“When will Lee…..”

Posted on 27 February 2011

A 10-minute one-on-one conversation with Tom Plate – part 1 by Fang Shihan

The more web-savvy among us would have known by now what shows up on the Google search when you type the three words “When will Lee”.

Yes, we’re all curious to find out when Lee might die, retire, or officially step down. And for Malaysians, maybe when Mahathir might step down FOR GOOD.

But obviously trying to score an interview with both the soft-authoritarians would be close to impossible. So we got the next best thing – a conversation with a journalist who’s had extensive interaction with the Minister Mentor of Singapore, and his nemesis, Dr. M, former PM of Malaysia.

Meet Tom Plate, the American with the crazy tie and hair on the left. Also a veteran political journalist and author of “Conversations with Mahathir Mohamad” and “Conversations with Lee Kuan Yew.” Yes, the angmoh journalist grilled them badasses intimately, didn’t get sued or suddenly deported and lived to tell the tale.


Conversations with Tom Plate – he did most of the talking.

Q. You mentioned in your lecture that you haven’t met any effective leader who’s not an egomaniac.

A. Reasons why Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir don’t want to step down.

–  What happens if you’re Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir, is that you get into the position and you realise that in your own judgement, you really are the best person because the people who can replace you are, by and large, fools and knaves.

– And then you develop an expertise and so on and so forth and because of the nature of the way you use power, there really isn’t any limit to it. And then you get to believe that you’re irreplaceable.

– There is no system in Singapore and Malaysia where ex-leaders can exert their influence constitutionally or semi-constitutionally.

– And lastly, LKY and Dr. M need their fix – like how a hardcore media junkie, like me, needs a fix and can never relax.

Q. Right. How are we as citizens supposed to take them seriously at this point? I mean, look at the remarks both the old men have been making: anti-Semitism and assortative mating. Isn’t it worse that they’re in power when they may not be mentally as able as before?

A. Some things are worth listening to, some things are not. If you cannot get rid of them, it is better that the system creates a space for them without having to force their way in, like the case with Dr M.

Q. Under whose regime, LKY or Dr M, would you rather live under?

A. (Pauses for eight seconds. Thinks of a way to wriggle out of the question.) Neither!

Q. Under whose regime, LKY or Dr M, would you rather be a political journalist now?

A. Neither! I’ll rather be in America!

Read the full transcript of this conversation here.

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  • Paul de Silva

    Typical average American. beating around the bush, skirting the points and not giving direct answers. It only tells me one thing. He has no opinion. He’s self centered and doesn’t think or care much about what happens outside of the US. Why are you even talking to him. 

    • Editor

      Because he got to speak to LKY for more than 5min – something that none of us had done so before?