Man at His Best

An Esquire Study On Lee Kuan Yew's Little Red Dot

A timeline of notable glories and gaffes as Lee Kuan Yew turned a village into a metropolis in the last 50 years.

BY EDITORS | Mar 23, 2016 | Culture

1965: Signs the Independence of Singapore Agreement, separates from Malaysia, lives in isolation for six weeks after, and goes on to develop a first-world nation.

1967: The National Service (Amendment) act is passed. Able-bodied male citizens above 18 are legally obliged to enlist. Lee has the late Goh Keng Swee—considered Singapore’s architect of economic, defence and education policies—to go raise an army. And raise an army he does. The country is ranked 26 out of 126 in the 2015 Global Firepower list with around two million fit-for-service personnel. [Source: Mindef and Global Firepower]

1968: States that “poetry is a luxury we cannot afford” in an address at the University of Singapore—placing pragmatic economic reasons and Asian values before literature and the arts.

1972: The “Stop at Two” campaign is launched. Abortion and sterilisation are legalised. Women who have more than two children receive fewer government subsidies. The anti-natalist programme proves to be such a success that the birth rate is reduced to 17.7 per 1,000 population in 1975. The government scraps the whole thing in 1980 due to a falling birth rate. [Source: Singapore Family Planning and Population Board]

1974: Explores water recycling. Although the initial launch with PUB (the Public Utilities Board, not the drinking tavern at Clarke Quay) fails because it is too expensive, Lee’s ambition leads to the first NEWater plant in 2010. NEWater currently supplies 30 percent of the country’s needs, a figure that is expected to climb to 55 percent by 2060. [Source: PUB]

1977: Initiates the clean up of the Singapore River and Kallang Basin. Lee calls on the former chairman of PUB, Lee Ek Tieng, to handle the monumental task. It takes his department 10 years at a cost of SGD170 million to do so. Inebriated revellers at Clarke Quay today have continuously treated it with the utmost disrespect by the mere act of regurgitation. [Source: PUB]

1984: Launches the Graduate Mothers Scheme. In a National Day Rally speech a year earlier, Lee addressed the problem of graduate women not marrying and producing intelligent kids. This sparks the “Great Marriage Debate” as some feel that Lee is toying with an overtly eugenicist programme. The government then gives education and housing priorities, tax rebates and other benefits to mothers with a university degree, as well as their children. The scheme is abolished a year later. [Source: Library of Congress]

1987: Lee introduces bilingualism. By doing away with vernacular schools with English as the first language of commerce. Majulah.

1989: The Ethnic Integration Policy is implemented. Till today, HDB flats maintain an ethnicity quota system designed for racial integration. We believe this was where Singlish was born. [Source: National Library Board]

2007: Lee comments that homosexuality is a matter of genetics and shouldn’t be criminalised during a weekend meeting with the youth wing of the People’s Action Party. [Source: The Straits Times]

2011: The People’s Action Party (PAP) suffers a blow with a 6.46 percent electoral swing. The General Elections saw the ruling party winning 60.14 percent of the popular vote—the lowest since 1965. Lee, then Minister Mentor, steps down from Cabinet.

2012: Lee Hsien Loong takes a 36 percent pay cut (or SGD2.2 million a year) after voters voice their discontent; pay for entry-level ministers is cut to 37 percent or SGD1.1million. [Source: The New York Times]

2013: Singapore’s football team drops to its lowest ranking ever. Although no fault of Lee’s, being ranked 165 out of 209 countries is just stupid. [Source: FIFA]

2014: The world’s most expensive city to live in is a little red dot. Compared to New York, clothes are 50 percent more expensive and groceries 11 percent pricier; automobiles are three times more costly (cue reaction from the Fast and Furious cast). Esquire’s suggestion: Let’s all be naked hydroponic farmers on bicycles by 2020. [Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit, except for the naked bit.]

2015: Gross Domestic Product per capita grows to SGD74,522. This means that, on average, Singaporeans are spending around SGD6,210 a month. [Source: The World Bank]

2015: World Press Freedom Index ranks Singapore at a record low. At 153rd in a list of 180 countries—below the likes of Russia, Cambodia and Nicaragua (wherever that is)—isn’t something to be proud about. [Source: Reporters Without Borders]

From: Esquire Singapore's May 2015 issue.