Founding father Lee Kuan Yew to mentor son's cabinet

  Agence France Presse
August 10, 2004

Singapore's dynastic debate: Like father like son? ASIA TIMES

INCOMING Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, Aug 10, appointed his father and founder of the city-state Lee Kuan Yew as the cabinet's official mentor.

Outgoing premier Goh Chok Tong was named as senior minister and central bank chairman.

The elder Lee's new title "minister mentor" is a special post created in a reshuffle following Goh's resignation Tuesday, part of a carefully engineered handover to a new generation of leaders backed by experienced politicians.

As the new senior minister replacing Lee Kuan Yew, who will turn 81 next month, the 63-year-old Goh will be second only to the prime minister in protocol, outranking the two deputy prime ministers.

The 52-year-old incoming prime minister, who will be sworn in on Thursday, will retain his post as finance minister.

In Singapore's political system, the senior minister is regarded as the most influential adviser to the prime minister and serves as a roving representative of the city-state.

The new foreign minister will be current Minister of Trade and Industry George Yeo, replacing the veteran Shunmugam Jayakumar, who will become one of two deputy prime ministers. Both of them have been stalwarts in the Goh cabinet.

"Planned, orderly transition is what distinguishes Singapore," Goh said in a farewell address to his people on Sunday, saying the city-state did not believe in the "politics of dissension and divergence" seen in other countries.

Singapore has long been criticised abroad for clamping down on political dissent and imposing rigid social rules, but its leaders say this is a small price to pay for having one of the richest and most stable societies in Asia.

"You're seeing continuity rather than an abrupt change. That has been the political culture for sometime now, especially for leadership changes at the very top," said National University of Singapore political professor Bilveer Singh.

"I think in the case of Lee Kuan Yew, he has always been a mentor anyway all these years. So I think in a away it's just giving him the appropriate title he has been doing and will be doing," he told AFP.

Singh described the elder Lee, who transformed Singapore from a third world trading port to one of Asia's wealthiest economies, as a "symbol of confidence at home and abroad."

As senior minister, Goh "will be playing a far more significant role" due to his additional portfolio as chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Singh added.

Goh took over when Singapore's independence leader Lee Kuan Yew stepped down in 1990, and surprised many when he defied predictions that he would only serve as a "seat warmer" for Lee's son.

Goh was last re-elected in general elections in November 2001, when the ruling People's Action Party won all but two of the 84 elected seats in parliament despite a recession.

After the election, Goh vowed to hand over power to a new generation in two or three years once the economy recovered.

Incoming premier Lee had been a key player in Goh's cabinet, concurrently holding the post of finance minister and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore in addition to his post as one of Goh's two deputies.

Lee was the architect of many of the reforms aimed at retooling the economy to prevent jobs from migrating to China and other emerging markets, and keep Singapore's competitive advantage as a regional economic hub.

"Goh left behind a wonderful and positive legacy which Lee Hsien Loong can build on and tap, almost the same way Lee Kuan Yew left a legacy for Goh Chok Tong earlier," political scientist Singh said.