Singapore politics a family affair

Posted by Peter Lloyd under Breaking News on 12 August 2004

Tonight Lee Hsien Loong, the oldest son of Singapore's founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, will be sworn in as the country's third Prime Minister.

TONY EASTLEY: Tonight Lee Hsien Loong, the oldest son of Singapore's founding leader, Lee Kuan Yew, will be sworn in as the country's third Prime Minister.

Since he entered politics, the younger Lee has always been touted as a future Prime Minister, and soon he will get his chance and be able to finally step out of the massive political shadow cast by his father.

But if the younger Lee has ideas of going solo in his Prime Ministership, he better think again. Stability has always been Singapore's catchcry and the older Lee and the outgoing Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong will be around to provide plenty of advice. And there's the rest of the family too.

South East Asia Correspondent Peter Lloyd reports from Singapore.

PETER LLOYD: For the last 14 years Goh Chok Tong has been the velvet glove on the iron fist of authoritarian rule in Singapore. In a few hours time it will all be over for the man who made a virtue of a softly-softly approach to the Prime Ministership.

GOH CHOK TONG: Everything is in good working order. Now is a good time for me to hand over the controls to a new captain and his crew.

PETER LLOYD: That new 'Captain', Singapore's third Prime Minister, is Lee Hsien Loong, son of the first Lee Kuan Yew.

The younger Lee's career began in the military where he rose to the rank of brigadier general at just 32. In 1984 he traded the uniform for a suit and a seat in parliament, serving only six years before being appointed Deputy Prime Minister and then Finance Minister.

For the 52-year-old, it's been a long anticipated transition to the premiership, through a mix of ability and undisguised nepotism according to independent political analyst Dr Ho Kai Leong.

HO KAI LEONG: The family background does play an important role in his rapid rise in politics, but at the same time his performance has indicated that he is up to the job.

PETER LLOYD: Mr Lee rarely gives media interviews, but in the mid 1980s, as a junior trade minister, he gave these insights to the ABC's Paul Lockyer.

LEE HSIEN LOONG: You do your job to the best of your ability, and you aspire to the jobs which you think are within your ability to achieve.

PETER LLOYD: Then as now, the House of Lee dominates in Singapore. The Prime Minister designate's wife - Ho Chin - runs the secretive government holding company Temasek, which controls Singapore's biggest firms. His brother, Lee Hsien Yang runs Singtel, Singapore's biggest company. Even his octogenarian father remains in Cabinet.

Lee Kuan Yew tonight surrenders his old position of senior Minister to Goh Chok Tong, and will now be known as Minister Mentor - it's a brand new name for an old hand who announced long before his retirement that he would never to let go.

LEE KUAN YEW: Even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I'll get up.

(Applause and laughter)

PETER LLOYD: Last month, probably with Dad's approval, Lee Hsien Loong found himself in an unexpected row with China after he made a visit to Taiwan - a trip calculated to reinforce Singapore's independence, but one that brought a strong rebuke and threats from Beijing.

Mr Lee responded by effectively telling the emerging superpower to mind its own business. It was a brief episode of political fireworks that suggests the newPrime Minister Lee will be as strident as the first.

In Singapore this is Peter Lloyd reporting for AM.

ABC Net: Singapore politics a family affair 12 August2004

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