Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, was on Thursday sworn in as the republic's third prime minister, after spending 14 years as deputy premier.
By Andrew Wood
Lee Hsien Loong is perhaps the closest the modern world has to the ancient
thinker Plato's idea of a philosopher-prince.
Mr Lee: Deputy PM since 1990
He is undoubtedly intelligent, with degrees from Cambridge and Harvard universities, and he has been groomed from an early age to lead his country.
"The son has now achieved the father's ambition," one shopkeeper said, who did not want to be named.
Lee Kuan Yew has long said that his son was talented enough to have been
prime minister years ago, but for misplaced concerns about dynastic
Whatever the official denials, having an eldest son as leader
plays well in Singapore's Confucian-flavoured patriarchal political culture.
"There are a few wry smiles about the succession, but there are no doubts
about his [Lee Hsien Loong's] competence," says David Cohen, director of
Asia economic forecasting at Action Economics in Singapore.
"I think no-one is anticipating a radical departure from what we have come to expect from the Singapore government."
That is echoed by social critic and gay activist, Alex Au. "He's not a new prime minister. He's been a cabinet minister for two decades, and deputy prime minister for
Mr Au dismisses hopes that Mr Lee will free Singapore's nanny state from its
strict social controls.
"He's had a lot of input into current policies. I don't think he has any new ideas or style of leadership. That hasn't come through. I don't see any major departure from current policies."
The outgoing prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, suggested that Mr Lee try to
soften his no-nonsense, uncompromising and tough image.
In recent months, Singaporeans have been treated to lots of articles and programmes in the government-controlled media that show Mr Lee's cuddlier side.
However, Mr Goh's attempts in a 2003 National Day rally speech to quash
rumours that Mr Lee once slapped a colleague in a cabinet meeting may have
One look at the satirical website TalkingCock.com (named after a Singaporean
expression for spouting nonsense), suggests that Mr Goh may have
inadvertently stimulated more jokes at Mr Lee's expense.
He has had a troubled personal life. He has suffered - and overcome - cancer.
His first wife is said to have committed suicide. Their son is albino and autistic.
Mr Lee gives mixed signals about the direction he will lead Singapore. He has
hinted that Singapore needs modernisation, and more openness.
But he has also promised to fight political enemies hard - even Singapore's weak and
Singapore is trying to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. It has big
ambitions to lead the world in anything from logistics to biotechnology.
Business as usual
But Mr Lee seems to prefer his country to take things slowly.
In April, he told parliament: "If you are absolutely up at the leading edge
in matters of social change, you are never quite sure whether the leading
edge has taken a wrong turn, needs to back track and make a U-turn.
Lee's predecessor will remain in cabinet as senior minister
"We need to keep a certain stability and ballast so that when we move, we have the
advantage of the experience of people who have moved ahead of us.
"And when they have gone a strange way, we will wait and see and if after one or two
generations, it still makes sense, and if yes, then we follow them."
Stability has long been one of Singapore's selling points, something that
few other countries in the region can offer.
The change of leader has been flagged for years.
The People's Action Party has been in power since 1959. Its pragmatic, business-friendly economic policies have delivered wealth, homes and jobs.
It is not a liberal democracy in the Western sense, but that
does not seem to worry Singaporeans. At elections, the vast majority of
people who can vote, choose the PAP.
There are few signs that Lee Hsien Loong will radically change course for
his country. Success has bred success.
But cruelly, the roots of failure are often nourished by the same conditions that led to that success. That may be the biggest challenge to the reign of the philosopher-prince.