Sunday, July 18, 2004

Handover: Goh Chok Tong announces date 

Finally, we know the date that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong will be handing over the leadership of Singapore to Lee Hsien Loong.

Yesterday, the Mr Goh announced that he would be relinquishing his appointment as prime minister to Mr Lee on 12 August. It was an announcement that has been anticipated by Singaporeans since Mr Goh first named the latter as his successor to the public at the National Day Rally last August.

Lee Hsien Loong is, of course, the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, the first prime minister of independent Singapore. He shares the same intellectual brilliance as his father, rising quickly to the rank of brigadier-general in the army before entering politics 20 years ago.

His father, Lee Kuan Yew, as everyone knows, was a tough, charismatic leader who was not afraid to make unpopular decisions. These qualities helped him steer Singapore through the communist crisis, independence from Malaysia and the withdrawal of British forces in the 1960s and 1970s. Little wonder then that he has been credited with bringing Singapore from the Third World to the First World within a generation.

When Goh Chok Tong took over as prime minister in 1990, he had the task of maintaining the stability and prosperity brought to Singapore by the first generation leaders. In contrast to his illustrious predecessor, he brought greater openness and consultation into government, a style that was suited to an increasingly educated and demanding population.

So what style of leadership will Lee Hsien Loong adopt?

Of course, most people would already have an idea as Mr Lee is not new to government, having served as deputy prime minister for most of Mr Goh's tenure. He is Minister of Finance and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He has led many economic committees, most recently, the Economic Review Committee to restructure the Singapore economy.

He has shown himself to be tough — like his father — but also willing to consult colleagues and subject experts on policies, especially in the fields of finance and economics which he currently heads. In other words, he appears to be a cross between Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

Which may be just what Singapore needs at the moment.

While the opening-up of Singapore is something that cannot be reversed if it is to thrive in a globalised information-dependent economy, with the rise of economic competition from other emerging economies — most notably China and India — the need for Singapore to change and restructure its economy to maintain its place in the world is also critical. And the ability to drive change in the face of potential hardship and uncertainties is needed in its leadership.

Mr Goh and his colleagues in the cabinet have already expressed their confidence that Lee Hsien Loong has the requisite qualities. The rest of Singapore, as well as the international community, will soon know whether that confidence is justified.


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