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Final Preparations Under Way for New Singapore PM's Swearing-In - 2004-08-11

The final preparations are under way in Singapore for the swearing-in of new Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Mr. Lee takes office on Thursday nearly 40 years after his own father helped found the country. Retiring Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong submitted his resignation Tuesday, clearing the way for a new cabinet and the new prime minister.

Lee Hsien Loong will be the country's third prime minister. His father, Lee Kuan Yew, ruled Singapore from 1965 until 1990. The autocratic leader remains a powerful and iconic figure in the city, which went from a poor colonial trading post to a wealthy, high technology business center under his leadership.

Professor Reuben Wong of the National University in Singapore says the new prime minister shares many of his father's most popular characteristics.

"Most people see in the younger Lee a chip off the old block - he's extremely intelligent, very shrewd, very sharp. He's also got a sense of humor," professor Wong says.

Political analysts note the younger Mr. Lee has tried to soften his image a bit in the past year. He has conducted television interviews in casual clothes instead of suits and often appears in public with his wife and children. Nevertheless, the 52-year-old Mr. Lee retains a reputation as a tough and direct leader.

He has a degree in math from Cambridge University and a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University. By the time he was 32, he was a brigadier general in Singapore's army.

In 1984, he left the military to serve in Parliament and in 1990 became deputy prime minister.

His critics say Lee Hsien Loong's political success is largely thanks to his father's influence. And Professor Wong says the younger Mr. Lee may still have to prove himself once he takes office.

"Unlike his father, he did not have the experience of leading Singapore from a colony to a independent country, so he doesn't have that kind of legitimacy, that kind of weight that his father carries,? professor Wong said. ?You can't possibly inherit that of course, you have to win your own stripes." The elder Mr. Lee and Prime Minister Goh both had little tolerance for dissent, and laws hamper efforts to build strong opposition political parties. The hardworking Lee Kuan Yew has stamped Singapore with a socially conservative, cautious outlook.

The incoming prime minister says he wants to encourage greater public debate. But experts suggest changes will be largely cosmetic and few major new social policies are expected to be enacted.

Mr. Lee's career has been marked twice by personal pain. In 1982 his first wife died during childbirth. And in 1992 he was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer.

Mr. Lee remarried in 1985 and has three children.