Singapore PM Lee on medical leave after falling ill during televised speech

A statement from the prime minister’s office said he did not suffer a stroke and that his heart is fine, but that he was feeling unsteady because of prolonged standing, heat and dehydration

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 10:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 10:47pm

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be on medical leave until August 29 on the advice of his doctors, his office said, after he appeared to faint while delivering a televised speech to the nation.

The 64-year-old cancer survivor, son of the city-state’s late founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, was speaking late Sunday about the idea that a person from any race can become president in Singapore when he took ill and had to be helped off the stage.

When he returned about an hour and 20 minutes later, the crowd in the packed auditorium gave him a standing ovation and thousands of well-wishers expressed relief on social media.

“Thank you for waiting for me. I gave everybody a scare,” said Lee, who has been in power since 2004.

He said he fainted during the speech, part of celebrations linked to Singapore’s 51st anniversary as a republic on August 9.

“I think that’s what happened. I’ve never had so many doctors look at me all at once, they think I’m all right. But anyway I’m going to have a full check-up after this.”

On Monday the prime minister’s office said Lee’s illness was brought on by a temporary drop in blood pressure due to prolonged standing, exhaustion and dehydration.

Doctors had confirmed there were no cardiac abnormalities and no stroke, the office said.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will cover the duties of the prime minister in his absence.

Lee had been on his feet for more than two hours when he stunned the audience as he slouched over the lectern before cameras cut away to his listeners during a live broadcast.

The audience sat in shock but broke into applause when Lee was being helped off the stage.

Neighbouring Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak posted on Twitter: “Heard that you’re not feeling well. I hope you’re all right. Get well soon.”

Lee underwent surgery for prostate cancer last year and has received the all-clear from doctors. He survived a bout of lymphoma, a form of cancer, in 1992.

Sunday’s incident was the second health scare to hit the government since Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat collapsed from a stroke during a cabinet meeting in May.

After resuming his speech, Lee underscored the importance of an orderly leadership succession.

He led the ruling People’s Action Party, which has governed Singapore since it became independent from Malaysia in 1965, to a new-five year term last year and has indicated he would hand over power by the time he reaches 70.

“Most of the core team are in place,” he said.

Singapore’s next general election has to be held by January 2021.

“Heng Swee Keat gave us a bad scare, worse than what I gave you just now. Much worse,” he said.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, a medical doctor who was among those who helped Lee off the stage, said on Facebook that the prime minister had a “fainting spell”.

“Not serious, similar to what soldiers get from standing on the parade square too long,” he said.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters