Lee Kuan Yew: The man who transformed Singapore forever - Deepstash

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Lee Kuan Yew was born in 1923 in Singapore during the British colonial rule. He was the prime minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990 and remained as a member in parliament until he died in 2015. Through his leadership, he transformed Singapore from a small, dependant island to an economic force. He raised standards for living significantly and made the workforce highly specialized instead. In turn the GDP of the country rose significantly. The GDP of Singapore for 2024 is projected to be 500b$ with population of 5,6m. So how did he accomplish such astonishing results? Read below


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Creating a soft dictatorship

Soft dictatorship is when the country is still to a large extent controlled by one man (the dictator), but the dictator has the country's interests at heart. This is opposed to hard dictatorship where the dictator's goal is only to keep the power in his hands even when it means people will suffer. So on one side, you have power to one person, who has in mind the interests of the common people and the country as priority number one and on the other side (hard dictatorship) you have centralized power, with the end goal of staying in power no matter the circumstances.


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Why was a soft dictatorship needed?

Not everything can be solved with democracy. Sometimes, especially in dire circumstances (such as Singapore before Lee Kuan Yew) an authoritative approach is needed. History has proven that in times of war (or when pivot is needed), the leaders that are most fit are more on the autocratic side and in peaceful times it is the opposite. In order for Singapore's reforms to become reality, two things were needed: a clear vision and firm hands to executed it. Lee Kuan Yew had both.


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Become impossible to squeeze

In one of his famous speeches, he compared Singapore with the fruit durian. He said that if Singapore was like an orange, the juice would already have been squeezed by the other more powerful players on the world stage. But instead even when it is small in size, it is more like a durian - highly nutritious, but hard to squeeze. If you attempt to squeeze it, your hands will get hurt.

Don't hope that people won't squeeze you, instead become hard to squeeze.


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Be a man of the people

Lee Kuan Yew became the man of the people by deeply caring for the well being of the common man. He made it priority number one to increase the standard of living for everyone, hence why he was so loved by his people. Even today, people speak about him with utmost respect, love and gratitude for what he has done for the country. This was achieved not through self-indulgence or greediness, but instead through hard work and grand vision. In one of his speeches, he said that he views Singapore as his baby, due to the copious amount of effort and hard work he put into reforming the country.


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Know when to step down

Lee Kuan Yew's first priority was the well-being of the common man and not preserving the power that he had accumulated. Hence why he thought of a plan of succession before he stepped down from the prime minister role voluntarily. He knew that he would need a good plan of succession, if he wanted Singapore to continue prosper without him. Some even say that one of the best criteria for whether you did a good job in senior leadership, is the succession plan that you devise at the end of your career. Because did your results really matter, if everything is immediately destroyed once you exit?


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Later in life

After his role of prime minister, he still remained involved in politics until his late years where he acted as a mentor. He switched his focus on dispersing the vast amount of wisdom and knowledge he had accumulated through his years. He gave lectures, seminars and acted as a teacher for the new generation. 


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Lee Kuan Yew was the man who transformed Singapore making it what it is today.

He did that with grand vision and firm hands. Even though he was closer to being a dictator, he still had the best interests of the country in mind and never made it about him having power just for the sake of having power. He had this mentality of being hard to squeeze (because people will try to squeeze you, especially when you are rich in nutrients). People loved and admired him as they understood he cared deeply for their well being. 


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Notes that will make you smarter


Lee Kuan Yew was the person who transformed Singapore from a small island to one of the most advanced and well recognized economies in the world

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