8 quotable quotes from PM Lee Hsien Loong throughout his 20 years in office

Quotes from PM Lee Hsien Loong

Lee Hsien Loong: His best quotable quotes during his time as PM

In a couple of days’ time, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong will be stepping down as Singapore’s PM.

Over the two decades that he served as the leader of the city state, PM Lee has delivered numerous speeches filled with memorable quotes that resonated deeply with people in Singapore.

Here’s a look back at some of PM Lee’s quotable quotes, some of which teach us lessons we can use to guide our personal lives.

1. “Our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas, or simply be different.”

During his Swearing-in Ceremony in 2004, PM Lee talked about the crucial role Singaporeans play in shaping the country’s future.

Quotes from PM Lee Hsien Loong 3

Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore on YouTube

He stressed on the importance of an open society, and pointed out that it was important to involve people “in the choices which affect their lives”.

The full quote reads:

Our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas, or simply be different. We should have the confidence to engage in robust debate, so as understand our problems, conceive fresh solutions, and open up new spaces. We should recognise many paths of success, and many ways to be Singaporean. We must give people a second chance, for those who have tasted failure may be the wiser and stronger ones among us.

“Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore,” added PM Lee, who was 52 years old then.

2. The Singapore story should be about “Hope”, “Heart” & Home”

In the same National Day speech, PM Lee summarised his plans for Singapore in three simple yet profound words.

He expressed his goals to bring “hope” by prioritising job creation and enhancing public services such as transportation, healthcare, housing, and education.

Quotes from PM Lee Hsien Loong 4

Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore on YouTube

Additionally, he emphasised the importance of compassion, striving for a society with a “bigger heart”. He hoped to improve social welfare, especially for the needy and elderly, allowing everyone to enjoy the fruits of the nation’s progress.

Lastly, he wanted Singapore to be a “home” where everyone feels like they belong.

3. “We must never be hard-hearted, but we must never shy away from being hard-headed.”

During the National University of Singapore Society’s 60th Anniversary Lecture in 2014, PM Lee highlighted the importance of rationality and compassion in governance.

Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore on YouTube

He noted that while governments implement “good-hearted” initiatives to assist citizens, achieving the desired outcomes requires resolve.

PM Lee expounded:

When this Government makes a promise, we mean it and we keep it. So while what we do speaks to the heart, we must be hard-headed about how to make it happen and how to live within our means, because that is the only way we can deliver on our promises.

4. “Since Mercedes has an outstanding F1 car, there is no need to have Lewis Hamilton as the driver.”

Occasionally, PM Lee would make humourous references during his speeches — one such instance was the May Day Rally in 2015.

In the speech, he reminded Singaporeans not to underestimate the importance of national leadership ahead of the General Election, using a Formula One (F1) reference to engage with residents.

According to PM Lee, some might think they do not have to “worry about national leadership anymore” — they think the country is already advanced and can run on “autopilot”.

However, PM Lee cautioned against having such a mindset.

Referencing former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s passing a few months before, PM Lee said it made Singaporeans reflect on the importance of “exceptional leadership”.

Louis Hamilton is regarded as the most successful F1 Grand Prix racing driver of all time. He is currently in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team.

5. “We have to be a shining red dot. If we are soft and flabby, we are going to be eaten up.”

During the National Day Rally (NDR) in 2015, when Singapore celebrated its 50th year of independence, PM Lee stressed the importance of Singapore being an exemplary country in order to stand out.

He highlighted Singapore’s size on the map and how it affects diplomatic ties, emphasising the significance of maintaining a robust economy for the country’s stability:

Singapore has to stay special because if we are just a dull little spot on the map, a smudge, we are going to count for nothing. We have to be a shining red dot. If we are soft and flabby, we are going to be eaten up. We have to be rugged and we have to have that steel in us. If we are divided, whether along racial lines or class lines, we cannot survive. We have to stand as one united people, we have to progress together.

6. “The Singapore Story belongs to all of us.”

This quote by PM Lee during the Swearing-in Ceremony in Oct 2015 is both a statement of inclusivity and responsibility.

After the 2015 General Elections, he emphasised that each citizen should benefit from the country’s success. As such, those needing a helping hand should be looked after.

However, he also said that Singapore’s success is a shared responsibility.

We – the Government and the people – have to write this chapter together. We will debate and argue over what this chapter should contain, how the story should develop. We will do that online and offline, in civil society and in Parliament. That is normal, and healthy. But at the end we are all co-authors of the chapter. We all have to work together, and we all want the story to have a happy outcome.

PM Lee also quoted his father, late PM Lee Kuan Yew:

As Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said: “We intend to see that [Singapore] will be here a thousand years from now.” And that is your duty and mine.

7. “The world is a diverse place. Nobody has a monopoly on virtue or wisdom.”

PM Lee said this memorable line during a heated interview with journalist Stephen Sackur for BBC’s HARDtalk in 2017.

Source: BBC via Singaporean Voices on YouTube

When questioned about freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Singapore, he said accepting that countries have differences in values, outlooks and goals in life is an important part of any trade talks.

In particular, he said:

The world is a diverse place. Nobody has a monopoly of virtue or wisdom. Unless we can accept that and we prosper together, and cooperate together, accepting our differences – differences in values, differences in outlook, differences even in what we see the goals of life to be, it becomes difficult.

8. “The God of Fortune is on leave. He wants to watch the World Cup.”

PM Lee was explaining the financial support provided to middle- and lower-class Singaporean households during NDR 2022 when he delivered this funny line.

Source: Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore on YouTube

The families were slated to receive support in various forms almost every month. On the screen, there was a calendar in which three months were blocked out in grey, indicating that they would not receive support during those periods. This included the month of November.

“In November, there is nothing. Why? The God of Fortune is on leave. He wants to watch the World Cup,” PM Lee joked.

The 2022 World Cup was held in Qatar from 20 Nov to 18 Dec 2022.

“But in December, he is back to work,” the Prime Minister quipped.

Also read: ‘I have done my duty’: PM Lee says it’s an honour to serve S’pore in final May Day speech

‘I have done my duty’: PM Lee says it’s an honour to serve S’pore in final May Day speech

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Featured image adapted from Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore on YouTube, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore on YouTube

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