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Signaling "a shift to the post-independence generation in a post-Cold War world," Singapore ushered in a new leader on August 13 when Lee Hsien Loong (MPA '80) was sworn in as prime minister of this city-state of 4 million people.
The 52-year-old Lee, a retired brigadier general who was educated in England, and later in the mid-career program at the Kennedy School of Government, is the son of Singapore's founding leader and first premier, Lee Kuan Yew. He is only the third prime minister to be appointed since Singapore, a parliamentary republic and former British colony, gained its independence in 1965.
In his inaugural address, Lee called for a more "open and inclusive Singapore," and urged his fellow citizens to "feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas or simply be different."
Singapore, occupying an island between Malaysia and Indonesia in the South China Sea, is a virtual one-party state (the current president ran unopposed in the last election). Lee's father, who was prime minister for 25 years until 1990, is credited with transforming Singapore from an impoverished island into a glistening modern hub of international commerce. The younger Lee's ascendancy to the country's top leadership position--he takes the reigns from his father's successor, Goh Chok Tong --was no surprise. Over the last 14 years, the younger Lee has served as deputy prime minister, and more recently, as finance minister and director of the central bank as well.
During his year at the Kennedy School, Lee demonstrated a strong command of policy analytic skills and public issues, recalled John Thomas, a lecturer in public policy and faculty chair of the Kennedy School's Singapore Program, which was instrumental in helping Singapore's National University establish and develop a public policy degree program. (Just days after Lee's inauguration, the program was formally established as the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.)
"As Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister, [the younger Lee] played a central role in Singapore's recovery from the Asian economic crisis and put the country in a position where it is once again one of the fastest growing nations in the world," Thomas observed.
In his new role, Lee is expected to introduce economic and educational reforms to keep Singapore's maturing economy strong and the country competitive in the global market.
It is also hoped he will gradually loosen the government's authoritarian grip over the lives of Singaporeans, the majority of whom were born after independence, and are more educated, affluent and increasingly mobile.
Speaking in Malay and Chinese in his inaugural speech, Lee urged his fellow citizens to "have the confidence to engage in robust debate, so as to understand our problems, conceive fresh solutions and open up new spaces. Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore. Therefore, do not wait to be invited to tea, but step forward to make a difference."