InFamous and Famous Quotes From Lee Kuan Yew

[Updated 30 Mar 2015: Lee Kuan Yew had passed away on the 23 Mar 2015 and a 7-day National Day Mourning Period was declared.]

“Today, Lee no longer deals with his equals, but with his chosen appointees, who did not earn power the hard way, but had it conferred on them. They are highly qualified men, no doubt, but nobody expects them to possess the gumption to talk back to the increasingly self-righteous know-all that Lee has become. Further, the bread of those who conform is handsomely buttered. Keep your head down and you could enjoy one of the highest living standards in Asia. Raise it and you could lose a job, a home, and be harassed by the Internal Security Department or the Inland Revenue Department, or by both, as happened to Francis Seow.” – former President Deven Nair

“It was important for leaders not to overstay their welcome, no matter how popular they were….Kuan Yew resigned but he was still there as senior minister and minister mentor.”Former long serving Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad

Lee Kuan Yew was the founding father of Modern Singapore and the ex-Prime Minister. Lee Kuan Yew had officially stepped down from the cabinet after the watershed 2011 General Election.

While MM Lee had been visionary and well respected during his reign as prime minister of Singapore, he had lost that midas touch since he stepped down from his PM post more than 20 years ago as judged from the many controversial statements that he had made during these years, which have been captured here in this page.

“LKY was a very good leader in his first 20 years of rule, assisted by fine and committed good men like Toh Chin Chye, GKS and Rajatranam. Having said that, since the stepping down of these fine men, LKY has been courting many controversies …… His last 20 years “achievements” are highly questionable without those early PAP fine men by his side.” – Ang Sar Lee

“Like many founders, first half were mostly right as they were mostly driven by ideologies, dreams, convictions and GUTS. There aren’t many that can take that away from LKY.
But second half were always a problem, and LKY also could not run away from it.”
Swee Meng Ling

For the record, Askmelah was a great admirer of Lee Kuan Yew in the 70s and 80s, diminished somewhat in the 90s but completely disdain of his many controversial statements post millennium and has since stopped buying and reading his books.

Related URLs:


“Our women will become maids in other people’s countries, foreign workers” –  Wikipedia

  • “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.”
  • MM in Justifying million-dollar pay hike for Singapore ministers (Straits Times, 5 April 2007)

[Askmelah’s note:

  • It is no shame to be maids or foreign workers, it is honest living with tears and sweat afterall. However our women are too pampered and too highly educated to work as such.
  • There are many government in the world that takes modest wages and yet competent, e.g. China, the early PAP government and yet producing amazing results, the willlingness to serve overrides everything else
  • On the contrary the global economic meltdown has demonstrated that paying top dollars to attract the best and the brightest talents may do more harm than good. The high pay simply is no substitute for passion to serve the country and the willingness to give back to the society. Read more.]

“Those are admirable sentiments, but we live in a real world.”

  • “I am sure Enron and Worldcom paid more than top dollar for their top executives, and look where their companies are now – six feet under.” – Mohamad Rosle Ahmad
  • “A brilliant achiever without the high purpose of service to others would be the worst possible ministerial material.” – Carolyn Lim
  • LKY in brushing aside all the criticisms in the  2007’s  controversial 60 percent pay raise for the ministers and political holders. Ironically, the ministers took a 30% pay cut after the 2011 watershed election after the voters voicing their displeasure with the hardships that ensued and rendering the biggest defeat suffered by PAP post 1980.. (Source)
  • “The financial crisis and its aftermath have undermined faith in the judgment of elites.” – Gideon Rachman

“So, when I heard Dr Tan Cheng Bock, I decided I would stand up and tell him he’s wrong…you have to decide whether you think he knows more or I know more. You have to decide whether he will give you the answer to Singapore’s future — or that I am likely to give you the better road to the future.”

  • Then SM Lee arrogantly rebuked Dr Tan Cheng Bock, then MP for Ayer Rajah, who urged the Government to tone down its calls for the recruitment of foreign talent and reassure Singaporeans that they came first (14 August 1999)

[Askmelah’s note: fast forward one decade later and now the Govt is doing exactly what Dr. Tan was advocating then i.e. give priority to Singaporeans. We are seeing them in the latest Government’s policies on education, health care, housing, jobs etc. Dr. Tan was right afterall and Lee was proven otherwise. Lee has stayed in the ivory tower for far too long that he has lost touch with the ground. More]

“The choice to take a hostile stance to immigrants is something that Singapore cannot afford to make…. Like it or not, unless we have more babies, we need to accept immigrants.” (Source)

[Askmelah’s Note: Singaporeans esp the Chinese used to make a lot of babies, funny how the man himself who created the problem in the first place is now pretending that it is not his past policy failure and put the blame squarely on the people who now too use to his over-zealous “Stop-at-two policy” and the endless quest for excellence (read material pursue) and the self-centered western values imparted to the new generation of would-be parents since young(read the rise of homosexuals and DINKs) that resulted in low fertility rate. The Government instead resort to the “opium” approach of importing lots and lots of immigrants and labours. Askmelah thinks that the current leaders are building a bigger problem for future leaders to solve. It is not sustainable.]

stop at two policy

“If Singapore depends on the talent it can produce out of 3 million people, it’s not going to punch above its weight….So you’ve got to accept the discomfort which the local citizens feel, that they are competing unequally for jobs. (It) cannot be helped.” (23 Jul 2011, Todayonline)

[Askmelah’s note: what’s so interesting to punch above its weight that we have to accept more than the discomfort? Especially in the situations when we have too much growth (a blistering 14.7% in 2010 which surpass the previous record of 13.8 percent set in 1970) rather than negative growth. Any doctor will tell you too much of anything is no good for your health. Read more.]

“If Aljunied decides to go that way, well Aljunied has five years to live and repent.” –  Todayonline, 1 May 2011

  • Lee Kuan Yew commenting the heavily contested Aljunied GRC and the consequences of Aljunied GRC voters had to face if the Opposition was to be voted in. Well, the opposition party had won the Aljunied GRC despite the grave warning, and it is now the PAP leaders that need to “repent” for the next five years. The then MM Lee himself has offered to step down from the cabinet after the last election. Read More.
  • Askmelah also recalled MM Lee mentioned that the property values would drop if the ward fell into opposition. More than 16 months after the election, a HDB flat (executive maisonette) set a record in Hougang Street 21 sold with a Cash-Over-Valuation (COV) of S$225,000, about five times the average COV paid for such properties.

“If they choose the opposition, then I say, good luck to them. They have five years to ruminate and to regret what they did. And I have no doubts they will regret it.” – Apr 2011

  • The comments is the first from the Minister Mentor since the election campaign begun in earnest. Mr Lee, 87, has been known to involve himself in hotly-contested constituencies, such as in Cheng San in 1997 and Aljunied in 2006

“People get educated, the bright ones rise, they marry equally well-educated spouses. The result is their children are smarter than those who are gardeners”” Diary of a Singaporean Mind, Jan 2011

  • MM Lee on Elitism in his new book Hard Truths. The full text: “People get educated, the bright ones rise, they marry equally well-educated spouses. The result is their children are smarter than those who are gardeners. Not that all the children of gardeners are duds. Occasionally 2 grey horses produce a white horse but very few . If you have 2 white horses, the chances are you breed white horses. It’s seldom spoken publicly because those who are NOT white horses say, “You’re degrading me”. But its a fact of life. You get a good mare, you don’t want a dud stallion to breed with your good mare. You get a poor foal. Your mental capacity and your EQ and the rest of you, 70 to 80% is genetic. “

[Askmelah’s note: Enough said about this controversial and simplistic view from this man, see an excellent blog by Lucky Tan on this issue and his hilarious take on the parallels of Meritocracy practised in North Korea and Singapore.]

lee kuan yew quotes 3


“We are not preventing competition. What we preventing is duds getting into Parliament and government” – The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2011

  • Lee Kuan Yew responding to the question “Is Singapore really that vulnerable or is that an excuse to stifle political competition?” in his new book “Hard Truths”.

[Askmelah’s note: This statement shows the elitist in him who has little respect for his countrymen despite Singapore being one of most advanced economies and one of the highest literacy in the world, its citizens are still unable to fend and to decide who should govern Singapore. It is akin to the idea that we have a limited supply of talented chefs and restaurateurs, hence only certain restaurants would be allowed by the Government. Dumb!

As former Malaysian PM Mahathir put it, “this frank admission that he (MM Lee) determines who should represent the people of Singapore is incontrovertible proof that Singapore is a totalitarian state.” Mahathir went on to contrast when both sides separated in 1965, supporters of the People’s Action Party (PAP) formed the Malaysian opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), “which is alive and well today in Malaysia”. “But the rump Umno left in Singapore could not survive in the hostile atmosphere. For that matter, no other political party has been allowed to function properly in Singapore,” he added.]

‘I don’t think there should be a retirement age’, Jul 29, 2010

  • Asked for his views on the ageing workforce’s impact on productivity and growth, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said Singaporeans would be healthier and happier if they worked for as long as they could. He said Singaporeans have to accept the “painful” prospect of being paid less as they work into old age. “You are superior, and suddenly your junior overtakes your position and you have less pay and he’s the boss. So you find the psychological switch unpleasant, but that’s life,” he said.

[Askmelah’s note: Can not retire and yet foreign cheap labours are allowed in to take the low end jobs, Singapore seniors may be the most unfortunate people in the world. His words are also not convincing for a man whose salary is S$3 million for not doing much except forecasting and advising occasionally.]

“No amount of engineering can prevent flooding”TodayOnLine, Jul 22, 2010

  • S’poreans expect everything to be perfect, but some things are ‘an act of God’. Then MM Lee trying to second guess and explain away the first serious flooding in more than 20 years in Singapore short modern history.

[Askmelah’s note:

  • Why Malaysia and Batam have no flood in the same period? More reporting here, after the second and third floodings within less than 18 months, is it still an act of God?
  • Assuming this logic is correct and to extend the same argument, no amount of high salary can prevent corruption, right?)
  • Update: the 4th flooding in 3 years. ]

“China is currently at a ‘disadvantage’ in a world where English is the lingua franca…….If you learn (English) in China, just like the Koreans, you speak to each other in incorrect English, and you won’t make much progress,” –  PMO Press Release, Temasek Review, The Straits Times – 13 Jul 2010

[Editor’s note: Yet the countries that do not speak English that well have done Asians proud economically, just look at Japan, Taiwan, Korean, Hong Kong and lately China. We need not have to lose our roots in order to progress. As far as high tech industry is concerned, these countries have Acer, HTC, Asus, Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia, Huawei, ZTE etc that we Asians are so proud of. Singapore has Osim and Creative, not even remotely close compared to these giants, Akira, Enzer? Give me a break!
Updated 7 Sep 2012: Gin Tai has an interesting article detailing the vulnerability of Singapore vis-a-vis other 3 dragons. NDR: One-eye dragon looking at ‘Four Dragons’ ] and  the video below is the state of the “correct” English that many Singaporeans are speaking after 40 years of bilingual education and who are we to criticise countries of speaking “incorrect” English?
“We had no reason to believe we could go from a per capita GDP of just over a thousand, to now around $54,000. What was the miracle? Globalisation.”Lee Kuan Yew shared with his Total’s guests how Singapore had overcome its challenges [Source]
  • [Askmelah’s Notes: LKY in his often controversal selective-wording-in-making-a-point style, trivalised many other important factors about Singapore’s miracle: Strategic geographical location, hardworking population, dominant Chinese and enterprising business culture, selfless and dedicated PAP pioneers, an established infrastructure and civil service system left by the British, the crisis which united the nation as a result of expulsion from the Malaysian Federation, the ISA, the young and hungry population etc etc the list goes on. Globalisation? Maybe but certainly not the only key factor, definitely not the top five IMHO.]

“I’m not intellectually convinced that one-man, one-vote is the best. We practise it because that’s what the British bequeathed us”

  • Said this in an interview with Fareed Zakaria for Foreign Affairs magazine in 1994. [Source]

Along similar line of thoughts:
“They say people can think for themselves? Do you honestly believe that the chap who can’t pass primary six knows the consequence of his choice when he answers a question viscerally, on language, culture and religion? But we knew the consequences. We would starve, we would have race riots. We would disintegrate.” – Lee Kuan Yew, The Man & His Ideas, 1997

[Askmelah’s note: It is a shame for MM Lee to put down the system where many iliterates in the 1950s and 60s who put this man and his party into power using exactly the same system that he now does not think will work despite the country has reached a first-world status and more well educated workforce. This view also contrasts sharply from his 1956 speech when PAP was still an opposition party and majority of the population then had little or no education.]

“You take this job on like my original team did, ‘This is for life’. We were putting our lives at stake taking on the communists. If you lose, they’ll pull our fingernails out and brainwash us and we know that and they make no bones about it. That’s number one, you must have the convictions to want to do it and do it not for glory but because you feel you have to do this.” – The Straits Times 22 Jan 2011

  •  MM Lee responding to the question “After 57 years in politics, what are the most important lessons that you would distil for an aspiring politician in Singapore?

[Askmelah’s Note: It is interesting to see how many existing batch of PAP politicians are ready to get their fingernails pulled out. It is more likely some are going for the big paycheck and glory. The same can not be said about the opposition politicians as they face higher likelihood of public humiliation, prosecution and even bankruptcy, just ask JB Jayaratnam,Tang Liang Hong and Francis Seow.]

“Who dares to tell me that my time is up? I’m on the J.P. Morgan board, the (French oil giant) Total board and a few other boards. When they reappointed me, I told them,’Look, the moment  I’m slipping, please tell me. I’m already 80-plus'”– The Straits Times 22 Jan 2011

[Askmelah’s Notes: Who dares! I remember years ago on a Mediacorp TV’s interview, when challenged by a reporter by the name of Ken on a factual discussion, MM Lee retorted that “if my grandson talked to me this way, I will thumb him down. I have re-winded the interview and Ken was right in that discussion. But when you are a person in power, you sometimes forget that there is something called technology. As a Chinese saying goes:”人在做,天在看” (Heaven is watching every move that you make).]

“If you are polite to me, I’m polite to you but I’ll demolish your policy. It is the job of every government to do that if you want to stay in power.” – The Straits Times 22 Jan 2011

  • MM Lee responding to the question whether PAP has systematically demolished opposition.

“That was my intention. If the new PM fails, I have failed…… Mahathir never thought that way. He undermined his successors”Yahoo! News

“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. ”-The Man and His Ideas, 1997 “

  • The context: “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…”
  • “He (LKY)’s not democratic at all! You see, he goes through the formalities, but if there are any opposition politicians elected, he makes sure that they will be incapacitated, and the suits will be settled with huge payments, compensation and all that; or the opposition will come in and be very quiet and not say anything. In Malaysia, we have always had opposition politicians, and they are very vocal.”- Tom Plate: Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad, p.82

“Without the elected president and if there is a freak result, within two or three years, the army have to come in and stop it.” –

  • The infamous remark made by MM Lee during an interview with Straits Times in 2006 in which he threatened to send in the army should the PAP lose power via a “freak election” one day.

“Please do not assume that you can change governments. Young people don’t understand this”

  • Lee Kuan Yew on the results of the 2006 election. 
  • Askmelah’s note: and we are accused by Taiwanese writer Li Ao (李敖)  of being “Stupid”

“If National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan is unable to defend this policy (HDB asset enhancing), he deserves to lose at the next general election.”

  • MM Lee Kuan Yew commenting on the topic of escalating HDB prices at a dialogue during a housing conference as part of a series of events to mark the Housing and Development Board’s 50th anniversary (2010). Updated Sep 2011: while Mah Bao Tan won the election marginally, he was still fired as the ground had clearly demonstrated their displeasure at many of his policy missteps.

“I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came…..I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam””

  • In his book Hard Truths (2011), when asked to assess the progress of multi-racialism here. He also opined that based on his observations, “the other communities have easier integration – friends, intermarriages and so on, Indians with Chinese, Chinese with Indians – than Muslims” and that he thought “the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.” Asked what Muslims could do to integrate, Mr Lee was also quoted in the book saying: “Be less strict on Islamic observances and say: ‘Okay, I’ll eat with you’.”

“It (the unification with Malaysia) would only be possible when Malaysia practised meritocracy”- New Straits Times-December 19, 2000, and

[Askmelah’s note: The only way that the Malaysians will take back Singapore must be on their own terms rather than on Singapore’s terms. Ideology has no place in this unfortunate circumstances]

“If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it.” Straits Times, 17 August 2004,

  • Lee Kuan Yew’s view on the Tiananmen incident.
  • While Deng had succeeded in suppressing dissidents, other dictators had failed miserably e.g Libyan’s dictator Gaddafi and likewise for many preceding last Chinese emperors of the various dynasties.

“I’m quite accustomed to a hostile group… it’s not going to change me and I’m not going to change you – we are going to prosper and you are going to prosper but if I allow you to run my country, we will spiral downwards and hit rock bottom.”  – Channel NewsAsia  28 March 2007

  •  “Australia no longer “white trash of Asia”: MM Lee“. In 1980, Lee Kuan Yew, the outspoken prime minister of Singapore, famously warned that Australia was living way beyond its means and in danger of becoming the poor white trash of Asia. Fast forward 30 years, he has to eat his own words as not only is Australia thriving, its currency is strongest now than in the last 30 years compared to SGD and Australia remains one of the top two countries to aspiring immigrants (Singapore on the other hand has cheapen its desirability by letting in so many immigrants with many of questionable qualities in the last 10 years and also resorts to free scholarships and free loan to students, low taxes, over-generous research grants/incentive schemes, high pays etc). 

“Now if democracy will not work for the Russians, a white Christian people, can we assume that it will naturally work with Asians?” –Asahai Shimbun symposium, May 9, 1991

“They say, oh, let’s have multiparty politics. Let’s have different parties change and be in charge of the Government. Is it that simple? You vote in a Division Three government, not a Division One government, and the whole economy will just subside within three, four years. Finished.”– Lee Kuan Yew, Today, Aug 15 2008

[Askmelah’s Note: another classic fear mongering example by Lee Kuan Yew. How do you define Division Three? Was Chen Shui Bian’s Government one or worse? It may have gone through some lows, but Taiwan economy is not finished even after eight years of Chen Shui Bian’s rule (which also antagonised the mighty China who are always looking for opportunity to retake the “renegade province“) and the country has recovered since. It is also overly arrogant of him to think that whoever party that is capable to take over the PAP party will be a division three government. A Government consist of not only the politicians but also a well established civil service, but admittedly the politicians can do big damage even for PAP politicians. Just look at the PAP’s immigration and IR missteps which they are trying very very hard to rectify still.]

“Between being loved and being feared, I have always believed Machiavelli was right. If nobody is afraid of me, I’m meaningless.” – Mr Lee Kuan Yew, 1997, South China Morning Post

[Askmelah’s Note: this is where the similarity between LKY and Nelson Mandela ends as great human beings. Nelson Mandela who is universally beloved was never feared. He has become an everyday hero, a beacon of hope, forgiveness and conciliation. Almost everyone cherish and love him, not just friends but even foes, because he represents the notion of a greater good. As for LKY, even for the people whose life has been transformed, the respect for this man is at best mixed with respect, admiration, fear and disdain. For those who lives (people who holds different political beliefs but were jailed for life or forced to leave their homeland and never allowed to return, a whole generation of old folks who were deprived of their cultural entertainment in their own languages, lives that were lost due to his stop-at-two policy, people’s livelihoods were destroyed overnight when their houses or lands were forcefully taken back by the Government and so on)  have been destroyed due to his unpopular policies, the curse will be much worse.]

“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. Is heaven such a large and limitless space that you can keep all the people of the world over the thousands of years past? I have a question mark on that . . . it goes against logic. Supposing we all have life after death, where is that place?” – “One Man’s View Of The World”

[Askmelah’s note: Base on my limited religious knowledge as  a free thinker, some Indian, Tibetian and Chinese religions believe in reincarnation, some get promoted and some get demoted from heaven, human world as human or animals or hell depends on what you did in your current life. So while the human population has exploded, the animal population has dwindled, it makes some sense though not entirely scientific. The life kind of get recycled and there are many spiritual evidence that could not be explained by humans no matter how smart they are. I will never try to be too clever to say that all the spiritual things are fictions. While LKY has done many good things in his life, he has done some terrible things to his “enemies”, really wonder what will his afterlife fate be? Is that the reason why he is so ruthless since he does not believe in Karma?]

“They (Malaysia) have got all the resources. If they would just educate the Chinese and Indians, use them and treat them as their citizens, they can equal us and even do better than us and we would be happy to rejoin them.” (source)

  • Lee made the remark in an interview on Sept 27 1996 with syndicated columnist Tom Plate of the UCLA Media Center and new-media expert Jeffrey Cole of the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future.

“A suggestion was made: “Mandarin is well-established among the population now. Let us go back to dialects so the old can enjoy dramas”. I objected, pointing out that I had, as prime minister, paid a heavy price getting the dialect programmes suppressed and encouraging people to speak Mandarin. So why backtrack? I had antagonised an entire generation of Chinese, who found their favourite dialect programmes cut off. There was one very good narrator of stories called Lee Dai Sor on Rediffusion, and we just switched off his show. Why should I allow Cantonese or Hokkien to infect the next generation? If you bring it back, you will find portions of the older generation beginning to speak in dialects to their children and grandchildren.” – “One Man’s View Of The World”


  • In a 2001 documentary about his life produced by a Hong Kong company, Mr Lee called the air-conditoner the greatest invention of the century.

[Askmelah’s note: many will disagree with him on this one. My top three inventions-of-the-century are: internet, computers and mobilephones. But these three inventions all have a single root – semiconductors. Other possible candidates include airplanes, telephones, automobiles, trains, electricity, flims and televisions etc. Urr, air-conditioning is not in the top 10 list.

Talking to Lee Kuan Yew was a one-sided affair. His style of conversation, like his manner of addressing the Malaysian Parliament when he was a member, was to lecture his listeners about what was right and what was wrong. But during our discussion, I came to realise that he did not know all that much, especially on technological matters. I remember one occasion when he mentioned that he had just came across a new process of desalination. But it was not new at all and had been used generally for years.” – Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, p.419]

OK, ok here are some positive and enlighten ones …..

The New Age Parents: Top 8 Unforgettable And Precious Words Of Lee Kuan Yew

“Everything works, whether its water, electricity, gas, telephone, telexes, it just has to work. If it doesn’t work, I want to know why, and if I am not satisfied, and I often was not, the chief goes, and I have to find another chief. Firing the chief is very simple.” (1984)

“Eat less than you want to, work more than you need to, sleep well” (2004)

“‘I see no reason why I should impress people by having a big car or changing my suits every now and again to keep up with the latest styles.” (2011)

“I’m very determined. If I decide what something is worth doing, then I’ll put my heart and soul to it. The whole ground can be against me, but if I know it is right, I’ll do it. That’s the business of a leader.” From Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, 1998

“Despite his weakness, Bill Clinton was a very effective leader. He was able to survive all his peccadilloes and still present himself as a credible leader.” – Lee Kuan Yew on former US president Bill Vlinton. Mr Lee cited him ans one of the three statemen he admired, the other two being Deng XiaoPing and former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. (the Sunday Times, 17 Jul 2011)

“There are two rules of law in China, one for the ordinary citizen and the other for 76 million members of the Communist Party. And the judges will do what they know what the leaders require to keep the country stable.” – Lee Kuan Yew, interview with Charlie Rose, Oct 22 2009

“If the British had left me with a French or Belgian situation, I am not sure I would have been able to build it up to today’s Singapore. The British left in good grace. “ – Lee Kuan Yew: One Man’s View of the World, published by Straits Times Press in 2013


Quotes Prior To Stepping Down From Premiership…..

‘I am probably the highest paid in the Commonwealth if you go by official salary. But I am probably one of the poorest in the Commonwealth… I am one of the best paid and probably one of the poorest of the Third World prime ministers.’

  • Lee Kuan Yew responding to Workers’ Party (WP) MP J.B. Jeyaretnam’s charge that ministers here were paid much more than their counterparts in Malaysia, Australia and Britain. (1985)

“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.”

“I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP.”

  •  Petir, 1982

“One-man-one-vote is a most difficult form of government.. Results can be erratic.”

  • Dec 19 1984

“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.”

  • 1983 National Day Rally

“Social and health benefits are like opium or heroin. People get addicted and the withdrawal of welfare benefits is very painful.”

  • In November 1981, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew told a group of MPs on the eve of the moves to introduce medisave. (source)

“We, the Singapore Chinese, were the descendants of landless peasants from Guangdong and Fujian in South China; whereas the scholars, Mandarins and literati had stayed and left their progeny in China. There was nothing that Singapore had done which China could not do, and do better”

  • LKY in converation with Deng Xiaoping opined that China could and would do better than Singapore in bringing economic prosperity to China, which was in economic ruin after Deng took the power after the death of Mao Zedong. This incident demonstrates the great foresight of then LKY possessed  (source).

“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.”

  •  Lee Kuan Yew said this in 1988 National Day Rally, when he discussed the leadership transition to Goh Chok Tong in 1990

“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 or 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 referrred to again they’re conveniently distorted and distorted with impunity, because there will no opposition to contradict.”

  • Legislative Assembly Debate, Oct 4, 1956

“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.” 

  • Lee Kuan Yew as an opposition leader, April 27, 1955

“I do not yet know of a man who became a leader as a result of having undergone a leadership course.”

  • LKY is often quoted as showing his disdain for leadership course. Interestingly, there is not much information about what context he said this in, except that he said it in… 1957.

“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

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One comment on “InFamous and Famous Quotes From Lee Kuan Yew
  1. Jess says:


    I wanted to send you a short note of thanks for your “Infamous Quotes From SG Political Leaders” and “(In)Famous Quotes From Lee Kuan Yew” posts (I’ll slowly read your other posts over time!).

    I actually think that a lot of these quotes are fiction. Then I realize that it’s not. OMG.

    I grew up in Singapore and migrated to the U.S. when I was twenty (I’m now 27). I liked your introduction on the LKY Quotes page. That early LKY is not the LKY I’m more familiar with.

    I recently wrote a blog post on SG’s education system:

    If I write some other SG-focused posts in future, I will put a link back to a related post on your blog if I can find something.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and best wishes for 2014!


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