Singapore PM Goh retires after 14 years


SINGAPORE, Reuters

Singapore’s prime minister of 14 years, Goh Chok Tong, bid farewell to the nation on Sunday in an address that identified some of his successor’s main challenges from a chronic baby shortage to jobs vanishing to China.

“The responsibility of taking our nation further will now rest on the shoulders of the next generation of leaders,” said Goh, who hands power on Thursday to his 52-year-old deputy, Lee Hsien Loong, son of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

“Hsien Loong and his team will face different and tougher challenges ahead,” Goh said in an annual National Day speech, his last as prime minister, a day before the Southeast Asian island’s 39th birthday since independence from Malaysia.

He said Singapore’s US$95 billion economy was strong and should expand 8 to 9 percent in 2004, making Singapore the second fastest growing major economy in Asia after China. The economy grew 10 percent in the first half of 2004, he said.

After more than a decade leading the People’s Action Party, which has monopolized power since 1965 and which holds nearly all the seats in parliament, Goh remains immensely popular.

“Now is a good time for me to hand over the controls to a new captain and his crew,” said the 63-year-old, who presided over a gradual opening of society and loosening in social controls such as state censorship of films.

“The global economic environment will be more competitive. We must expect lower skilled jobs to migrate to lower-cost countries,” he said. Political transitions are rare in Singapore. There has only been one in the past 39 years — when Goh took over from Lee Kuan Yew in 1990. But most economists and political analysts expect no major changes in the way the wealthy city-state is run. They do expect a difference in style, however.

Though a smooth transition is expected, Lee faces different problems from those his father did, with a more affluent, well travelled and better educated population pressing for more freedoms in the tightly controlled country.

“He will have to manage the rising expectations of the younger generation. Many more Singaporeans will live and work overseas,” said Goh, who will remain in cabinet as a senior minister. “There are fewer babies and more old people.”