Wed, Jul 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Singapore's Lee Sr to stay in Cabinet after power transfer

REUTERS , Singapore

The founding father of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), says he will remain in the Cabinet in an advisory role when his son becomes prime minister on Aug. 12 but outgoing premier Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟) will take over from him as "number two."

His comments in an interview late on Monday signal that a cautious relaxation of strict social controls under way in the city-state, Southeast Asia's wealthiest nation, will come with a clear measure of continuity.

Lee, 80, said he would remain engaged in Singapore's future "as long as I am alive" but would not stand in the way of what he predicted would be even faster change by a younger generation of ministers led by his 52-year-old son Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍), the outgoing deputy prime minister.

"I am responsible for my children's upbringing and not for my grandchildren's upbringing," Lee said.

The handover will be only the second transfer of power since Lee led Singapore to independence from Malaysia in 1965 and began to transform the territory from a down-at-heel seaport into a thriving financial center that now boasts a US$93 billion economy.

Lee handed over as prime minister to Goh, who is now 63, in 1990 but remained in the Cabinet with the title of Senior Minister. He referred to himself in the interview as the "number two" in the outgoing Cabinet.

Asked whether he would retain that rank, he said: "Goh Chok Tong will be the number two in the new government." The comment suggests Goh, who remains immensely popular, will become Senior Minister, a powerful Cabinet post without portfolio.

Manu Bhaskaran of Washington-based advisory firm Centennial Group said Goh's appointment as Senior Minister would underline Singapore's emphasis on political contin-uity. "Singapore is establishing a pattern of voluntary handover of power," he said.

Lee said his precise title in the new Cabinet would be decided by his son, though what it would be did not matter. He said he saw his role as "a consultant, a counsellor, an advisor."

"My worth does not depend on what I am called but on my standing with Singaporeans and the weight they give to my views. Abroad, my established ties with foreign leaders can be of value," Lee said.

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