Prime Minister set to stand down this year

Singapore’s prime minister said he will hand over his duties this year to the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew – but he will not give a date for the event, news reports said today.

Singapore’s prime minister said he will hand over his duties this year to the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew – but he will not give a date for the event, news reports said today.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said he had “important jobs” – like meeting US President George W Bush – before announcing the timetable.

“If I give a date now, when I go overseas they will say ‘Oh, you’re in your last week of your prime ministership’,” Goh was quoted as saying by The Straits Times newspaper, which has close government ties.

The prime minister is scheduled to meet President Bush in early May in Washington, and told the newspaper he had overseas trips planned until June.

Goh hinted he might step down as early as August, when Singapore holds its National Day celebrations.

“It can be my last National Day rally, or it can be the first National Day rally for the new prime minister,” The Straits Times quoted him as saying. The rally will be held on August 22.

Goh, prime minister since 1990, said in December that he would decide when to hand power to his deputy, Lee Hsien Loong, if the economy grew by an annual rate of at least 3% in the first quarter of this year. It grew by 7.3%, government statistics showed.

Lee Hsien Loong is the son of Lee Kuan Yew, who was Singapore’s prime minister from its 1965 independence from Malaysia until he stepped aside in 1990, handing the position to Goh. But the elder Lee still maintains strong political influence under the title of “senior minister”.

Lee Kuan Yew is widely credited with turning Singapore from an impoverished backwater into an ultra-modern manufacturing and financial hub.

The younger Lee is currently finance minister, central bank chairman and deputy prime minister. His wife, Ho Ching, heads the government’s investment arm, which controls flag-carrier Singapore Airlines, DBS Bank and Singapore Telecommunications.

Goh has acknowledged that handing power to Lee Kuan Yew’s son may appear to be a dynastic succession, but he insists that is not the case.

Critics have said Lee Hsien Loong embodies a return to a more conservative government faction, and that he has more trouble than the popular Goh in connecting with the 4 million people in the tightly controlled city-state.

“Just as I had gained the trust of Singaporeans, I believe that the next team will, over time, win the trust and support of Singaporeans,” the paper quoted Goh as saying.

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