A new, post-Lee Kuan Yew era

Editorial, Normal

The National, Wednesday, May 18, 2011

By Eugene K.B. Tan
LESS than a week after Singapore’s watershed 2011 general election (GE), the joint decision by minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew and senior minister Goh Chok Tong to step down from cabinet indicates that the soul searching by the People’s Action Party (PAP) is deep in progress.
As Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged at his post-GE media conference last Sunday: “Many wish for the government to adopt a different style and approach.
“It marks a distinct shift in our political landscape.”
The timing and their statements last Saturday suggested that Lee and Goh have reflected on the hustings and election results, and they have decided resolutely that they should step down to give the PM a free hand as he decides on his new cabinet line-up.
“It cannot be government as usual”, in Lee’s words.
It is a magnanimous act of statesmanship and a powerful expression of humility by Lee and Goh.
And, I hope that Singaporeans, regardless of their political inclinations, will pay tribute and recognise them for their sterling contributions and achievements.
Together, they have accumulated 87 years in cabinet, including 45 years as prime ministers.
We now stand on their shoulders as we move forth.
As the PM finalises his new cabinet line-up, which could be announced this week, at least six of the previous 21 cabinet members will not feature.
Besides ministers Lee and Goh, S. Jayakumar and Lim Boon Heng had announced their retirement from politics prior to the general election. George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua were defeated.
We are likely to see a streamlined and leaner cabinet. Young MP-elects will be blooded at the junior office-holder levels to accelerate their learning.
As Singapore transitions to the fourth-generation leadership, the engagement of a new generation of voters will take new directions and gain fresh impetus.
The new cabinet’s political style will not be cramped; it will be unencumbered by the political values and baggage of the past.
How the engagement will play out remains to be seen, but it underlines the message that the PAP government is not averse to change.
That ministers Lee and Goh have taken the lead with their politically enlightened and shrewd decision to step aside, so that this break from the past can take place, makes it even more imperative for Singaporeans to heal the divisions among them.
It is all too easy to externalise and engage in a blame game vis-a-vis the difficulties, pressures and challenges Singaporeans have encountered in the past decade.
There is no silver bullet to address the multi-faceted and complex issues that modern societies have to deal with.
Yet, even with the heat of the elections over, there is still much vitriol and baying for blood circulating on social media.
I have never seen our society being so polarised, that political loyalties become a source of division.
Are we cutting our nose off to spite our face?
I hope that we now get down to healing the divisions.
Both ministers Lee and Goh leave behind a legacy of robust systems, processes and policies (which will, of course, be tweaked to meet the changing needs of our society).
Their departure will reinforce the belief that the system in Singapore is based on institutions, not personalities. It also demonstrates that Singapore is confident enough to move into a new, post-Lee Kuan Yew era.  — Today


*The writer is assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University school of law