Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore’s first prime minister in 1959, at the age of thirty-five and quickly developed Singapore’s economy through the aggressive invitation of foreign Multinational Corporations by avoiding economic protectionism and creating a business-friendly environment in order to concentrate on the immediate task of job creation for the ordinary citizens. In November 1990, he resigned the office to assume the advisory post of Senior Minister in the Singapore Cabinet and in 2004, took on the title of the “emeritus” role of Minister Mentor when his successor as Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟)became Senior Minister after Goh resigned the premiership.
On Muslims in Singapore (1): “No, I’m not saying that. I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.The generation that worked with me – Othman Wok, Rahim Ishak – that was before the wave came sweeping back, sweeping them; that generation integrated well. We drank beer, we went canvassing, we went electioneering, we ate together. Now they say, “Are the plates clean?” I said, “You know, same washing machine.” Halal, non-halal and so on, I mean, they are all divisive. They are distinguishing me from you: “I’m a believer, you are not.” That’s that. Nobody doubts the hygiene. It’s got nothing to do with hygiene, it’s got to do with the religious conviction that this is not something you do.”
“In those days, you didn’t have a school tuckshop, so you bought two cents of nasi lemak and you ate it. And there was a kway teow man and so on. But now, you go to schools with Malay and Chinese, there’s a halal and non-halal segment and so too, the universities. And they tend to sit separately, not to be contaminated. All that becomes a social divide. Now I’m not saying right or wrong, I’m saying that’s the demands of the religion but the consequences are a veil across and I think it was designed to be so. Islam is exclusive.” Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going
LKY later concedes that this view of his was outdated, see quote #91.
On Muslims in Singapore (2): “We could not have held the society together if we had not made adjustments to the system that gives the Malays, although they are not as hardworking and capable as the other races, a fair share of the cake”. Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew
On the late JB Jeyaretnam: “Put it this way. As long as Jeyaretnam [Workers’ Party leader] stands for what he stands for — a thoroughly destructive force for me — we will knock him. There are two ways of playing this. One, a you attack the policies; two, you attack the system. Jeyaretnam was attacking the system, he brought the Chief Justice into it. If I want to fix you, do I need the Chief Justice to fix you? Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac. That’s the way I had to survive in the past. That’s the way the communists tackled me. He brought the Chief Justice into the political arena. He brought my only friend in university into our quarrel. How dare he!” (The Man and His Ideas)
On Workers’ Party’s Chen Show Mao: “Chen, however, has not turned out to be so brilliant. In Parliament, he makes good prepared speeches, with a written script, but in the follow-up, he is all over the place.” One Man’s View of the World.
On the worst American President he saw up close: “Carter (Jimmy Carter). He’s a good God-fearing man…”Your job as a leader is to inspire and to galvanize, not to share your distract thoughts. You make your people dispirited.” Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew
On Jimmy Carter: “my name is Jimmy Carter, I’m a peanut farmer, I’m running for president. The next thing you know, he was the president!” Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew
On Bill Clinton: “Very clever man, very political, likeable fellow because he’s got that outgoing personality… When he talks to you, you are the most important person in the world. But I think, it’s generally true, he breaks the rules… Well, in his case, it’s partly his character. I don’t know. I mean, he had a difficult childhood and so on, so forth”. Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew
On British politicians: “In Britain, if you look at the First Class Honours list of Oxford or Cambridge and trace their careers, you will find that these people end up not in politics, but in banking, finance and the professions.”
“The frontbenchers in Parliament are often not from the top tier. They are not drawn from the best lawyers or surgeons.”
On saying no: “You lose nothing by being polite. The answer is ‘No’, but please say it politely and give the reasons… Explain to me why ‘No’. Don’t change ‘No’ to ‘Yes’. Don’t be a fool. If there was a good reason why it is ‘No’, it must remain ‘No’, but the man must be told politely.” to Civil Servants at the Victoria Theatre, 30 Sep 1965, Lee Kuan Yew in his own words, 1959-1970
On why Heaven does not need a Population White Paper: “I wish I can meet my wife in the hereafter, but I don’t think I will. I just cease to exist just as she has ceased to exist – otherwise the other world would be overpopulated.” One Man’s View of the World.
He prefers Frederick Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom: “I believe Hayek was a very clear thinker and that he hit upon the eternal truth, explaning that the free market is necessary to get the economy right”. Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew
On corporal punishment: “I have never understood why Western educationists are so much against corporal punishment. It did my fellow students and me no harm.” 1998, The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew
On Israelis: “The Israelis are very smart… the rabbi in any Jewish society was often the most intelligent and well-read, most learned of all…the rabbi’s children are much sought-after by successful Jews to bring good genes into the family. That’s how they multiply, the bright ones multiply. That sums it up.” Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew
On the media: “Freedom of the press, freedom of the news media, must be subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government”, Address To The General Assembly Of The International Press Institute At Helsinki, 9th June, 1971
On why he chose Tanjong Pagar: “Tanjong Pagar is a working class area. No other division has such a high proportion of workers, wage-earners, small traders and such a low proportion of wealthy merchants and landlords living in it. I wanted to represent workers, wage earners and small traders, not wealthy merchants or landlords. So I chose Tanjong Pagar not Tanglin,” Election Speech – Why I Chose Tanjong Pagar, 17th March, 1955
On democracy: “But we either believe in democracy or we not. If we do, then, we must say categorically, without qualification, that no restraint from the any democratic processes, other than by the ordinary law of the land, should be allowed… If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought.” – as an opposition leader, April 27, 1955
On political opposition: “If we had considered them serious political figures, we would not have kept them politically alive for so long. We could have bankrupt them earlier.” – Straits Times, Sept 14 2003
On waking up late: “Today, I was a bit late because I took some time in getting up; slept late last night; some work to be done; two functions in the evening. But that is important. I like to tell you this because I think this is what we all must do: ‘sleep well of nights’. You know Shakespeare, ‘Give me men that sleep well of nights’. That is what he said. I think it right. Men who worry, you know, read all this, and they start shouting all this they get worried themselves, night time comes, they can’t sleep. Next morning they wake up, mind befuddled, wrong decisions, more trouble!” Tanjong Katong School, during tour of Mountbatten Constituency, 13th June, 1965 Lee Kuan Yew in his own words, 1959-1970
On anyone who made the most interesting case that he felt he had to listen to: “A few Harvard professors, I can’t remember”. Tom Plate’s Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew
On being PM today again, hypothetically speaking…“If I were in charge of Singapore today, I would introduce a baby bonus equal to two years’ worth of the average Singaporean’s salary.” One Man’s View of the World.
On leadership: “I do not yet know of a man who became a leader as a result of having undergone a leadership course.” 1957, The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew
“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.” 2000 The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew
On Machiavelli’s The Prince: “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. (The Singapore story: memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew)
“What are our priorities? First, the welfare, the survival of the people. Then, democratic norms and processes which from time to time we have to suspend.”
– 1986 National Day Rally
“One-man-one-vote is a most difficult form of government.. Results can be erratic.” – Dec 19 1984
Among the useless things the UN occupie themselfs with, are branding others as racists. Mr. Lee got the honnour of being one. In this undated paper (18 p) Mr. Michael D. Barr (Department of History, University of Queensland) pen Mr. Lee as such. From the paper: