February 10, 2020 marks Lee Hsien Loong’s 68th birthday. Here is a quick look back on the life of Singapore’s current Prime Minister.
The eldest child of Singapore’s first founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his wife Kwa Geok Choo, Lee Hsien Loong was born on February 10, 1952. According to Lee Kuan Yew’s biography, Lee had always been interested in the political affairs of Singapore, often accompanying his father to the rally grounds since 1963.
Lee studied at Nanyang Primary School and received his secondary education at Catholic High School, before attending National Junior College. In 1971, he was awarded a President’s Scholarship and Singapore Armed Forces Overseas Scholarship (SAFOS) by the Public Service Commission to study mathematics at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, he was Senior Wrangler in 1973 and graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics (first-class honors) and a Diploma in Computer Science. In 1980, he completed a Masters of Public Administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University at the age of just 28.
Lee joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1971 and served as an officer from 1974 to 1984. In 1978, he attended the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and held various staff and command posts, including the Director of the Joint Operations and Plans Directorate (Director, JOPD), and Chief of Staff of the General Staff (COS, GS).
Lee rose quickly through the SAF’s ranks and made history as its youngest ever Brigadier-General (BG) at the age of just 29 after his promotion in July 1983. Lee’s most defining moment of his SAF career was when he was put in command of the rescue operations following the Sentosa Cable Car Disaster. Lee eventually left the SAF in 1984 to pursue civilian politics.
Lee was first elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Teck Ghee SMC in 1984, at the age of 32. Following his election, he was appointed as a Minister of State in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). His father, PM Lee Kuan Yew personally oversaw his appointment.
In 1985, Lee chaired the government’s economic committee to recommend solutions to Singapore’s economic recession. The committee recommended a reduction in corporate taxes to attract foreign businesses and introduce a consumption tax which would later come to be known as GST.
In 1987, Lee became a full member of the Cabinet as the minister for trade and Industry and second minister for defense, having served in public office for only 3 years.
Deputy Prime Minister
On 28 November 1990, Goh Chok Tong took over from Lee Kuan Yew as Singapore’s second Prime Minister. Lee was made one of two Deputy Prime Ministers (along with Ong Teng Cheong).
Lee was appointed Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in 1998, and in 2001 he was made the Minister for Finance, a key ministerial position that was seen as a precursor to the Prime Ministership.
To ease the growing budget deficit due to falling tax revenues from cuts in corporate and personal income taxes, Lee proposed on August 29, 2003, to raise the GST from 3% to 5%.
On August 12, 2004, Lee succeeded Goh Chok Tong as Singapore’s third Prime Minister.
As PM, Lee oversaw several reforms to Singapore’s labor laws such as expanded maternity leave, baby bonus schemes, a 5-day work week, and the Progressive Wage Model. In his time as PM, Singapore’s population grew considerably as a result of liberal immigration policies. Despite impressive economic growth, PM Lee’s rule also witnesses a considerable widening of the income gap and growing discontent over open-door immigration.
Not one who would shy away from his father’s authoritarian streak, PM Lee’s rule has also witnessed crackdowns on dissent with restrictive media laws to stifle alternative news and draconian regulations against peaceful demonstrations in place. PM Lee has also been criticized by human rights activists for his government’s inaction on LGBT rights. To date, Singapore remains the only first-world country to criminalize gay sex.
From 2008 to 2012, Lee earned an annual salary of S$3,870,000 (US$2,856,930). In January 2012, in response to public unhappiness at excessive ministerial salaries, Lee took a 28% pay cut, reducing his salary to S$2.2 million (US$1.7 million). To date, He remains the highest-paid head of government in the world.