Lee’s Shadow Fades From Singapore

Lee’s Shadow Fades From Singapore

The torch passes

As Kuan Yew’s heirs themselves age, the Lee era slowly declines


Two events on Oct. 1 signify that the era of Lee Kuan Yew and the Lee family itself are beginning to fade from Singapore, six months after he died on March 23. The two events are leadership transitions in the city-state’s government and its sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings.  

Although the elder Lee stepped down as the Southeast Asian country’s first Prime Minister in 1990, he continued to exert influence in the corridors of power for many years, according to sources close to the Singapore government. His influence is also indirectly felt through his son Lee Hsien Loong, the current premier who frequently invokes the memory of his late father. Lee Hsien Loong’s wife Ho Ching is the chief executive officer of Temasek Holdings, which owns more than S$250 billion of assets including ports, telecommunications, power, property, railway and banks.

It is undeniable that the Lee family includes two prime ministers and a chief executive officer running a large chunk of the nation’s assets. But Lee Kuan Yew is gone, while his son and daughter-in-law are beginning to show signs of fading from the scene.

In April, shortly after Lee Kuan Yew passed away in March, Ho Ching went on a six month sabbatical leave. On Oct.1, she took a senior but backseat position as chair of Temasek International, the wholly-owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings, which has most of Temasek Holdings’ employees, while Lee Theng Kiat – no relation to the Lee family  – was appointed Temasek International’s chief executive officer, according to the Temasek Holdings website.

The website said Lee Theng Kiat will play a hands-on role while Ho Ching will be more hands-off: “Mr Lee will be responsible for Temasek’s role as an active investor and shareholder. (Ho Ching) continues to oversee our stewardship role.”

It is often the case that when a company’s chief executive officer gets moved upstairs to a lesser executive role of chairman, a successor will take over in due course. Thus it is likely that this move marks the changing of the leadership of Temasek Holdings.

Also on Oct.1, a new cabinet, which includes the next generation of Singapore’s leaders, was sworn in. On Sept.28, the 63-year old prime minister announced that new leadership would take over from him by the end of his term, around 2020. This new cabinet includes three “coordinating ministers” who oversee multiple ministries: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (in charge of national security), Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (in charge of economic and social policies) and Khaw Boon Wan (in charge of infrastructure). The three ministers will also mentor junior ministers, a pattern the elder Lee set up himself when he stepped away from power to become what was termed “minister mentor,” a role in which he continued to make his considerable presence felt for the better part of two decades.

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