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Radio Singapore International, 19 Nov 04

Mr Lee Hsien Loong's first 100 days as Singapore's Prime Minister

Mr Lee Hsien Loong completes his first 100 days as Singapore's Prime Minister today. At his swearing-in on August 12th, he promised to be a leader for all Singaporeans.

Several policy changes have been announced since he assumed the leadership role. These include a five day work week for civil servants, and extended maternity leave for working mothers. For more on this, Melanie Yip spoke to Assistant Professor Suzaina Kadir from the Political Science Department at the National University of Singapore.

Dr Kadir first touched on the Prime Minister's leadership style.

SK: I think for most of us, there hasn't been a mark shift in terms of his style. I think he has continued with the kind of image that he was before he became Prime Minister. If we look at it in terms of a continuum, he appears as someone who is quite open, quite direct and I think so far, fairly responsive. It is a bit of a difference if we compare it with Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. But that's because I think his own style is to be fairly fair, but fairly open at the same time.

Since being sworn in as Prime Minister on August 12, Mr Lee has undertaken several overseas trips to neighboring nations like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. How would you see Singapore's foreign relations with our neighbors taking shape, given the change of leadership in some of these countries like Malaysia, and Indonesia?

SK: On this issue, I think it is where we've seen Prime Minister Lee make a lot of effort, and I think that he should be commended for putting in the the time for making these visits to the immediate ASEAN neighbors. I think this is a good first step because I think it is a whole series of issues that need resolution and the region as a whole, although is stabilizing, especially when we compare it to the period immediately after the Asian Financial Crisis, it is still not what it was on par before. So I think that he has made this first step, and does give off some positive signals. The point to note now is what is going to be the reaction from the neighboring countries, where they can presumably sit down and work out the number of issues that need resolution.

On the home front, we have also seen the Singapore government led by Prime Minister Lee spearhead several initiatives, including the 5-day work week, extended maternity leave for working mothers, and even increased childcare subsidies. How will these measures promote a more conducive work environment for civil servants, and Singaporeans alike?

SK: Again, this is another aspect of Prime Minister Lee's initiatives which I feel very positively about. I have certainly seen a lot of support for the five-day work week, and I think that this, in fact, is a very important break, in terms of attitude, in terms of the priorities that the Singapore society will be facing in the next few years. So, perhaps this gives us the space for a much more relaxed environment, and maybe produce the kind of changes which the government sees necessary, as in making the environment conducive for children and families etc.

And the issue that is being hotly debated at the moment is whether Singapore should have a casino. With all the research reports on the feasibility of opening a casino in Singapore, does it reflect a change in the government's perspective on gambling and entertainment outlets?

SK: I do not necessarily see it as a sharp departure from the government's position on issues pertaining to gambling. I think the government still feels very concerned about the negative effects gambling may have on families, and even on the Singapore society on the whole. I think it is a reflection of the kind of needs and priorities the government faces, in terms of the Singapore economy. And I think they are trying to find this balance between these two perspectives. So it is not like, for example, in choosing one particular position, it represents the government coming to a stand that they are no longer concerned about the negative impact.

In line with the need for political renewal within the next 10-15 years, we see younger Ministers taking on more important commitments. One of whom is Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. Another trend we see is the choice of younger nominated Members of Parliament, like former beauty queen, Eunice Olsen. What are your views on this?

SK: It is heartening to see the younger Ministers, or politicians come up and say, and get a lot of air time. So they are being tested out. But at the same time, instead of focusing and concentrating so much on what appears to be young and hip may not necessarily be good in the long run. Again, it is about finding the balance because you do not want to marginalize the rest. You know, experience does speak for itself, and although you want to test the young, the experience of the older generation, and certain members of parliament have to come in to balance the whole. Again, it is finding the balance and moving from one end of the pendulum to the other isn't ultimately productive.

Assistant Professor Suzaina Kadir (SK), from the National University of Singapore. She was speaking with Melanie Yip.

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