9 lessons Filipino politicians can learn from Lee Kuan Yew



Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew passed away at age 91. He was widely known to transform what was once a humble port village at the tip of Malaysia to a booming economic powerhouse. He is survived by his son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and two other children.

Lee Kuan Yew is considered a trailblazer within his contemporaries in the field of politics. Despite his absence in the political landscape for more than a decade now, he has openly shared his thoughts on international issues, economy, and their neighbors in the Southeast Asian region, including the Philippines.

“Something had gone seriously wrong,” he once said on the continued labor and brain drain in the country. “Millions of Filipino men and women had to leave their country for jobs abroad beneath their level of education.”

“Filipino professionals whom we recruited to work in Singapore are as good as our own. Indeed, their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours.”

While his leadership style continues to spark debates among academics and political theorists, our own Filipino politicians might learn a thing or two from the father of modern-day Singapore.


On being a colony of a Western country

“Here in Singapore, you didn’t come across the white man so much. He was in a superior position. But there you are (in Britain) in a superior position meeting white men and white women in an inferior position, socially, I mean. They have to serve you and so on in the shops. And I saw no reason why they should be governing me; they’re not superior. I decided when I got back, I was going to put an end to this.”


On popularity polls and approval ratings

“I have never been overconcerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader. If you are concerned with whether your rating will go up or down, then you are not a leader. You are just catching the wind … you will go where the wind is blowing. And that’s not what I am in this for.”

“You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools.”


On doing the right thing

“I always tried to be correct, not politically correct.”


On the Singaporean model

“We knew that if we were just like our neighbours, we would die. Because we’ve got nothing to offer against what they have to offer. So we had to produce something which is different and better than what they have. It’s incorrupt. It’s efficient. It’s meritocratic. It works.”


On his legacy being revised

“I’m no longer in active politics. It’s irrelevant to me what young Singaporeans think of me. What they think of me after I’m dead and gone in one generation will be determined by researchers who do PhDs on me, right? So there will be a lot of revisionism. As people revised Stalin, Brezhnev and one day now Yeltsin, and later on Putin. I’ve lived long enough to know that you may be idealized in life and reviled after you’re dead.”


On being Singapore’s toughest guy

“If you are a troublemaker… it’s our job to politically destroy you. … Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac.”


On his iron fist

“Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I’ve spent a whole lifetime building this and as long as I’m in charge, nobody is going to knock it down.”


On being stylish

“I’m not interested in changing either my suit or my car or whatever with every change in fashion. That’s irrelevant. I don’t judge myself or my friends by their fashions. Of course, I don’t approve of people who are sloppy and unnecessarily shabby or dishevelled… But I’m not impressed by a US$5,000 or US$10,000 Armani suit.”


On resting

“Rest on laurels? I wish I could do that. No, you rest when you’re dead”.


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