Published:  12:13 AM, 13 January 2020

Evocative messages of Lee Kuan Yew's maxims

Evocative messages of Lee Kuan Yew's maxims Lee Kuan Yew, Founding Father of Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew(16 September 1923 - 23 March 2015), commonly referred to by his initials LKY and sometimes referred to in his earlier years as Harry Lee, was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, governing for three decades. Lee is recognized as the nation's founding father, with the country described as transitioning from a third world country to first world country in a single generation under his leadership.

After attending the London School of Economics, Lee graduated from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, with double starred-first-class honours in law. He became a barrister of the Middle Temple in 1950 and practiced law until 1959. Lee co-founded the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954 and was its first secretary-general until 1992, leading the party to eight consecutive victories.

After Lee chose to step down as Prime Minister in 1990, he served as Senior Minister under his successor Goh Chok Tong until 2004, then as Minister Mentor (an advisory post) until 2011, under his own son Lee Hsien Loong. In total, Lee held successive ministerial positions for 56 years. He continued to serve his Tanjong Pagar constituency for nearly 60 years as a member of parliament until his death in 2015. From 1991, he helmed the five-member Tanjong Pagar Group Representation Constituency and remained unopposed for a record five elections.

Lee campaigned for Britain to relinquish its colonial rule, and eventually attained through a national referendum a merger with other former British territories to form Malaysia in 1963.

However, racial strife and ideological differences led to its separation to become a sovereign city-state two years later. With overwhelming parliamentary control at every election, Lee oversaw Singapore's transformation from a British crown colony with a natural deep harbour to a developed country with a high-income economy.

In the process, he forged a system of meritocratic, highly effective and non-corrupt government and civil service. Many of his policies are now taught at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Lee eschewed populist policies in favour of long-term social and economic planning.

He championed meritocracy and multiracialism as governing principles, making English the common language to integrate its immigrant society and to facilitate trade with the West, whilst mandating bilingualism in schools to preserve students' mother tongue and ethnic identity.

Lee's rule was criticized for curtailing civil liberties (media control and limits on public protests) and bringing libel suits against political opponents. He argued that such disciplinary measures were necessary for political stability which, together with the rule of law, were essential for economic progress, once saying: "Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters.

If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way you can govern a Chinese society". He died of pneumonia on 23 March 2015, aged 91. In a week of national mourning, 1.7 million residents and guests paid tribute to him at his lying-in-state at Parliament House and at community tribute sites around the island.

Some of the evocative maxims by Lee Kuan Yew are stated below.

a)    "When people say, 'Oh, ask the people!', it's childish rubbish ... They say people can think for themselves? Do you honestly believe that the chap who can't pass primary six knows the consequences of his choice when he answers a questions viscerally on language, culture and religion? ... we would starve, we would have race riots. We would disintegrate."

b)    "You're talking about Rwanda or Bangladesh, or Cambodia, or the Philippines. They've got democracy ... But have you got a civilized life to lead? People want economic development first and foremost. The leaders may talk something else. You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools."

c)    "I have never been over concerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I'm meaningless."

d)    "Because my posture, my response has been such that nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul-de-sac ... If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way you can govern a Chinese society."

e)    "I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn't be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn't be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters - who your neighbor is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think."

f)    "I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came. And if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration - friends, inter-marriages and so on - than Muslims ... I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam."

g)    "We allow American journalists in Singapore in order to report Singapore to their fellow countrymen ... But we cannot allow them to assume a role in Singapore that the American media play in America. That of invigilator, adversary and inquisitor of the administration."
 

The writer is an online journalist
in The Asian Age

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