When Parliament convened on Thursday to pay homage to its longest-serving member, speaker after speaker referred to the major speeches that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had made in the House at key moments in the nation’s history. Perhaps the Parliament’s most electrifying presence ever, he pulled no punches and spoke with clarity and conviction on the challenges facing Singapore at various stages of its evolution.
Here are edited excerpts from 10 significant speeches he delivered in the House over his 60 years as MP for Tanjong Pagar:
JULY 21, 1959: Vow to cleanse the system of the evils of the past
The People’s Action Party had just swept the 1959 Legislative Assembly General Election, winning 43 out of 51 seats. It was the first time the PAP, which up till then was an opposition party, had come to power.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew was 35 years old when he delivered his first speech in the Legislative Assembly as Prime Minister, attacking those who stood against the PAP and even the civil servants opposed to its policy changes. He also assured voters that the PAP stood with the masses and that party leaders remained dedicated to the service of Singapore.
DEC 14, 1965: Quest for a just and enduring future for everyone
In the first Parliament sitting after Singapore became an independent country, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke to the House, denouncing the opposition Barisan Sosialis and exposing their communist links. He discussed racial politics in Malaysia and how it would impact Singapore. This speech set the tone for the country’s multiracial policies in the decades ahead.
SEPT 8, 1967: Maintaining confidence in Singapore’s continued stability
In 1967, the British announced that they would be withdrawing their military presence from bases all over Asia, including Singapore. The British bases in Singapore, built from the 1930s, contributed as much as 20 per cent of Singapore’s economy at the time. In his speech to the House, Mr Lee Kuan Yew laid out the difficult options on the table.
FEB 23, 1977: Make the right decisions, even if they are unpopular
In one of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s longest speeches ever, he held forth for nearly four hours in a wide-ranging parliamentary address.
Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong recently singled out this speech as memorable, recalling how, as a young MP listening to it, “my bladder was about to burst”. Mr Lee spoke on leadership, succession, fighting the communists and winning elections in his address to 11 young MPs – Mr Goh included – who had just entered the House.
JULY 30, 1986: Absurd to suggest judges fall in line with Govt’s wishes
As Prime Minister in the 1980s, two of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s fiercest opponents were veteran opposition politicians Chiam See Tong and the late J. B. Jeyaretnam, the MPs for Potong Pasir and Anson respectively.
In this speech, Mr Lee rebuts allegations of government interference in the Subordinate Courts by Mr Jeyaretnam – the subject of a Commission of Inquiry which found no evidence of it – as well as Mr Chiam’s remarks that the PM “dominates the universities, the civil service, statutory boards, I think, even Members of Parliament”.
JAN 26, 1987: Teh Cheang Wan case: No way a minister can avoid investigations
This jaw-dropping speech revealed then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s zero tolerance of corruption. He kicks off the parliamentary session by reading out a suicide note addressed to him, written by the Minister for National Development Teh Cheang Wan, who had died suddenly a month before. Mr Lee goes on to reveal for the first time that Teh was being investigated for accepting bribes.
NOV 1, 1994: Higher pay will attract most talented team, so country can prosper
In debating the motion to change the formula to calculate ministerial pay, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then Senior Minister, put up a robust argument for paying ministers good salaries.
He said that the private sector had taken away many good men and women from the Government, and without good people, the country would suffer.
NOV 24, 2004: English for trade; mother tongue to preserve identity
This speech in its entirety, made in support of a revised, more flexible Chinese-language curriculum while he was Minister Mentor, is one of the most complete statements of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s views on bilingualism and language policy.
APRIL 19, 2005: IRs needed for Singapore to keep abreast of the top cities
In the debate over whether to bring in the integrated resorts and casinos to Singapore, Mr Lee stood up to state that he was against gambling.
He had initially resisted the move to bring casinos into Singapore but he eventually changed his mind because he saw the benefits that it could bring to the country.
AUG 19, 2009: ‘Equality is an aspiration, it is not reality, it is not practical’
In a motion to continue to affirm the tenets in the National Pledge when debating government policies, Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan questioned if it was time for Singapore to move beyond race and treat everyone as an equal.
The next day, Mr Lee Kuan Yew delivered one of his last major speeches in Parliament and took it upon himself to “bring the House back to earth”. He argued that equality of men is an aspiration rather than the reality.