.
Some were teary-eyed as they inched closer to the coffin.
Office worker Sherman Soh, who had been there for more than three hours, said: “This wait is only for a few hours, but Lee Kuan Yew spent decades [working] for his country.”
At about 6pm, an elderly man in a wheelchair in a special line set up for the elderly and disabled, got a glimpse of the coffin, replete with flowers and orchids. “I respect him like a father,” he explained.
Some people gave up. “I’ll come back tomorrow,” said one man. Along the way, a cafe nearby set up a makeshift stand to offer cups of water to mourners. Others gave out water bottles.
Non-Singaporeans spotted in the queue included office worker Ramesh. The Indian citizen, who has lived in Singapore for 15 years, said: “Today, I got the opportunity to thank him for his hard work. Singapore is a clean country, with not much corruption and crime.
“They treat all people equally here. There is no racism in the office. That’s why I came here.”
Yesterday, Lee’s son and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was at Parliament House at the start of the public mourning and appeared later to greet visitors.
Today, Parliament will hold a special sitting to pay tribute to the elder Lee, who was prime minister from 1959 to 1990. He retired from the cabinet in 2011. A state funeral will be held on Sunday.