In his own words: Vow to cleanse the system of the evils of the past
When Parliament convened yesterday 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
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.
“MR SPEAKER, Sir, may I say that the PAP Government had put its cards on the table before it assumed office. We did it over three months of campaigning beginning from the famous day of 15th February at Hong Lim.
It was there the Deputy Prime Minister said things and set off a chain reaction which finally ended with the routing of the rogues and scallywags that used to haunt this Chamber.
We have placed before the people the mandate that we sought of them. We did not try to deceive anyone.
We know exactly what is expected of us because we have made these promises. Unlike the previous government, we gave no hostages to fortune.
Plainly and simply, we took the stand which we knew was necessary and in the interest of the survival of the democratic state in order, first, to cleanse the system of the evils of the past, and to retrieve some of the liberalism, the tolerance which were the good things we should carry into the future.
I tell the Opposition this. They provide us, and I hope they will continue to provide us in the next five years, with that vivid contrast which will throw up the virtues of the PAP into magnificence.
But if we fail, let me tell them that this is not a constitutional position of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Democrats and Republicans in America, or Tories and Labour in Britain.
If we fail, and we are unable to make the system work, it is not they who are going to come back.
They will be fleeing for their lives, because behind us there is no other alternative which is prepared to work the democratic system.
And therefore, in the last analysis, if we fail, then brute force returns.
I am sure no one in this House nor anyone in the country would want this to happen. And therefore, I say to all those who wish us ill, that if we fail, woe betide them.
But to those who wish us well, I give this message. This is a Government consisting of people who put their ideas, their ideals and the welfare of their people above themselves.
This is a party which has the courage of its convictions, which is prepared to pursue what it believes to be right in the interest of the people without deviating for opportunist reasons.
This will be an era which will light up the dark pages of the history of Singapore, post 1945.
If we succeed, as we intend to, in building a climate not only of national solidarity but a climate in which the ordinary people begin to believe that institutions of government in the country are run by people who are loved and revered because they are working for the mass of the people, then we will have done a service, not only to ourselves, our party and our movement, but we will also have done a service to the democratic socialist movement.
Until the advent of the PAP, no group proclaiming the democratic socialist cause ever struck roots in the mass of the people.
Let me say, Mr Speaker, Sir, judge us not in the next five years by the standards of the British House of Commons and the British Government in Whitehall.
Judge our performance in the context of our objectives and the realities of our situation, and at the end of five years, you will certainly not find us wanting in courage, in skill, and in sincerity.”