Lee Kuan Yew

Updated - November 17, 2021 05:40 am IST

Published - May 16, 1969 09:33 pm IST

FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2005, file photo, former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, reacts at the opening of the new Asia House in central London. Singapore's government said Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, that Lee, the city-state's founding father, remains on life support in intensive care being treated for severe pneumonia. (AP Photo/Sergio Dionisio, File)

FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2005, file photo, former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, reacts at the opening of the new Asia House in central London. Singapore's government said Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, that Lee, the city-state's founding father, remains on life support in intensive care being treated for severe pneumonia. (AP Photo/Sergio Dionisio, File)

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, often described as the "shrewdest politician of the region," has been the head of Singapore's Government since 1959, through three general elections. The one last year gave him leadership for another four years.

Born in Singapore on September 16, 1923, Mr. Lee had a brilliant scholastic career that climaxed in a double first in law at Cambridge, first in honours list and a star for special distinction. A Socialist in his student days, Mr. Lee became an active trade union adviser, on his return to Singapore to set up legal practice.

When the People's Action Party was formed in 1954, he became its Secretary-General, and was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1935.

Many of his P.A.P. colleagues were Communists or fellow travellers. Mr. Lee grappled with them and reorganised the party on a different cadre system. When the P.A.P. won the first general elections in May 1959, many of the P.A.P. leaders were in jail. On June 5. 1959, he became the first Prime Minister of self governing Singapore.

While his battle with the Communists continued, his old-time colleagues quit and formed the pro-Communist Barisan Socialist Party which under his constant vigilance and stem action is now underground. He also fought the Barisan to join Malaysia. But when Singapore was in Malaysia he led a crusade for a "Malaysian Malaysia" and talked of other possibilities outside Malaysia. Then the separation came and he became the first Prime Minister of the independent Republic of Singapore.

Since then he has exhorted the people of Singapore to build a "tough, lean, rugged society for survival." Recently he said: "Singapore gets nothing for free. It would be a folly to minimise the size of our problems. But having had the privilege of leading a team of able, dedicated and bard-headed men, and watching the response for nine years from a rugged and robust society, I have no doubts that we shall make the grade. We will not flinch from the un- pleasant and we will not yield to the temptation of a soft solution when there is no way out." Mr. Lee wants to build a democratic-socialist State with a non-aligned foreign policy of quid pro quo.

Among the South-East Asian nations, there is a feeling that Singapore could be a Third China. This Mr. Lee continuously dispels. He said: "True, 80 per cent of our citizens are of Chinese origin, and others of Malay. Indian, Ceylonese stock, not forgetting our Eurasians and European citizens. But we are not a Chinese nor a Malay or an Indian society. Here a distinct community has struck root."

Mr. Lee is a convincing advocate, with a flair for calculations and overrules emotion.

Widely travelled, Mr. Lee is known to many foreign leaders. He has visited, over the years, the African nations, United States, Canada, England, West Europe, Russia, India, Burma, Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand and Australia among other countries.

Mr. Lee's wife, a partner in his law firm, was his contemporary in Cambridge. They have three children, two boys and a girl.

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