Remembering Lee Kuan Yew

10 quotes from Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 'awesome' 1977 speech in Parliament

Parliament holds a special sitting on Thursday to honour the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding Prime Minister, who had made countless speeches in Parliament during his decades in politics.

One of his speeches was described as "awesome" by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Facebook on Wednesday.


It was a three-and-a-half hour address in February 1977 to a House that welcomed 11 new Members of Parliament, including Mr Goh, then 36, and it made a deep impression on the young Marine Parade MP who was to succeed Mr Lee as Prime Minister later in 1990.

Here are some extracts of that speech:

1. On succession

Perhaps I ought to begin by saying that they (new MPs) ought to take themselves seriously because we, on this side as Members of the Government, take them seriously. Upon us is the burden of finding a successor Government worthy of its responsibilities. It is not an easy job.

2. On population policy

We have got seven Catholics, and they are all good Catholics. I know the Papal bull - when I say "the Papal bull", I am not saying that in jest. I think that is the technical term, is it not? Whatever it is, the Pope issues his interpretation, and the interpretation is that you can only do it by the rhythm method. Well, I wish all Catholics have a good sense of rhythm.

3. An educated man

My definition of an educated man is a man who never stops learning and wants to learn. I am not interested in whether a man has a Ph.D or not, or an M.A. for that matter, or a diploma. Mao never had one, neither had Khrushchev, nor Stalin.

4. Why bilingualism is important

Way back in 1965 we found ourselves suddenly independent. If you lose that Chinese education and you go completely English-educated, you will lose that drive, that self-confidence. That is what is wrong. The danger is, if you are Chinese-educated and only Chinese-educated, you are monolingual, then your source of literature will be communist. That is big trouble. But if you are bilingual, you have binocular vision, then you see the world in 3-D.

5. A lecture on psephology

Because for a few years we were in Malaysia, for two years, when we did our psephological analysis. In case the press gets me wrong, it is psephology and not psychology. I have a dictionary here. It is the science of how people vote. Just in case they dispute my definition, I have brought the Shorter Oxford Dictionary and it is in the addenda. It is not in the body of the dictionary itself. It is a new science. Psephology - the study of trends in voting or elections. From Greek psephos (pebble) because when the Greek voted he threw a pebble.

6. Independence

Let me assure all honourable members that each time I swear the oath of allegiance to the Republic of Singapore, my mind goes back to the 9th of August, 1965. I did not want it. We had independence thrust upon us. And the expectation was that in two to three years we would be so down on our knees and crawling that we would have to go back on any terms. No autonomy in Education, Labour, and all the other subjects. Different terms. Maybe if they were kind, like Penang and Malacca. But we resolved to make this work. Never forget that it was the will, not just of a few men. That was necessary. But the will was in the people. Otherwise it would not have worked.

7. On clean government

We did not fight the elections in December 23. We fought it as from September 1972. We made sure that no MP, no Parliamentary Secretary, no Minister misbehaved or abused his power. Because if you do, it is a very tight and swift compact society, it spreads like wild fire.

I am not saying, "No, let us be celibate." I am not even asking let us all be faithful to our wives, let us have no divorces. I do not ask that. All I ask is, please do not misbehave yourself. Anybody who has a paternity suit against him is out and there will be a by-election. That is all I say. Let us have none of this.

8. Being Chinese vs being Singaporean

When I went to China, I discovered that I was not a Chinaman. Yes, Mr Lee Khoon Choy will be my witness. I brought my young daughter with me for political reasons... It was for definite specific political reasons, one of them being to test how a Chinese-educated girl, but bilingual, would react to this situation. I am glad to say that we will relax our regulations about young people visiting China... in small groups, there is no better education for a proper appreciation of Singapore. You come back and kiss the soil.

9. On Singaporeans

You know the Singaporean. He is a hard-working, industrious, rugged individual. Or we would not have made the grade. But let us also recognise that he is a champion grumbler.

10. Popular vs populist

If you want to be popular, do not try to be popular all the time. Popular government does not mean that you do popular things all the time. We do not want to be unpopular or to do unpopular things. But when they are necessary, they will be done. Popular representative government means that within each five-year period, your policies have demonstrably worked and won popular support. That is what it means. And if we flinch from the unpopular, we are in deep trouble.

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