Thu, Jan 26, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Lees look for mandate in Singapore

AFP , SINGAPORE

Singapore's elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), 82, will seek a new five-year parliamentary term when his son Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) seeks a popular mandate in upcoming polls, news reports said yesterday.

Amid speculation in local media that general elections could be held as early as March, the elder Lee declared himself mentally and physically fit to continue his 50-year stint as a member of parliament (MP).

"You are keen to see me back off, are you?" local newspaper Today quoted Lee as telling Singaporean journalists in Doha, Qatar at the start of a Middle East visit. "In that case I'm going to disappoint you."

General elections must be held by June next year but his 53-year-old son, who became prime minister when Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟) stepped down in August 2004, has issued strong signals that he wants his own mandate soon.

Healthy economic growth figures and a planned package of financial handouts for low-wage earners suggest the young Lee is getting ready to call an election within months, analysts and opposition figures say.

His father, who serves as a roving envoy for Singapore in addition to being a cabinet adviser, brushed aside talk that it's time to retire.

"I eat less than I should, or I stop eating when I want to eat more. I exercise every day. I work hard every day and I sleep well every day," he said.

Pointing to his head, the aging patriarch added: "I think it's still functioning, although I'm not as active as before, but enough to fight an election."

The Straits Times said Lee indicated he might give way to a younger leader in his dockside constituency Tanjong Pagar in a subsequent election -- "if by that time I am too decrepit and I cannot fight an election."

Lee was first elected as an MP in April 1955 when Singapore was still under British colonial rule.

He became prime minister in 1959, led Singapore to independence from the Malaysian federation in 1965 and stepped down in 1990 to give way to his deputy Goh.

After Goh, now 64, relinquished the prime minister's job in August 2004, the young Lee appointed him as Senior Minister and gave his own father the title Minister Mentor.

Lee's People's Action Party (PAP) has been returned to power in every election since 1959 and is credited with turning Singapore within one generation into Southeast Asia's richest society.

In the 2001 elections, it won all but two of the 84 seats and 75 percent of the popular vote.

But it has also been criticized internationally for cracking down on dissent, controlling the media and filing massive defamation suits against political opponents. PAP leaders say such lawsuits are needed to safeguard their reputations.

In the interview published yesterday, Lee underscored his belief about what really matters to Singaporean voters -- economic issues.

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