New Government Formed As Longtime Prime Minister Steps Down
SINGAPORE (AP) _ Goh Chok Tong formed a new government Tuesday and prepared to replace the only prime minister Singapore has ever known.
Goh officially takes office Wednesday, and his new government includes a prominent post for his predecdessor, Lee Kuan Yew.
Lee had been prime minister since the former British crown colony became a self-governing state in 1959.
During 31 years of authoritarian rule, he helped transform the former colonial outpost into a flourishing banking and commercial center.
The transition of power to his chosen successor has been in the works for more than two years.
The 67-year-old Lee is to be a senior minister without portfolio attached to the prime minister’s office, and is to continue as secretary-general of the governing People’s Action Party. His eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, 38, was recently appointed one of two deputy prime ministers.
In a ceremony on Tuesday at the Istana, or palace, President Wee Kim Wee appointed Goh prime minister and asked him to form a government. Goh then submitted the names of his Cabinet members to the president.
Goh’s government is expected to push to amend the constitution to provide for an elected president with an array of executive powers. The post is now appointive and largely ceremonial.
Because his party holds 80 of the 81 elected seats in Parliament, the measure is likely to be approved and the constitution amended by mid-January.
Lee Kuan Yew suggested the changes in 1984, but he says he is not interested in seeking the revamped presidency.
Critics say having an executive head of state will virtually end the country’s British style of government, in which Parliament is supreme, particularly if the president and prime minister are at odds.
Goh said the stronger presidency is needed as an additional check on Parliament.
The Guinness Book of World Records had listed Lee as the longest-serving prime minister.
″I think that Singapore has seen and heard enough of me for 31 years,″ he said last week.
When the Cambridge-educated lawyer took charge, this island city state had no natural resources, no industry, bitter racial divisions and potentially unfriendly neighbors.
Lee helped forge an identity for his polyglot island of 2.7 million people, uniting an ethnic Chinese majority with sizable Malay and Indian minorities.
He demanded discipline to overcome hardships. Obedience, hard work, cleanliness, thrift and the profit motive were applied as the shabby British colonial outpost was transformed.
Singapore is now a flourishing banking and commercial center with high-tech industries, a first-class educational system and glitzy shopping centers.
Years of firm political leadership and stable economic growth helped attract investment by multinational corporations seeking a doorway to the booming markets of the Far East.