Home » Lee Kuan Yew: A Legacy Explored

Lee Kuan Yew was an academically gifted student who attended Raffles Institution and won a scholarship to study at Raffles College. His time at the college, however, was disrupted when the Japanese Army came a-knocking in 1942.

Like many other Chinese males in Singapore, Lee was in danger of being rounded up for ‘Operation Sook Ching’ — a massacre where members of the Kempeitai or Japanese military police mercilessly executed people they believed to be anti-Japanese.

While out with his family’s go-to rickshaw driver, Koh Teong Koo, they encountered Japanese soldiers who ordered them to report to a screening exercise. Understanding the gravity of the situation, the men resorted to quick tactical thinking to stay alive – a friend of Koh’s had a residence at 75 Maude Road located within the registration centre’s boundaries. The pair thus hid in the house until Lee found an opportune time to slip away following a change of guard.

Lee Kuan Yew’s political awakening

While studying at the London School of Economics and Cambridge University, Lee got involved with the British Labour Party and the anti-colonial Malayan Forum. This experience deepened his interest in politics and reinforced his belief that the way forward for Singapore was independence – not subservience. Interacting with fellow patriots and members of the forum such as Goh Keng Swee and Toh Chin Chye further spurred Lee’s eventual foray into politics.

Lee Kuan Yew’s secret wedding

Lee Kuan Yew received a first-class law degree in 1949 and was called to the bar at London’s Middle Temple in 1950. Apart from academics, he also made time for romance, pursuing Kwa, a Queen’s Scholar. The pair married in secret in December 1947 in Stratford, England.

The reason behind their discretion? Few parents and scholarship boards of the 1940s were open to the idea of marriage before graduation.

 

Fighting for the rights of locals

Lee Kuan Yew who began his law career with the firm Laycock and Ong, became politically engaged in a variety of causes. Among other things, he advised trade unions and clan associations on legal matters, and even fought tooth and nail for local civil servants to receive the same benefits as their European counterparts.

His efforts caught the eye of members of the public who viewed him as the voice of the people.

In 1959, Lee – having set up law firm Lee & Lee with his wife and brother four years before – decided to leave the field and plunge himself full-time into politics

Carving a nation out of a colony

In 1954, Lee gathered a team of passionate patriots and gamechangers such as Goh and Toh for a series of clandestine meetings to discuss the nation’s future.

The newly-formed party went on to contest in the 1955 Legislative Assembly elections, their relatable personalities and fiery speeches winning the hearts of locals. Lee himself was elected to represent the constituency of Tanjong Pagar, a position he maintained for 60 years until his death in 2015.

A powerful orator, Lee’s rousing speeches and persuasive debating style subsequently led him and the PAP to a strong victory in the 1959 elections where his party captured 43 of the 51 available assembly seats. Lee, at the rather tender age of 35, became the prime minister of the self-governing state of Singapore.

Merger with Malaya

From the outset, Lee believed that Singapore needed a hinterland or a larger country to lean on for natural resources and economic stability. This, as well as other concerns, led him to propose and push for a controversial merger with Malaya.

Merdeka! Merdeka!

Lee was also generally cautious about who he picked to serve in ministerial capacities. Based on their strengths, he placed Goh in charge of defence, S. Rajaratnam on foreign affairs, and Ong Pang Boon on education matters.

 

Lee Kuan Yew: A Legacy Explored
Lee Kuan Yew: A Legacy Explored

 

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