SINGAPORE - The harmony between Singaporeans of different races and religions is in large part due to Mr Lee Kuan Yew's insistence on a multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-lingual Singapore, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Friday.
In a speech paying tribute to Mr Lee's legacy of multi-racialism that is a key tenet of Singapore today, Mr Teo said that Mr Lee and his Cabinet ministers - who were of different races - were determined to make multi-racialism a foundation of Singapore.
Mr Lee understood the importance of inculcating a sense of ownership of the country in every Singaporean, regardless of race, said Mr Teo at a tribute event by community groups, held at Kallang Theatre where Mr Lee gave his last National Day Rally speech as prime minister in 1990. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his wife Ho Ching were present.
Mr Teo added that the country's first prime minister encouraged the spirit of community self-help, which is today reflected in groups such as the Chinese Development Assistance Council, Mendaki, Association of Muslim Professionals, Sinda and the Eurasian Association.
"But Mr Lee was also conscious of the real dangers of chauvinism, whether language, race or religion," said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister.
He added that Mr Lee has seen how these differences had been exploited during Singapore's early years as an independent state, leading to communal conflict.
"He knew that if each community pushed for more and more, others would similarly push back. And each community and our entire country would end up with less," said Mr Teo.
Mr Lee recognised that harmony rested on a delicate balance based on give and take, mutual trust and understanding, and treating everyone fairly, regardless of race, religion or creed, said Mr Teo.
He added that multi-racialism remains a work in progress, which Singapore must never take for granted.