Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy: RACIAL HARMONY
PUBLISHED ON 23 Mar 2016
Lee Kuan Yew. What did he do for Singapore?

Provocative question nevertheless, it is timely for us, as Singaporeans, to ask as we observe the first year anniversary of passing of Singapore’s first Prime Minister and founding Secretary-General of the People’s Action Party, which has governed Singapore for more 60 years.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away six months short of his 92nd birthday on 23 March 2016. The passing and outpouring of public grief reflected acknowledgement, gratitude and respect for the man who, together with his team, transformed a third world country into a first world one and made Singapore what it is - a place that we proudly call home.

Why did he do that? Passion.

Singapore was his passion and he wanted to prove to his detractors that Singapore will survive despite the insurmountable odds against it. When the PAP first formed the government in 1959, Singapore had nothing much going for it. It had no natural resources, no water and not much of a skilled labour force to speak of. Separation from Malaysia gave birth to an independent Singapore, which had to scramble to educate, create jobs, to provide housing and security for its people.

But Mr Lee’s greatest contribution ever to Singapore is in ensuring a multi-racial Singapore.

Having learnt painful lessons from the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950, the communists’ machinations against the people of Singapore and the devastating race riots of 1964, Mr Lee was resolute in his belief that all Singaporeans, regardless of race and religion should co-exist as one united people. And that was his mantra throughout his years in Cabinet, and out of it.

“We are going to have a multi-racial nation in Singapore. We will set the example. This is not a Malay nation; this is not a Chinese nation; this is not an Indian nation. Everybody will have his place: equal; language, culture, religion.”

This statement was made as Prime Minister Lee of a nascent city-state, gingerly finding its footing after separation from Malaysia. Having always believed in the merger, the separation was a devastating blow to Mr Lee.

In his first-ever National Day Rally speech at the National Theatre, a year after Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. Mr Lee spoke about an integrated society with common values and attitudes, a common outlook, a common language and a common culture for Singapore.

It was revolutionary thinking, as the easier option was to create a ‘Chinese nation’ in Singapore. However, Mr Lee opposed it and chose to galvanise everyone to adopt new values of peaceful co-existence in a multiracial setting - unity in diversity.

He envisioned a meritocratic, multiracial, multi-religious and multi-lingual society, where no one would be favoured or discriminated against because of their race, language or religion.

Ably supported by leaders, from Dr Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Dr Toh Chin Chye to Goh Chok Tong and many others during his long innings as Prime Minister, Mr Lee’s emphasis on enhancing racial harmony was the real driver of the Singapore’s economic and political growth.

Mr Lee emphasised this fact in 2011:

“Singapore was thrust with independence, and as a small country with no natural resources, we had to rise up to the challenge of building a nation, and improve standards of living through pragmatic and sometimes tough economic and social policies. We also had to ensure social cohesion and harmony in our multi-racial, multi-religious society. Racial and religious harmony is crucial, and continues to be so.”

Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong also reiterated this key aspect in his speech at the Community Leaders’ Conference (several months after Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing), “One of our most remarkable achievements over these last 50 years, has been our racial and religious harmony.  It stems from a strong belief in the ideal of a multiracial society where everybody is equal, regardless of race, language or religion, and it was the most fundamental reason why we left Malaysia and went our own way on 9 August 1965.  Since then, we have held firmly to the belief that before race, language and religion, first and foremost, we should all be Singaporeans together and so, we have built a fair and just society, based on meritocracy, where ability and not your background or the colour of your skin, determines how well you do, determines what contributions you make, and what rewards you get.”

A harmonious, tolerant, and unique multi-racial society is not created naturally. It is an act of will which has sustained our little red dot over the years.

The best way to remember and celebrate Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is to always safeguard the racial harmony, which we have nurtured carefully over the years, for the future of Singapore.

The late Mr Lee created a resilient and united nation of believers and doers, who celebrated fifty years of nationhood and who are now looking forward to another fifty years of growth and prosperity.

Majulah Singapura and Thank you, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.