Lee Kuan Yew
Topics Lee Kuan Yew Quotations
Lee Kuan Yew is a Singapore politician. He was the Singapore Prime Minister (1959–1990) and Senior Minister (1990–2004). Since 2004 he has been in the role of Minister Mentor.
If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless." - Lee Kuan Yew, 6.10.1997
- "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, and no excuse, whether of security, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what it must know to be right... " - Lee Kuan Yew, Legislative Assembly Debates, April 27, 1955
- "If it is not totalitarian to arrest a man and detain him, when you cannot charge him with any offence against any written law - if that is not what we have always cried out against in Fascist states - then what is it?… If we are to survive as a free democracy, then we must be prepared, in principle, to concede to our enemies - even those who do not subscribe to our views - as much constitutional rights as you concede yourself." - Opposition leader Lee Kuan Yew, Legislative Assembly Debates, Sept 21, 1955
- "Repression, Sir is a habit that grows. I am told it is like making love-it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course with constant repetition you get more and more brazen in the attack. All you have to do is to dissolve organizations and societies and banish and detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil on the surface. Then an intimidated press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises, and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done, or if these things are referred to again they're conveniently distorted and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict." -Lee Kuan Yew as an opposition PAP member speaking to David Marshall, Singapore Legislative Assembly, Debates, 4 October, 1956
- "If we say that we believe in democracy, if we say that the fabric of a democratic society is one which allows for the free play of idea...then, in the name of all the gods, give that free play a chance to work within the constitutional framework." - Opposition leader Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore Legislative Assembly, Oct 4, 1956
- "Repression can only go up to a point. When it becomes too acute, the instruments of repression, namely the army and the police, have been proved time and time again in history to have turned their guns on their masters." - Opposition leader Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times, May 5, 1959
- "I pointed to an article with bold headlines reporting that the police had refused to allow the PAP to hold a rally at Empress Place, and then to the last paragraph where in small type it added the meeting would take place where we were now. I compared this with a prominent report about an SPA rally. This was flagrant bias." - Complaining about the Straits Times in 1959.
- "If I were in authority in Singapore indefinitely without having to ask those who are governed whether they like what is being done, then I would not have the slightest doubt that I could govern much more effectively in their interests." - Mr Lee Kuan Yew, 1962
Federation of Malaysia, 1963-1965
- "Let us get down to fundamentals. Is this an open, or is this a closed society? Is it a society where men can preach ideas - novel, unorthodox, heresies, to established churches and established governments - where there is a constant contest for men's hearts and minds on the basis of what is right, of what is just, of what is in the national interests, or is it a closed society where the mass media - the newspapers, the journals, publications, TV, radio - either bound by sound or by sight, or both sound and sight, men's minds are fed with a constant drone of sycophantic support for a particular orthodox political philosophy? I am talking of the principle of the open society, the open debate, ideas, not intimidation, persuasion not coercion..." - Lee Kuan Yew, Before Singapore's independence, Malaysian Parliamentary Debates, Dec 18, 1964
- "How does the Malay in the kampong find his way out into this modernised civil society? By becoming servants of the 0.3 per cent who would have the money to hire them to clean their shoe, open their motorcar doors?" — Lee Kuan Yew in the Parliament of Malaysia, 1965 http://maddruid.com/?p=645
- "Of course there are Chinese millionaires in big cars and big houses. Is it the answer to make a few Malay millionaires with big cars and big houses? How does telling a Malay bus driver that he should support the party of his Malay director (UMNO) and the Chinese bus conductor to join another party of his Chinese director (MCA) - how does that improve the standards of the Malay bus driver and the Chinese bus conductor who are both workers in the same company? If we delude people into believing that they are poor because there are no Malay rights or because opposition members oppose Malay rights, where are we going to end up? You let people in the kampongs believe that they are poor because we don't speak Malay, because the government does not write in Malay, so he expects a miracle to take place in 1967 (the year Malay would become the national and sole official language in Malaysia). The moment we all start speaking Malay, he is going to have an uplift in the standard of living, and if doesn't happen, what happens then? Meanwhile, whenever there is a failure of economic, social and educational policies, you come back and say, oh, these wicked Chinese, Indian and others opposing Malay rights. They don't oppose Malay rights. They, the Malay, have the right as Malaysian citizens to go up to the level of training and education that the more competitive societies, the non-Malay society, has produced. That is what must be done, isn't it? Not to feed them with this obscurantist doctrine that all they have got to do is to get Malay rights for the few special Malays and their problem has been resolved." — Lee Kuan Yew in the Parliament of Malaysia, 1965 http://maddruid.com/?p=645
- "They (the Malay extremists) have triggered off something basic and fundamental. Malaysia — to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian. This is the doubt that hangs over many minds, and the next contest, if this goes on, will be on very different lines." — Lee Kuan Yew in the Parliament of Malaysia, 1965 http://www.jeffooi.com/archives/2005/11/i_went_into_act.php
- "Once emotions are set in motion, and men pitted against men along these unspoken lines, you will have the kind of warfare that will split the nation from top to bottom and undo Malaysia. Everybody knows it. I don't have to say it. It is the unspoken word!" — Lee Kuan Yew in the Parliament of Malaysia, 1965 http://www.jeffooi.com/archives/2005/11/i_went_into_act.php
- "According to history, Malays began to migrate to Malaysia in noticeable numbers only about 700 years ago. Of the 39 percent Malays in Malaysia today, about one-third are comparatively new immigrants like the secretary-general of UMNO, Dato' Syed Ja'afar Albar, who came to Malaya from Indonesia just before the war at the age of more than thirty. Therefore it is wrong and illogical for a particular racial group to think that they are more justified to be called Malaysians and that the others can become Malaysian only through their favour." — Lee Kuan Yew (in 1964 or 1965), — Ye, Lin-Sheng (2003). The Chinese Dilemma, p. 43. East West Publishing. ISBN 0-9751646-1-9.
- "Three women were brought to the Singapore General Hospital, each in the same condition and needing a blood transfusion. The first, a Southeast Asian was given the transfusion but died a few hours later. The second, a South Asian was also given a transfusion but died a few days later. The third, an East Asian, was given a transfusion and survived. That is the X factor in development." - 27 December 1967
Singapore Independence, 1965
- “For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I believed in merger and unity of the two territories.”, on August 9, 1965, when Lee announced the separation of Singapore from Malaysia.
- “Do not worry about Singapore. My colleagues and I are sane, rational people even in our moments of anguish. We will weigh all possible consequences before we make any move on the political chessboard...”, 1965, when he responded to concerns of the British government after Singapore's independence. London was concerned that the young government was not able to keep things in control and might take foolish measures.
- "We must encourage those who earn less than $200 per month and cannot afford to nurture and educate many children never to have more than two... We will regret the time lost if we do not now take the first tentative steps towards correcting a trend which can leave our society with a large number of the physically, intellectually and culturally anaemic." -Lee Kuan Yew in 1967.
- "Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him, or give it up! This is not a game of cards! This is your life and mine! I spent a whole life-time building this, and as long as I am in charge, nobody is going to knock it down." - 1980
- "Let us not deceive ourselves: our talent profile is nowhere near that of, say, the Jews or the Japanese in America. The exceptional number of Nobel Prize winners who are Jews is no accident. It is also no accident that a high percentage, sometimes 50%, of faculty members in the top American universities on both the east and west coasts are Jews. And the number of high calibre Japanese academics, professionals, and business executives is out of all proportion to the percentage of Japanese in the total American population." - 1982
- "If you don't include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society...So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That's a problem." -Lee Kuan Yew in 1983 National Day Rally
- "(Without the CPF), Singaporeans would buy enormous quantities of clothes, shoes, furniture, television sets, radio, tape recorders, hi-fis, washing machines, motor cars. They would have no substantial or permanent asset to show for it." - Asian Wall Street Journal, Oct 21 1985
- "We have to lock up people, without trial, whether they are communists, whether they are language chauvinists, whether they are religious extremists. If you don't do that, the country would be in ruins." - Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, 1986
- "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 neighbour 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." - Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times, 20 April 1987
- "Look, Jeyaretnam cant win the infighting. I'll tell you why. WE are in charge. Every government ministry and department is under our control. And in the infighting, he will go down for the count every time... I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy." - As recounted by former President C. V. Devan Nair
24 December 1984, election aftermath
- "At this rate, the one-man, one-vote system could lead to decline and disintegration" - after the Opposition won 2 seats
- "Every election campaign starts off on a reasonable note, then in order to get the crowds excited, they make more and more brazen, scurrilous, wild accusations." - Accusing the Opposition of "gutter politics"
- "The party would withdraw services to the two opposition-held seats of Anson and Potong Pasir" - On Potong Pasir and Anson electing non-PAP MPs
Leadership transition, pre-1991
- “I'm prepared to banter with you. I'm prepared to humour you. But if this were an Orwellian society with an Orwellian leader, would we be having this conversation?”, Sunday Mail Magazine 1990 on being a "state out of 1984"
- “Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.” 1988 National Day Rally, when he discussed the leadership transition to Goh Chok Tong in 1990.
- "With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries...What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural backround, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient." - Lee Kuan Yew (educated in Cambridge and speaks English, called Harry when young) in speech entitled 'Democracy, Human Rights and the Realities', Tokyo, Nov 10, 1992
- "In America itself, after 30 years of experimenting with the Great Society programmes, there is widespread crime and violence, children kill each other with guns, neigbourhoods are insecure, old people feel forgotten, families are falling apart. And the media attacks the integrity and character of your leaders with impunity, drags down all those in authority and blames everyone but itself." - Lee Kuan Yew, Sept 1995.
- "I have visited (Burma) and I know that there is only one instrument of government, and that is the army...If I were Aung San Suu Kyi, I think I'd rather be behind a fence and be a symbol than after two or three years, be found impotent." - SM Lee Kuan Yew, Reuters, Jun 6, 1996, which sparked a flurry of protests from Burmese students.
- "Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right.
If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless." - Lee Kuan Yew, 6.10.1997
- "Mine is a very matter-of-fact approach to the problem. If you can select a population and they're educated and they're properly brought up, then you don't have to use too much of the stick because they would already have been trained. It's like with dogs. You train it in a proper way from small. It will know that it's got to leave, go outside to pee and to defecate. No, we are not that kind of society. We had to train adult dogs who even today deliberately urinate in the lifts." - Lee Kuan Yew on Singapore society, The Man & His Ideas, 1997
- "Supposing Catherine Lim was writing about me and not the prime minister...She would not dare, right? 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...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." - SM Lee Kuan Yew, The Man and His Ideas, 1997
- "Supposing I'm now 21, 22, what would I do? I would not be absorbed in wanting to change life in Singapore. I'm not responsible for Singapore...Why should I go and undertake this job and spend my whole life pushing this for a lot of people for whom nothing is good enough? I will have a fall-back position, which many are doing - have a house in Perth or Vancouver or Sydney, or an apartment in London, in case I need some place suddenly, and think about whether I go on to America." - SM Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997
- "What people mean by consultation is an imitation of what they see in America; pressure groups and lobby groups..It's an unthinking adoption of Western practices of development without any pruning and modification to suit our circumstances." - Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997
- "The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85 per cent on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more ... the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow." - Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997
- "I started off believing all men were equal. I now know that's the most unlikely thing ever to have been, because millions of years have passed over evolution, people have scattered across the face of this earth, been isolated from each other, developed independently, had different intermixtures between races, peoples, climates, soils... I didn't start off with that knowledge. But by observation, reading, watching, arguing, asking, that is the conclusion I've come to." - Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997
- "Put it this way. As long as Jeyaretnam [Workers' Party leader] stands for what he stands for -- a thoroughly destructive force -- 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." - SM Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997
- "If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who's very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that's a very tricky business. We've got to know his background... I'm saying these things because they are real, and if I don't think that, and I think even if today the Prime Minister doesn't think carefully about this, we could have a tragedy." - SM Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times, September 19, 1999 on Malays in the Singapore Armed Forces
- "... If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana", 2000. Lee was responding to a BBC reporter who suggested that Singapore's draconian laws (including the ban on chewing gum) could stifle the people's creativity.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/820234.stm
- "He picked up from me a certain way of thinking, certain logic, certain cut of mind. He has got from his mother a facility with words, and a certain intuition." - Lee Kuan Yew on Lee Hsien Loong, Straits Times, Jun 22, 2004
- "I ignore polling as a method of government. I think that shows a certain weakness of mind - an inability to chart a course whichever way the wind blows, whichever way the media encourages the people to go, you follow. You are not a leader." - SM Lee Kuan Yew, Success Stories, 2002
- "Political reform need not go hand in hand with economic liberalisation. I do not believe that if you are libertarian, full of diverse opinions, full of competing ideas in the market place, full of sound and fury, therefore you will succeed." - Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times, Aug 17, 2004
- "If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it." - Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew evoking the ghost of Deng Xiaoping whilst endorsing the Tiananmen Square massacre, Straits Times, Aug 17, 2004
- "...because I don't use it so much, therefore it gets disused and there's language loss. Then I have to revive it. It's a terrible problem because learning it at adult life, it hasn't got the same roots in your memory.” May 2005, as Lee released a book, Keeping My Mandarin Alive, relating to his decades of effort to master Mandarin–a language which he said he had to re-learn due to disuse.
- "At the end of the day, we are so many digits in the machine. The point is – are these digits stronger than the competitors' digits?" - MM Lee Kuan Yew on Singapore workers, History of Singapore, 2005
- "When I call a man openly, you're a liar, you're dishonest, and you do not dare to sue me, there's something basically wrong. And I will repeat it anywhere and you can't go and say, oh, I have apologised; let's move on. Can you commit a dishonourable -- maybe even one which is against the law -- an illegal act and say, let's move on because I've apologised? You may move on but you're going to move on out of politics in time." -- MM Lee Kuan Yew on James Gomez, Channelnewsasia, May 2006
- "Please do not assume that you can change governments. Young people don't understand this" -- MM Lee Kuan Yew on the results of the 2006 election
- "Without the elected president and if there is a freak result, within two or three years, the army would have to come in and stop it" -- MM Lee Kuan Yew on what would happen if a profligate opposition government touched Singapore's vast monetary reserves
- "Merit over nepotism" -- MM Lee Kuan Yew, in a talk in response to the IMF/World Bank meet in Singapore 2006 (MM Lee's elder son, PM Lee Hsien Loong, is the youngest Brigadier General in Singapore's history, is tipped to be Lee Kuan Yew's successor as Prime Minister from a young age, whose wife is the CEO of the government-owned Temasek Holdings and whose career has also been dogged by a perceived reputation for being arrogant and autocratic.)
- "That was the year the British decided to get out and sell everything. So I immediately held an election. I knew the people will be dead scared." - On winning 88% of the votes in 1968 (actual share was 84.43%), The Straits Times, March 7, 2007
- "Low salaries will draw in the hypocrites who sweet talk their way into power in the name of public service, but once in charge will show their true colour, and ruin the country." - 2007, on Minister's Pay
- "You know, the cure for all this talk is really a good dose of incompetent government. You get that alternative and you'll never put Singapore together again: Humpty Dumpty cannot be put together again... and your asset values will disappear, your apartment will be worth a fraction of what it is, your jobs will be in peril, your security will be at risk and our women will become maids in other people's countries, foreign workers." - Justifying million-dollar pay hike for Singapore ministers (Straits Times, 5 April 2007)
- "Singaporeans, if I can chose an analogy, we are the hard disk of a computer, the foreign talent are the megabytes you add to your storage capacity. So your computer never hangs because you got enormous storage capacity," - On accepting foreign talent (Straits Times, 22 April 2007)
- "When you're Singapore and your existence depends on performance - extraordinary performance, better than your competitors - when that performance disappears because the system on which it's been based becomes eroded, then you've lost everything... I try to tell the younger generation that and they say the old man is playing the same record, we've heard it all before. I happen to know how we got here and I know how we can unscramble it." - On one freak election result ruining Singapore (Straits Times, 26 April 2008)
- "There is a conspiracy to do us in. Why?... They see us as a threat" - on why Human Rights Groups criticise Singapore's governance (Agence France-Presse, July 12 2008, http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=124971)
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