They laughed, at us,” he said in the second volume of his memoirs, “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965-2000.” “But I was confident that we would have the last laugh. We would have been a grosser, ruder, cruder society had we not made these efforts.

lky_portrait_3

Lee Kuan Yew is the founding father of Singapore; the longest serving Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990. Many regard him as the embodiment of Singapore itself. It was under his leadership that Singapore was catapulted from a small insignificant state to one of the world’s prosperous and progressive nation.

 

The Beginnings

Lee Kuan Yew, also known by his English name, Harry Lee, was born on September 16, 1923 at 92 Kampong Java Road in colonial Singapore. His parents are Chua Jim Neo and Lee Chin Koon from middle-class Chinese family.

Lee excelled in his education and was the top student in his class and he was admitted to Raffles College on a scholarship. Lee’s university studies was disrupted by the onset of World War II and Japanese Occupation of Singapore where he was almost killed.

lky_family

With his family the night before he left Singapore for England. (clockwise from left) Monica, Dennis, Mr Lee, Freddy, Suan Yew, Chua Jim Neo and Lee Chin Koon.

After the war, Lee went to England in 1946 and first enrolled at the London School Of Economics. He eventually moved to Cambridge University in 1947 and he earned his law degree in 1949. In 1950, Lee was admitted to the English Bar but he returned to Singapore instead.

 

A Lifelong Romance

lky_and_ms_kwa

With Mdm Kwa at the Bridge of Sighs in St John’s College at Cambridge on (from top) 7 February 1948, 21 June 1974 and 7 October 2000.

Lee met Kwa Geok Choo, his future wife, when they were students at Raffles College. Ms Kwa was an excellent student who outdid him in several subjects. The two became friends and that was the start of a remarkable love story that spanned more than half a century. The couple was separated when Lee went to study in England but they were eventually reunited after Ms. Kwa was awarded the Queen’s Scholarship to read law at Cambridge. Both graduated in Cambridge with honours.

Lee and Kwa married in Stratford-upon-Avon on December 23, 1947. They held a second public ceremony when they returned in Singapore in September 30, 1950.

 

The Rise Of A Leader

When Lee returned to Singapore he initially worked in Laycock & Ong’s law firm where he had firsthand experience in politics. During that time, Singapore was under the British colonial rule. It was where he saw how detached colonial politics was from the lives of most people. Lee had the firm belief that Singaporeans and Malayans should govern themselves. Calls for constitutional reform and independence were starting in the early 1950s.

The first PAP central executive committee in November 1954, comprising (back row, from left) Tan Wee Keng, Devan Nair, S. Sockalingam, Lee, Ong Eng Guan, Fong Swee Suan, (front row, from left) Lee Gek Seng, Mofrandi bin Haji Mohd Noor, Toh Chin Chye, Ismail Rahim and Chan Chiaw Thor.

The first PAP central executive committee in November 1954, comprising (back row, from left) Tan Wee Keng, Devan Nair, S. Sockalingam, Lee, Ong Eng Guan, Fong Swee Suan, (front row, from left) Lee Gek Seng, Mofrandi bin Haji Mohd Noor, Toh Chin Chye, Ismail Rahim and Chan Chiaw Thor.

In 1954, Lee together with other like-minded citizens, formed the People’s Action Party (PAP) which challenges the existing governing structure of the country. The PAP formally launched on November 21, 1954 with Lee as the first Secretary-General. The party won three seats in the April 1955 general elections.

lky_tanjong_pagar

 

Singapore As A Malaysian State

In 1959, Singapore was granted a self-government by the British in all matters except defence and foreign affairs. Lee became the first prime minister of Singapore on June 3, 1959.

Lee campaigned for a merger with Malaysia to end British colonial rule. On 16 September 1963, Singapore became part of the Federation of Malaysia. However, this merger was short-lived. The Malaysian central government became worried by the political challenge that PAP posed in Malaysia. This resulted in the 1964 riots in Singapore. Tensions mount and hundreds of people were injured, some killed. Looting followed which forced curfews to be imposed.

 

The Birth Of A Nation

Singapore was finally expelled from Malaysia on August 09, 1965 and all ties to the Malaysian government were severed. Lee tried to work out a compromise but it was a futile effort. Lee was emotional and he fought back tears as he announced the separation in a televised press conference.

"Every time we look back on this moment when we signed this agreement which severed Singapore from Malaysia, it will be a moment of anguish. For me it is a moment of anguish because all my life ... you see, the whole of my adult life ... I have believed in merger and the unity of these two territories. You know that we, as a people are connected by geography, economics, by ties of kinship..."

“Every time we look back on this moment when we signed this agreement which severed Singapore from Malaysia, it will be a moment of anguish. For me it is a moment of anguish because all my life … you see, the whole of my adult life … I have believed in merger and the unity of these two territories. You know that we, as a people are connected by geography, economics, by ties of kinship…”

On the same day, August 09, 1965 the Republic Of Singapore was born. Lee Kuan Yew and his team are now faced with the challenge of ensuring the survival of the young nation against enormous challenges.

 

Per Aspera Ad Astra

“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…” – Lee Kuan Yew
lky_jurong

(From left) President Yusof Ishak, Mr Lee, Economic Development Board Chairman Hon Sui Sen and Public Services Commission Chairman Dr Phay Seng Whatt surveying the site of the upcoming Jurong Industrial Estate from the top of Reservoir Hill on 10 May 1964.

Many did not believe that Singapore will succeed; It lacked natural resources, it was a nation of immigrants, it was a small and vulnerable young nation. Lee Kuan Yew and his team undertook a series of planning and concrete actions that would transform Singapore into a powerhouse that it is today in just a span of 50 years.

“But I say to you: here we make the model multi-racial society. This is not a country that belongs to any single community: it belongs to all of us. You helped built it; your fathers, your grandfathers helped build this… Over 100 years ago, this was a mud-flat, swamp. Today, this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear.” – Sharing his vision for Singapore at the Sree Narayana Mission on 12 September 1965.

Lee championed Singapore’s urban renewal, improvement of infrastructure, equal rights for the citizens no matter what race, education reforms and massive export-oriented industrialisation. Lee also believed that growth was meaningless if workers cannot enjoy it with better homes and quality of living.

“We are ideology-free,” Mr. Lee said in an interview with The New York Times in 2007, stating what had become, in effect, Singapore’s ideology. “Does it work? If it works, let’s try it. If it’s fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one.”

Lee also opened Singapore to the international community by joining the United Nations and forming the ASEAN. From a per capita GDP of about $500 in 1965, Lee’s administration raised it a staggering 2800% to $14,500 by 1991.

Singapore

Singapore in the 1940s.

Today, Singapore, dubbed as the Little Red Dot is not so little at all. It is one the economic power in Asia and the World. It’s quality of living, safety, economy and education ranks among the best in world.

DSC_0338

 

The Legacy

lky_national_flag_day

Lee understood that one of the leader’s toughest job is to ensure a smooth succession. He handed the reins of prime ministership to Goh Chok Tong on November 28, 1990 but continued to serve as Senior Minister under Goh and then as Minister Mentor under Lee Hsien Loong.

At 3:18 AM Singapore local time on March 23, 2015, Lee Kuan Yew passed away at the age of 91. He succumbed to severe pneumonia. Seven days of national mourning have been declared with the funeral scheduled for March 29, 2015.

Here is the official statement of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

I have spent my life, so much of it,” he told journalists in 2011, “building up this country. There’s nothing more that I need to do. At the end of the day, what have I got? A successful Singapore. What have I given up? My life.– Lee Kuan Yew

 

See Lee Kuan Yew : Starting Up A Nation – In Pictures.




Digital Ocean

Previous post

And The Lights Go Out : Formula One's Romance With Cities (Part 2)

Next post

How Big Can Ferris Wheels Get?

Mary Rose - Citi IO

Mary Rose - Citi IO

A veritable force and a fundamental energy that has helped turn Citi IO a possibility, Mary Rose is a wonder in executing ideas into reality.

A passionate learner with an immense appreciation for tradition, she is Citi IO's voice of tranquil temper in the flurry of day-to-day progress making.

When not serving as a core member of Citi IO, she can normally be found crafting code for smart city mobile applications and digging gems at used book stores.