Lee Hsien Loong still has yet to come out of his father’s shadow after three years as Prime Minster, according to a leaked diplomatic cable from the United States embassy in Singapore. The report was dated July 2007. Lee Hsien Loong became Prime Minister of Singapore on 12th August 2004.
The cable gave a few examples of how, despite trying to differentiate himself from his father Lee Kuan Yew by projecting a “softer” and “more caring” side to Singaporeans, the younger Lee continued to be outshone by his father, and was unable to put a “strong personal stamp on government policy”.
The cable gave an example of how the older Lee’s stature and continued prominence conflicted with PM Lee’s promise of greater openess for political dialogue:
In his first major address as PM, he encouraged Singaporeans to “speak your voice, be heard” and promised a greater openness for political dialogue. One ruling party MP told us that PM Lee had recognized the need for openness as a means to encourage creativity and risk taking in a society where many looked to the government to take the lead. The pay off would come by fostering the entrepreneurship and innovation Singapore’s economy needed to stay competitive, but not lead to anyone challenging the PAP’s political dominance. However, that early promise for more openness was quickly cast aside. In case after case, PM Lee and the GOS have maintained tight controls on political speech and discouraged people from speaking out or taking risks by: banning films (by Singaporeans) and foreign publications, suing critics for defamation, and jailing political opponents for going beyond accepted limits on public discourse. In one sad case in 2006, the police warned a bunch of school girls they might break the law if they wore “en masse” t-shirts with a tongue-in-check political image.
The cable also described how during the 2006 General Elections, PM Lee came off “almost as a by-stander in his first campaign as PM”, due to Lee Kuan Yew dominating media coverage to “crush a hapless opposition candidate”:
LKY seems unable to control an impulse to take center stage in public, leaving PM Lee to appear almost marginal.
According to the cable, a media relations firm CEO even observed that the Prime Minister looked in his public appearances like a man who didn’t enjoy his job. The cable’s final assessment of PM Lee is that he seems regularly to “pass up opportunities to define himself as Singapore’s true leader.”
Al Jazeera English to be “watched closely”
According to another leaked cable, the Government of Singapore took almost a year of monitoring news channel Al Jazeera English before granting it a license to broadcast in Singapore beginning in 2008. However, the Government of Singapore will “watch closely, and determine whether to grant a second broadcast license for StarHub to air Al Jazeera English based on their assessment of the channel’s content and Singaporean reaction to the broadcasts.”
Since then, the network has featured stories about poverty, prostitution, the integrated resorts, migrant labour abuse, housing and immigration policies, to name a few.
In a Today newspaper report, Singtel explained the move was “to enhance our channel offerings … in order to address the demands and requirements of our customers.”
Then-acting Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts, Lui Tuck Yew dismissed speculations that critical or negative reports by Al Jazeera were the reason why the channel was dropped.