Veteran architect Tay Kheng Soon shares 1969 Lee Kuan Yew letter: ‘The answer against a bad elected government is to vote it out of office’

Lee Kuan Yew had a solution for every problem.

Belmont Lay | January 31, 12:52 am


Tay Kheng Soon, a veteran architect and adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore, revealed on Jan. 29 that the first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had once written a letter back to him.

The four-page letter by the late Lee was in response to Tay’s rationalisation decades ago about why the jury system should not be abolished in Singapore.

Only the final paragraph of Lee’s letter was publicly revealed by Tay in a Facebook post.

It read:

“Finally, whether its bad judges, bad law, fixed trials or generally bad government, nowhere has man devised a constitution which protects society from vicious and evil rulers. The answer against a bad elected government is to vote it out of office. The only answer against a bad government that refuses or cannot be voted out of office is armed revolution. These are simple fundamentals which all citizens, including Ministers, would do well never to lose sight of.”

Yours sincerely,
Lee Kuan Yew

50-year-old letter

Tay is the architect behind many recognisable structures in Singapore, such as KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Golden Mile Complex and People’s Park Complex.

He has for a long time been an engaged participant in civil society, a renowned figure amongst the intelligentsia, and has at times been a critic of the government.

His motivation for publicly sharing this particular portion of a nearly 50-year-old correspondence with the late prime minister now has not been revealed.

But it could be the result of a sheer coincidence of finding the letter in Tay’s private collection recently, or it could be a response to the high-profile lapses involving Singapore’s public-facing organisations as of late.

Late Lee’s legacy

When he was alive and in his prime, the late Lee was widely acknowledged to be a man of action, solution and ultimatums.

He had answers to almost any problem involving Singapore, or at the very least, he could provide a diagnosis.

In recent weeks, following the high-profile death of a National Serviceman Aloysius Pang in New Zealand as a result of a training mishap, as well as other high-profile failings, one of the famous utterances by the late Lee that reflected his government’s zero tolerance approach to errors and ineffectiveness were recounted by many in Singapore.

The portion quoted by Singaporeans was something Lee once said in his 1984 National Day Rally:

“Everything works, whether its water, electricity, gas, telephone, telexes, it just has to work. If it doesn’t work, I want to know why, and if I am not satisfied, and I often was not, the chief goes, and I have to find another chief. Firing the chief is very simple, getting one who would do the job better, that’s different.”

In this light, Lee’s response to Tay — that the answer against a bad elected government is to vote it out of office — is classic Lee.

Tay’s Facebook post revelation that Lee once wrote to him in such a take-no-prisoners approach was met with genuine intrigue.

If this is the first time Tay’s 1969 letter by Lee has seen the light of day, it will be of significant interest to archivists, as it will hold much historical value for curators of Lee’s artifacts.

More on Tay Kheng Soon:

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