Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, was born in Singapore on February 10, 1952. Lee had an outstanding record as a student. He received his primary and secondary school education at the Catholic High School in Singapore, which required students to be proficient in both English and Mandarin. In addition to these two languages, he was proficient in Malay and had also studied Russian. He attended the National Junior College for his pre-university education and was awarded the president’s scholarship in 1970 and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) scholarship in 1971 for his academic prowess.
He proceeded to Cambridge University to study mathematics. In 1974 he graduated with first-class honors in mathematics and was also awarded a diploma in computer science with distinction from the same university. In 1978 he attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff Course at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. One year later he was a Mason fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he received a Master of Public Administration degree in 1980.
Lee’s connection with the army began in 1971, when he was awarded the SAF scholarship to study mathematics at Cambridge University. However, his military career did not begin until 1974 when he was assigned to an artillery division on his return to Singapore. His first major appointment in the SAF occurred in 1980, when he was made commanding officer of the Artillery Gun Battalion. After that he was promoted with astonishing speed to assistant chief of the General Staff (Operations) in 1981; to chief of staff of the General Staff in 1982; and to director, Joint Operations Planning Directorate with the rank of brigadier general in 1983. He was publicly commended for his role in coordinating the Sentosa cable car rescue operations in 1982. He was also credited for two achievements during his SAF career—the unification of the SAF’s three services and the modernization of its weaponry. He resigned from the SAF on September 21, 1984. Following his election to Parliament as a member of the People’s Action Party (PAP), he was appointed political secretary to the minister for defense by the prime minister.
Lee’s rise within the PAP and government hierarchies was even more rapid. In January 1985 he was appointed as minister of state (MOS) in two key ministries: the Ministry of Defense (MINDEF) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). As MOS in the MIT, Lee chaired the Economic Committee set up one month after his appointment to tackle the economic recession facing the country. The creation of the Economic Committee can be viewed as the beginning of the PAP government’s consultative style of leadership, as Lee managed to obtain feedback and views on the causes of the recession as well as suggestions for ensuring economic recovery from about a thousand participants from both the public and private sectors in Singapore. The Economic Committee completed its report one year later, and its 12 recommendations enabled the government to deal successfully with the economic recession.
In February 1986, Lee was appointed acting minister for trade and industry and he also retained his MOS position in MINDEF. During the same year, he was made chairman of the newly created PAP Youth Wing. In January 1987, he was confirmed as minister for trade and industry and promoted to second minister for defense (services). Two years later, he was appointed as the second assistant secretary-general of the PAP’s Central Executive Committee. Then, in October 1990, six years after he became an MP, he was appointed as one of the two deputy prime ministers with Ong Teng Cheong.
Given his outstanding performance in the army and his meteoric rise up the party and government hierarchies, it was not surprising that Lee was expected by most Singaporeans to succeed Goh Chok Tong as Singapore’s third prime minister when Goh retired from the political scene. However, in November 1992 the government announced that Lee was diagnosed as suffering from an intermediate grade malignant lymphoma. After undergoing 18 weeks of chemotherapy, Lee’s health improved as his doctors reported in April 1993 that there was “no evidence of any residual disease.” Lee’s health remained stable and he kept his position as deputy prime minister. In the 1997 elections, the PAP won all but two of Singapore’s 83 seats in Parliament; Lee and Goh remained in their governmental positions.
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