More like a durian
If they could have just squeezed us like an orange and squeezed the juice out, I think the juice would have been squeezed out of us, and all the goodness would have been sucked away. But it was a bit harder, wasn’t it? It was more like the durian. (1965)
‘One person, one vote’ and democracy
One person, one vote is a most difficult form of government. From time to time, the results can be erratic. People are sometimes fickle. They get bored with stable, steady improvements in life, and in a reckless moment, they vote for a change for change’s sake. (1984)
In new countries, democracy has worked and produced results only when there is an honest and effective government, which means a people smart enough to elect such a government. Elected governments are only as good as the people who choose them.
Contrary to what American political commentators say, I do not believe that democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe that what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy. The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development. The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps that society to establish conditions which improve the standard of living for the majority of its people, plus enabling the maximum of personal freedoms compatible with the freedoms of others in society.
Priorities and democracy
If we had got our priorities wrong, if we had placed emphasis on democratic forms instead of economic substance, we would never have reached this present stage of our development.
Because we had our priorities right, we now have a fair measures of both democratic forms and economic substance. (1984)
When you’re Singapore’s leader and your existence depends on performance – extraordinary performance, better than your competitors – when that performance disappears because the system on which it’s been based becomes eroded, then you’ve lost everything.
If you want good government, you need good leaders. You don’t get good government by just a system of good government. That is a fallacy. Even in the best of systems, if the leaders in charge are bad, the government will be bad. When the best has not gone into politics, the system has always worked poorly. (1994)
What popular government means
Popular representative government means that within each five-year period, your policies have demonstrably worked and won popular support. This is what it means. And if we flinch from the unpopular, we are in deep trouble. (1977)
No double standards
You cannot have double standards. If you expect good government, efficient government, honest government, and you expect that of the PAP MPs, you must put the same yardstick against the opposition, or you are inviting trouble, or you are putting it on the PAP to keep on exposing and debunking. (1988)
I have never been over concerned or obsessed with opinion polls or popularity polls. I think a leader who is, is a weak leader.
On banning chewing gum
If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.
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 or unnecessarily shabby or dishevelled …. But I’m not impressed by a $5000 or $10,000 Armani suit.
On the need to protect the reserves
The danger is that there is nothing to prevent a future government from running through these reserves. If there is a freak election and a coalition forms the government, all the reserves are available, the larder is wide open, you can raid it. Twenty-five years of work, savings, you can go on a spending spree for five years and then we are another broken-back country.
I must admit that the protection is not fool proof. A silver-tongued leader can persuade the people to part with their hard-earned savings. For, he can persuade people to vote to cancel the blocking mechanism in the amended constitution. Then we shall all be broke. Nevertheless, people would have been warned of what is to happen. And they can check the raiding of reserves by voting not to change the blocking mechanism in the constitution. (1984)
Receiving the Freedom of the City of London award
I feel like a conductor at a concert bowing to applause, but unable to turn around and invite the accomplished musicians in his orchestra to rise and receive the ovation for the music they have played.
On conservation and heritage
We made our share of mistakes in Singapore. For example, in our rush to rebuild Singapore, we knocked down many old and quaint Singapore buildings. Then we realised we were destroying a valuable part of our cultural heritage.
We halted the demolition. Instead, we undertook extensive conservation and restoration. The value of these areas in architectural, cultural and tourism terms cannot be quantified only in dollars and cents.
Independence was thrust upon Singapore. The fundamentals of our foreign policy were forged during those vulnerable early years. They remain relevant because small countries have little power to alter the region, let alone the world.
A small country must seek the maximum number of friends while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign and independent nation. Both parts of the equation – a maximum number of friends and freedom to be ourselves – are equally important and interrelated.
On free things and lunacy
You just read the utter, lunatic things the Opposition candidates say. If ever these people came into power, even God cannot save you from disaster. They are going to give you flats for free, medicines for free, everything you can ask or think of.. There is no need to pay. In fact there is no need to work. We can all go home and sit under the banana tree. (1972)
I have seen the contrast between the blocks of low-cost rental flats, badly misused and poorly maintained, and those of house-proud owners and was convinced that if every owned its home, the country would be more stable.
A full country in a confined space
Hong Kong has crowded, tall buildings, you seldom get sunshine in the streets, no greenery..
Singapore must retain the sense of space. We’re going to build taller buildings but we can’t build them closely together. There must be a sense of playing fields, recreational areas for children and old people – a sense that this is a full country with all the facilities that you would expect of a large country but in a confined space.