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Legacy of Lee Kuan Yew

August 7, 2015

As Singapore's Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990, Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March 2015 at the age of 91, presided over many of Singapore's advancements including independence from Malaysia in 1965.

During the three decades in which he held office, this mini state grew from a developing country to one of the most developed nations in Asia. Lee often stated that Singapore's only natural resources are its people and their strong work ethic.

Here are some of the main achievements under Lee’s leadership. Economicly: Gross National Product per capita rose from USD 1,240 to USD 18,437. The unemployment rate dropped from 13.5% to 1.7%,  external trade increased from USD 7.3 billion to USD 205 billion in 1990. In other areas, the life expectancy at birth for Singaporeans rose from 65 years to 74 years. The population increased from 1.6 million to 3 million. The number of public flats rose from 22,975 to 667,575. The Singaporean literacy rate increased from 52% to 90% in 1990. Telephone lines per 100 Singaporeans increased from 3 to 38. Visitor arrivals to Singapore rose from 0.1 million to 5.3 million.

Lee's achievements had a profound effect on the Communist leadership in China, who made a major effort, especially under Deng Xiaoping, to emulate his policies of economic growth, entrepreneurship and subtle suppression of dissent. Over 22,000 Chinese officials were sent to Singapore to study its methods. Lee has also been a major influence on Russian attitudes toward economic development in recent years.

Other world leaders also praised Lee. Henry Kissinger once said that Lee was "One of the asymmetries of history". Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher praised “his way of penetrating the fog of propaganda and expressing with unique clarity the issues of our time and the way to tackle them".

On the other hand, many Singaporeans have criticized Lee as authoritarian and as intolerant of dissent, citing his numerous – mostly successful – attempts to sue political opponents and newspapers who expressed an unfavorable opinion. Reporters Without Borders, an international media pressure group, requested Lee and other senior Singaporean officials to stop initiating libel suits against journalists.

In addition to being authoritarian, Lee was accused of promoting a culture of elitism among Singapore's ruling class. Michael Barr wrote in his book The Ruling Elite of Singapore: Networks of Influence and Power claims that the system of meritocracy in Singapore is not quite how the government presents it; rather, it is a system of nepotism and collusion run by Lee's family and their crony friends and allies. Barr claims further that although the government presents the city-state as multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan, all the networks are dominated by ethnic Chinese, leaving the minority Malay and Indian ethnic groups powerless.


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