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Lee Kuan Yew was the prime minster of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, making him the longest-serving PM in history. During his long rule, Singapore became the most prosperous nation in Southeast Asia.
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Born in Singapore on September 16, 1923. The longest-serving prime minister in world history, Lee Kuan Yew Lee became the first prime minister of Singapore on June 5, 1959. In 1962, Lee led Singapore into a merger with Malaysia, but three years later, Singapore left the union for good.
"Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up."
Lee Kuan Yew was born into a wealthy Chinese family that had resided in Singapore since the 19th century. After World War II, Lee studied law at Fitzwilliam College, in Cambridge, UK. In 1950, he was admitted to the English bar, but instead of practicing law there, Lee returned to Singapore to do so.
At the time, Singapore was British colony and held Britain's main naval base in the Far East. The country was was ruled by a governor and a legislative council, mostly comprising wealthy Chinese businessmen who were appointed rather than elected by the people. In the early 1950s, Singapore buzzed with talk of constitutional reform and independence, and Lee banded with other like minds to challenge the governing structure of the country. Soon breaking from this group and taking a more radical stance, in 1954 Lee became secretary-general of his own party, the People's Action Party.
In 1955, a new Singapore constitution was introduced. It increased the number of elected seats on the council to 25 out of a total of 32, thereby allowing only 7 seats to be filled by appointment. In the elections that followed, the party founded by Lee's former colleagues, the Labour Front, won 13 seats, while Lee's PAP won merely 3.
But with his party represented on the council, in 1956 Lee headed to London as part of the delegation seeking self-rule for Singapore. After the negotiations failed, Singapore experienced a year of civil unrest, but in 1957, Lee returned to London yet again as talks resumed.
The next year, Lee helped negotiate what Singapore's status would be as a self-governing state, and a new constitution was formed.
Under the new constitution, national elections were held in June 1959. Lee campaigned on an anticolonialist, anticommunist platform and called for sweeping social reforms and an eventual federation with neighboring countries.
Lee's party won a decisive victory, taking 43 of the 51 seats in the assembly, and Singapore gained self-governing status (except in matters of defense and foreign affairs). Lee was sworn in as prime minister on June 5, 1959, becoming the first prime minister of an independent Indonesian state.
Once in office, Lee Kuan Yew introduced a five-year plan calling for urban renewal and construction of new public housing, greater rights for women, educational reform, and industrialization.
His plan also called for a merger of Singapore with Malaysia, and after Malayan prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman proposed the formation of a federation that would include Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, Lee began to campaign in favor of the effort and to end British colonial rule for good.
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