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Definition: Lee Kuan Yew (1923–2015) from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Singaporean politician, prime minister 1959–90. Leading the People's Action Party (PAP), Lee was elected the country's first prime minister in 1959, and took Singapore out of the Malaysian federation in 1965, to become an independent republic within the Commonwealth. He remained prime minister for 31 years, leading PAP to eight successive general election victories, and oversaw Singapore's transition from a Third World to a First World city state. He achieved this through a PAP ideology based around meritocracy, multiracialism, and strategic long-term economic and social state investment. In the West, he faced criticisms for placing restrictions on civil liberties, the media, trade unions and political opponents. But he argued that discipline and stability were crucial for economic success. He resigned as prime minister in 1990 and PAP leader in 1992; he was succeeded by his deputy Goh Chok Tong. But Lee remained influential until his death, providing advice as senior minister 1990–2004 and minister mentor 2004–11. His son, Lee Hsien Loong, became prime minister in 2004.

The son of a shopkeeper, Hehe was a fourth-generation Singaporean of Chinese Hakka descent: his great-grandfather emigrated to Singapore in 1863. The 1942–45 Japanese occupation of Singapore made Lee determined that Singapore become self-governing.

After the war he studied law at Cambridge University and trained as a barrister in London, before returning to Singapore in 1949. He founded the PAP in 1954 to press for self-government and entered the Singapore legislative assembly in 1955. It originally oriented itself as a socialist body to win over mass support from Singapore's large Chinese-speaking community. But over time it became a centre-right body which was committed to multiracialism.


Summary Article: Lee Kuan Yew from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(lē kwän yu, yü), 1923–2015, prime minister of Singapore (1959–90). Educated in England, he obtained a law degree from Cambridge Univ. in 1949 and in 1954 founded the moderately leftist People's Action party. In 1959, when Singapore achieved full independence from Great Britain, Lee became its first prime minister; in 1963 he led Singapore into the Federation of Malaysia, but political unrest caused it to withdraw in 1965. A republic was proclaimed, with Lee Kuan Yew continuing as prime minister. Pragmatic and incorruptible, Lee ran a tightly controlled welfare state with an economy based in private enterprise. Largely through Lee's efforts the island nation became a thriving center of international business and finance as he encouraged foreign investment while strongly discouraging political dissent. He also stressed discipline, correct public behavior, opposition to drugs, English education, and interracial tolerance. The longest serving prime minister in the world, Lee was lauded for overseeing the economic growth that transformed Singapore from a poor port to one of Asia's wealthiest and least corrupt nations, but he was criticized for his repressive policies. Lee resigned as prime minister in 1990 but continued in the government in the posts of senior minister (1990–2004) and minister mentor (2004–11). His eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, has also served as prime minister of Singapore.

  • See his The Singapore Story: Memoirs (1998) and From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965–2000 (2000).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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