Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister and the man credited with creating modern Singapore, was involved in the country’s politics since Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965.
Just as Singapore has felt his presence as a constant throughout the years, so too has his office. When TIME’s Zoher Abdoolcarim, Simon Elegant and Michael Elliott visited with Lee over the course of two days in the fall of 2005, they observed that he had occupied the same rooms since the 1970s.
But that didn’t mean that Lee Kuan Yew was stuck in the past. In fact, during that interview he offered up his views on some of the most newsworthy issues of the day, from the rise of China to the threat of radical Islam. And though he admitted some faults — he should have fostered free enterprise more, he said — he was defiant in the face of other criticisms: “I’m not guided by what Human Rights Watch says. I am not interested in ratings by Freedom House or whatever. At the end of the day, is Singapore society better or worse off? That’s the test. What are the indicators of a well-governed society? Look at the humanities index in last week’s Economist, we’re right on top,” he told TIME.
And no matter what one thinks of Lee’s record, it’s hard to argue that he didn’t earn the right to his opinion. As TIME pointed out:
Read the full interview with Lee Kuan Yew, here in the TIME archives: Lee Kuan Yew Reflects
Read TIME’s take on the interview, here in the TIME archives: The Man Who Saw It All