Fri, Aug 13, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Singapore swears in Lee Hsien Loong as prime minister

POLITICAL TRANSITION Lee Hsien Loong was set to take the oath of office in a ceremony last night, becoming the city state's third prime minister

AFP , Singapore

Singapore was to change leaders for the first time in 14 years yesterday, swearing in Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) as prime minister after a carefully orchestrated succession process seen as key to the city-state's economic success.

The 52-year-old son of independence leader Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀) was to take the oath as Singapore's third prime minister in a garden ceremony starting at 8pm at the Istana state complex with some 1,400 guests expected to attend.

Outgoing Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟), who took over in 1990, chaired his last Cabinet meeting on Wednesday and will stay on as a senior minister in the Cabinet.

Lee Kuan Yew -- the country's first prime minister -- will become an adviser with the custom-made title of minister mentor.

Violence and divisive political campaigning characterize many of Asia's electoral contests but political transitions in this affluent city-state, which marked its 39th independence day on Monday, have always been well planned.

Despite criticism about a lack of democracy here, the process has resulted in a stable political climate and continuity of government policies -- key factors which have attracted 6,000 multinational corporations to base their businesses in Singapore.

"This political transition is so well orchestrated with the goal of continuity in mind," said regional economist Song Seng Wun of GK Goh brokerage.

"It's been so well anticipated that I will be surprised if there will be any impact on policies."

Lee is a British-educated former brigadier general who has long been groomed to lead Singapore after growing up in the shadow of his authoritarian father.

He was a key player in Goh's Cabinet, holding the post of finance minister and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the central bank, in addition to his post as one of two deputy prime ministers.

President S.R. Nathan was to deliver a speech at the televised ceremony at the Istana, which was once the residence of Singapore's British governors and now houses the offices of the president and prime minister.

Chief Justice Yong Pung How was to then swear in the new prime minister, according to one of Lee's aides. Goh, 63, was to be sworn into his new post after that.

Lee Kuan Yew, who turns 81 next month, was to then take the oath for his new position as a counsellor to the new generation of leaders. He had also taken the title of senior minister when he stepped down in 1990 in favor of Goh.

Deputy prime ministers Tony Tan, 64, who will retain his post until retiring in June next year, and S. Jayakumar, 65, the outgoing foreign minister, were also to take their oaths, followed by the rest of the Cabinet.

Lee Kuan Yew paid tribute to his former protege Goh in a statement carried by local media yesterday.

"He has done well for all of us. I am proud and happy that I was a member of his team. We worked well together," Lee said.

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