On 1 September 2010, Seth Mydans interviewed Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.
A few comments by LKY have a very pertinent message for Malaysia. This was what he said.
Q: “I wonder if that is a concern of yours about the next generation. I saw your discussion with a group of young people before the last election and they were saying what they want is a lot of these values from the West, an open political marketplace and even playing field in all of these things and you said well, if that’s the way you feel, I’m very sad.”
Mr Lee: “Because you play it that way, if you have dissension, if you chose the easy way to Muslim votes and switch to racial politics, this society is finished. The easiest way to get majority vote is vote for me, we’re Chinese, they’re Indians, they’re Malays. Our society will be ripped apart. If you do not have a cohesive society, you cannot make progress.”
Q: “But is that a concern that the younger generation doesn’t realize as much as it should?”
Mr Lee: “I believe they have come to believe that this is a natural state of affairs, and they can take liberties with it. They think you can put it on auto-pilot. I know that is never so. We have crafted a set of very intricate rules, no housing blocks shall have more than a percentage of so many Chinese, so many percent Malays, Indians. All are thoroughly mixed. Willy-nilly, your neighbours are Indians, Malays, you go to the same shopping malls, you go to the same schools, the same playing fields, you go up and down the same lifts. We cannot allow segregation.”
Q: “There are people who think that Singapore may lighten up a little bit when you go, that the rules will become a little looser and if that happens, that might be something that’s a concern to you.”
Mr Lee: “No, you can go looser where it’s not race, language and religion because those are deeply gut issues and it will surface the moment you start playing on them. It’s inevitable, but on other areas, policies, right or wrong, disparity of opportunities, rich and poor, well go ahead. But don’t play race, language, religion. We’ve got here, we’ve become cohesive, keep it that way. We’ve not used Chinese as a majority language because it will split the population. We have English as our working language, it’s equal for everybody, and it’s given us the progress because we’re connected to the world. If you want to keep your Malay, or your Chinese, or your Tamil, Urdu or whatever, do that as a second language, not equal to your first language. It’s up to you, how high a standard you want to achieve.”
Q: “You made one of the few people who laugh at Singapore.”
Mr Lee: “Let me give you a Chinese proverb “do not judge a man until you’ve closed his coffin. Do not judge a man.” Close the coffin, then decide. Then you assess him. I may still do something foolish before the lid is closed on me.”
Q: “So you’re waiting for the final verdict?”
Mr Lee: “No, the final verdict will not be in the obituaries. The final verdict will be when the PhD students dig out the archives, read my old papers, assess what my enemies have said, sift the evidence and seek the truth? I’m not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honourable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.”
Q: “For the greater good?
Mr Lee: “Well, yes, because otherwise they are running around and causing havoc playing on Chinese language and culture, and accusing me of destroying Chinese education. You’ve not been here when the Communists were running around. They do not believe in the democratic process. They don’t believe in one man, one vote. They believe in one bullet, one vote. They had killer squads. But they at the same time had a united front exploiting the democratic game. It gave them cover. But my business, my job was to make sure that they did not succeed. Sometimes you just got to lock the leaders up. They are confusing the people. The reality is that if you allow these people to work up animosity against the government because it’s keeping down the Chinese language, because we’ve promoted English, keeping down Chinese culture because you have allowed English literature, and we suppress our Chinese values and the Chinese language, the Chinese press, well, you will break up the society. They harp on these things when they know they are not true. They know that if you actually do in Chinese language and culture, the Chinese will riot and the society must break up.”
Q: “So leadership is a constant battle?”
Mr Lee: “In a multiracial situation like this, it is. Malaysia took the different line; Malaysians saw it as a Malay country, all others are lodgers, “orang tumpangan”, and they the Bumiputras, sons of the soil, run the show. So the Sultans, the Chief Justice and judges, generals, police commissioner, the whole hierarchy is Malay. All the big contracts for Malays. Malay is the language of the schools although it does not get them into modern knowledge. So the Chinese build and find their own independent schools to teach Chinese, the Tamils create their own Tamil schools, which do not get them jobs. It’s a most unhappy situation.”