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1959

MM Lee at 87

Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew turned 87 today. "I know if I rest, I'll slide downhill fast," he said in an interview which appeared in the New York Times last week, and now he is visiting Moscow and Paris.

An election seems round the corner with the government listening to the people, tightening immigration, offering more Housing and Development  Board (HDB) flats.

So, I have been wondering today, will MM Lee stand in the next election?

He will be in his 90s when the next parliament is dissolved.

Even then he won't be the oldest lawmaker on record.

That honour goes to Strom Thurmond, who was a senator representing North Carolina when he died at the age of 100 in 2003. He had been a senator since 1956.

The oldest US senator now is Robert Byrd, in his 90s, who has been representing West Virginia since 1959.

Born in November 1917, he is five years older than MM Lee.

MM Lee was only 35 when he was elected prime minister in 1959, much younger than Obama, who became president at 47 in January 2009.

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Straits Times report on 1959 election day

The People's Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew won the 1959 Singapore Legislative Assembly by a landslide, winning 43 of the 51 seats (see the Elections Department page and Wikipedia: total voters 586,098, voter turnout 527,919 or  92.9%). It faced a divided opposition. " No one doubts that the PAP stands to gain from the failure of the SPA and the Liberal Socialists to make common cause," said the Straits Times on the day of the election: May 30, 1959. 

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The newspaper, troubled by the "ferocity of the campaigning", lamented: "Hatred has poisoned the election air, dividing the population into embittered sections — this in an island that needs a calm and sane air in which to sort out the grave economic problems that concern all, capitalist or worker."

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Only a few days earlier, on May 21, 1959, the Straits Times had criticized the PAP as "a threat to a free press".

It was responding to Mr Lee, who said at a Clifford Pier lunchtime rally that the PAP, if it won the election, would detain without trial under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO) "any editor, leader writer, sub-editor or reporter" who tried to "sour up or strain" relations with Kuala Lumpur. The Straits Times wrote: "Before PAP's secretary-general takes off on yet another flight of fantasy, he might ponder the unchallengeable fact that we have always called for the closest relations between the territories, long before it became politically fashionable to set off in pursuit of merger."  Here is the link to the article,Thursday, May 21, 1959. P.A.P. And P.P.S.O.

You can read these articles on NewspaperSG, the Singapore National Library digital archive of Singapore newspapers published between 1831 and 2006.

The Straits Times Saturday, May 30, 1959 The Day of Decision.

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When Lee Kuan Yew struck a chill in expat hearts

Browsing through Elections in Singapore written by Pugalenthi Sr and published in 1996, I was struck by this passage, where he writes about the 1959 elections, which brought Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew to power:

He said the citizenship laws had deliberately been made very liberal to allow Commonwealth citizens to take up citizenship after a stay of only two years here. This was aimed at providing the large number of Britons here a say in local politics. But most of these Britons had no intention of making this their homeland and would "scoot off" as soon as things "got hot here".

The book does not give any references.

But Mr Lee and his People's Action Party in those days did strike a chill in the hearts of expatriates, according to the historian Constance Mary Turnbull. In A History of Modern Singapore (1819 – 2005), she describes the aftermath of the PAP victory in the 1959 elections, when PAP won 43 of the 51 seats (see the Elections Department page and Wikipedia: total voters 586,098, voter turnout 527,919 or  92.9%). Turnbull writes:

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