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Singapore leader gives son political leeway

Though the election this fall may be the last for Lee Kuan Yew, it could be the first for another Lee - the prime minister's eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong. There have been strong hints from the government that the new People's Action Party lineup at the election - which will probably be held in September or December - will include one senior military man. The man is almost certainly Hsien Loong.

For the last two years Hsien Loong has been second in command of Singapore's modern 42,000-strong armed forces. This June he was promoted to brigadier general.

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Asked earlier this month if Hsien Loong would run for Parliament in the coming elections, a senior government spokesman who asked to remain anonymous said this was ''probable.'' He added that Hsien Loong had a ''definite interest'' in politics and government.

Hsien Loong's schooling has been rigorous and his peformance outstanding. He excelled in the most academically demanding schools of the island. His home life seems to have been equally demanding, judging from a description of it by his younger brother, Hsien Yang, which was published six years ago.

According to the account, the Lee children seemed to spend much of their after-school hours in self-improvement. They received private tutoring in English, Malay, and Mandarin (Hsien Loong is also said to speak Russian fairly well) and elocution lessons. Even family chats apparently had an educational purpose.

After secondary school in Singapore, Hsien Loong went to Trinity College in Cambridge to read math. He graduated with a double first (the equivalent of summa cum laude) and a diploma in computer science.

In 1975 he returned to the armed forces but took time off in 1980 to obtain a master's degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. In 1982 he became the youngest of a new batch of senior armed forces officers, sharing the second-in-command slot with an officer 18 years his senior.

Soon after Hsien Loong was given his first public test. A ship passing under a cable-car line to a small tourist resort off Singapore severed the wire. Seven people were killed. Hsien Loong was put in charge of the rescue operation and later received the public administration gold medal, one of the nation's highest awards.

Would Hsien Loong have advanced so fast if he had not been a Lee? Many observers think not, despite his skills. But most are confident - or fatalistic, depending on their viewpoint - that Hsien Loong will emerge as one of the top second-generation leaders.

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Many think Prime Minister Lee is likely to entrust the future of Singapore only to another Lee. After Lee Kuan Yew, the rather snide joke goes, Lee Clone Yew.

If Hsien Loong does join the island's designated second-generation leadership , he will once again be by far the youngest member of the team. There are eight men - no women - in the current second-generation lineup. Most have at least master's degrees, usually in science or economics and mostly from American or British schools.

But as Lee has himself pointed out in the past, some of the present group will probably fall by the wayside. Two of the original batch have already gone.

The two most senior members of the group seem to be Goh Chok Tong and Tony Tan. Between them they hold some of the most important Cabinet portfolios. Mr. Goh, a graduate of Williams College, is minister of defense and second minister for health. Tony Tan, who completed a master's at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is minister for trade and industry. Both men also hold senior positions in the People's Action Party and are thought to be playing a major role in the selection of candidates and the organization of the general election.

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