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From the shadow of Lee Kuan Yew: what legacy will Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong leave behind?

In his first major policy address as Singapore’s prime minister in 2004, a 52-year-old Lee Hsien Loong launched into a three-hour speech by opening with the questions: “What would the new PM be like? Would he be his own man? What mark would he put on Singapore?”

It was a significant soliloquy of sorts, but delivered in front of the country’s elites, including his father Lee Kuan Yew. The younger Lee noted such questions had arisen when his predecessor Goh Chok Tong became the young nation’s second prime minister in 1990.

“When Mr Goh took over from Mr Lee Kuan Yew as PM, many people wondered how he would work out because Singapore only had one PM ever since it was independent, in fact, before it was independent,” he said. “All this uncertainty was soon dispelled; Chok Tong established his own style: milder, gentler, consultative and inclusive but firm and clear.”

Though Lee was referring to Goh, he had echoed the same questions many Singaporeans at the time held about their new and relatively fresh-faced leader, who came with the added proverbial burden of birth as the scion of the country’s founding father.

In the last two decades since, though Lee, in making his mark as his own man, had steered Singapore through some of its toughest hurdles such as the Covid-19 pandemic and 2008-09 financial crisis, part of his legacy remains tied to his larger-than-life family, observers say.

Throughout his prime minister tenure, the Lees had encountered accusations of nepotism, the most notable of which included a New York Times writer who was sued and had to pay S$160,000 for including the two men in a 2010 list of Asian political dynasties.

“I don’t think that he will ever be able to escape being his father’s son – which of us can?” said