Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015)
Lee Kuan Yew, one of the founders and the longest prime minister of city-state Singapore passed away on March 23 aged 91. Yew had been hospitalised with pneumonia since February. A few days before being admitted he had signed a legal document saying that, “I had an Advanced Medical Directive done which says that if I have to be fed by a tube, and it is unlikely that I would ever be able to recover and walk about, my doctors are to remove the tube and allow me to make a quick exit. I had it signed by a lawyer friend and a doctor.”
His action even in death showed his will to control all aspects of his life as he did for Singapore in yanking it out of its identity of a former British state with endemic corruption to a financial hub with one of the highest incomes in the world. Singapore’s GDP represents 0.48 percent of the world economy and the GDP in Singapore averaged 63.17 USD Billion from 1960 until 2013, reaching an all-time high of 297.94 USD Billion in 2013.
The life and times of Lee Kuan Yew:
Lee Kuan Yew was born in Singapore on September 16, 1923. He came from an affluent but middle class Chinese Hakka family which had been established in Singapore
Lee’s first language was English; as his education till his university days was in English. After attending school in Singapore, Lee entered the University of Cambridge in England where he headed the honours list.
The outbreak of World War II in Europe made him shelve his plans for further studies in England. He returned to Singapore and accepted a scholarship he had won to study economics.
When the Japanese conquered Singapore in February 1942, 19 year old Lee learned Japanese and became a translator for the official news agency, Domei. However, it was during this period that Lee’s nationalist pride was kindled.
Lee described the impact of the Japanese occupation on him in the following way:
I did not enter politics. The Japanese brought politics to me. … The Japanese occupying forces were blind and brutal and made me, and a whole generation like me, in Singapore and Malaya, work for freedom— freedom from servitude and foreign domination. (Quoted in Alex Josey, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore: 1968)
From 1952 to 1954, Lee met Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, S. Rajaratnam, K. M. Byrne, and Samad Ismail to the formation of a political party. Their deliberations led eventually to the formation of the People’s Action Party (PAP) on November 21, 1954, with Lee as its secretary-general.
In the first general election of May 30, 1959, the PAP fielded candidates in all the 51 electoral constituencies. It won 43 out of 51 seats and obtained 53.4 percent of the votes. On June 3, 1959, Singapore attained self-government, and two days later Lee and his colleagues formed the first government, with Lee as the first prime minister. Lee remained the longest serving member of parliament till his retirement.
Lee retained his position as prime minister when Singapore joined Malaysia in September 1963, and also after the attainment of independence in August 1965.
When Lee and his colleagues assumed office in 1959, they were faced with the serious problems of high unemployment, severe housing shortage, and widespread corruption.
Lee’s government succeeded in solving these problems as per capita GNP rose by 15 times from US$443 in 1960 to US$6,634 in the mid-1980s
Corruption was no longer a way of life in Singapore by the 1980s because due to Lee’s personal commitment to its eradication through comprehensive legislation.
In 1984 Lee announced that he would retire from public office in 1988, at the age of 65 years, although he held onto the position of prime minister until 1990.
In 1990 Lee turned over the reins of government to Min Goh Chok Tong, who became the second prime minister in Singapore’s history.