SINGAPORE — With just a day to go before the lying in state of the Republic’s founding Prime Minister ends, Singaporeans yesterday (March 27) turned up in full force to pay their last respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Despite repeated advice from the authorities not to join the queue — and to head to the tribute centres spread across the island instead — the crowd continued to grow relentlessly, prompting the authorities to announce at about 11.10pm that it was temporarily suspending the queue until further notice.
By then, the estimated waiting time to enter Parliament House reached more than 10 hours. Barricades were put up to prevent people emerging from City Hall MRT station from crossing the road to get to the Padang.
At about 11.40pm, the crowd continued to linger and they were told by officials that the suspension will be lifted once the situation eases. Just past midnight, the authorities said the crowd was dispersing.
Apologising for the temporary suspension, the State Funeral Organising Committee said in a statement that it sought the public’s understanding that the decision was taken to “protect the safety and well-being of those wishing to pay respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew”.
The committee noted that there has been a sharp increase in the daily number of visitors since the lying in state began on Wednesday.
By 10pm on the first day, some 37,000 people had paid their last respects at Parliament House. The number spiked to almost 148,000 a day later. As of 11pm last night, more than 290,000 people have paid their respects to Mr Lee at the Parliament House.
The lying in state is scheduled to end at 8pm tonight, to allow preparations for the State Funeral Procession and Service tomorrow. With it being a non-working day today, the authorities could be bracing themselves for an even bigger turnout when the queue resumes.
“We would like to accommodate as many as possible in this overwhelming outpouring of respect and love for Mr Lee Kuan Yew. However, to ensure safety of individuals due to the large crowds and to limit the physical discomfort of the long wait, especially for the elderly and young children, the queue line will be temporarily suspended,” the committee said.
“We are appealing for patience and understanding as we work to ease the situation. We will inform the public when the queue is open again.”
Earlier in the day, it was announced that a live video feed of the lying in state was set up, but it did little to quell the desire of Singaporeans seeking to pay their respects in a “meaningful way”, as some of them put it.
The huge crowd prompted at least one national leader to express his concern with public safety and the well-being of those in the queue. Thanking Singaporeans for their patience and understanding in enduring the long wait, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the authorities were concerned for the “health and safety of the people who have to wait for a very long time, particularly those who may be a little older, those with children and so on”.
The estimated waiting time provided by the State Funeral Organising Committee was at eight hours for most parts of the day, but it hit as high as 10 hours before the queue was suspended. At one point, the queue stretched till the Marina Bay Floating Platform.
The situation prompted the Land Transport Authority and the public transport operators to resume round-the-clock MRT and feeder bus services, just a day after they had discontinued the overnight services citing the low demand when these services were introduced on Wednesday, the first day of the lying in state.
As the night wore on, the number of people continued to surge. The ushers were heard asking people to give themselves some breathing space, literally. At 10.30pm, a police officer was heard announcing to the crowd at City Hall MRT station via a loud hailer: “Please go home. The Padang field is full. They are not accepting anymore (visitors).” About 20 minutes later, another officer said: “The Padang is full. Please do not join the queue anymore.” Shortly after, the committee issued a media statement to announce the suspension.
As a result of the overwhelming response, the number of Singapore Armed Forces personnel involved in the State Funeral has doubled from about 2,800, said the State Funeral Organising Committee. A total of about 300 tents and about 1,000 barricades have been set up to manage the queues.
Yesterday, several foreign dignitaries paid their last respects at Parliament House, including Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, as well as former Indonesian Presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Veteran Opposition figure Chiam See Tong was also among the stream of visitors. Speaking to reporters, Mr Chiam said Singapore was “very lucky to have Mr Lee as (its) first Prime Minister”. “I think his contributions ... tremendously outweigh criticism of him,” he added.
Tri-service tribute at funeral procession
Tomorrow, the State Funeral procession will commence at 12.30pm. The 15.4km route to the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre — where the funeral service will be held — will bypass landmarks such as Old Parliament House, City Hall and the Padang, as well as heartland estates including Queenstown and Bukit Merah. Members of the public can line the funeral procession route.
The procession will begin at Parliament House, and the cortege will be led by four Guard-of-Honour contingents from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force. Eight of Mr Lee’s former parliamentary colleagues will send him off from Parliament House, including Mr Chiam and two other former People’s Action Party Members of Parliament — Mr Mahmud Awang, Mr Chan Chee Seng.
The others are Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Senior Minister of State (Finance and Transport) Josephine Teo, Minister of State (National Development and Defence) Maliki Osman, and Nominated MP K Karthikeyan.
During the procession, the army, airforce and navy will each accord a distinct tribute to Mr Lee. There will be a 21-gun salute by four ceremonial 25-pounder howitzers as the cortege moves around the Padang — an honour usually reserved only for sitting heads of state.
When the procession passes in front of the City Hall, the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s Black Knights will be flying a “Missing Man Formation”, where one aircraft will leave the four-aircraft flying formation as an aerial salute to honour Mr Lee. Two vessels from the Republic of Singapore Navy will also be conducting a ceremonial sailpast in the waters off the Marina Barrage. Students and military personnel will line the streets along Parliament Place, St Andrew’s Road, Stamford Road and Esplanade Drive to bid a final farewell to Mr Lee.
For the first time in a state funeral, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Public Warning System siren will be sounded twice islandwide at about 4pm on Sunday to signal the start and end of a minute of silence for Mr Lee. SCDF Public Affairs Department Director A Razak Raheem said: “This rallying call is indeed befitting for members of the public from all walks of life to mark our deepest respect for a remarkable leader, our Founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew.”
The state funeral procession and service will be telecast live on national television and radio, as well as online at www.rememberingleekuanyew.sg
The State Funeral Service will also be shown live at all the 18 community tribute sites, and all community centres. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LAURA PHILOMIN AND JEAN KHOO