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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Singapore General Elections 2011 - debriefing - impact on Government

In previous entries, I covered the following topics:

And this weekend saw the culmination of the fall-out from the elections. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his new Cabinet were sworn in by President S.R. Nathan on Saturday night. This new Cabinet sees the departure of long-time ministers and appointment or promotion of new ones.

This Cabinet is supposed to reflect PM Lee's realization that it can no longer be "business as usual" after the elections. Widespread displeasure and unhappiness were directly translated into the PAP's historically low vote share of 60.14%. Therefore, PM Lee really had no choice but to shake up his Cabinet massively to address the people's woes.

Some cynics will say that it was just a game of musical chairs. After all, the Cabinet is still comprised of pretty much the same people. It's just that this time, those familiar faces are now leading different ministries. So the same ideas could still circulate in the upper echelons of Government, which will lead to more of the same ol' policies that have led Singapore to this current situation.

Whatever the arguments for-and-against the new appointments, one thing is for certain: this new Cabinet will very likely face robust Parliamentary sessions. There will be nine opposition members in the legislative assembly, six of them directly elected by the people. With some bright minds there, for example, in Chen Show Mao and Pritam Singh, we can expect some intelligent debates over government policies. And if PM Lee is true to his word about inclusiveness, we can expect less rebuttal over the opposition's suggestions and more discussions – and maybe even compromises – to formulate policies that are in the best interests of every Singaporean.

Reflections on a few Cabinet departures
Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong jointly announced their retirement from Cabinet at the beginning of the week. Their aim, they said, was to allow the younger generation of ministers to have a more free reign in governing the country, without having a senior statesman looking over their shoulders.

Indeed, it will be interesting to see both men occupying the back benches in the next seating of Parliament, together with fellow retirees Wong Kan Seng and Mah Bow Tan. Based on their announcements, I believe that we won't be hearing very much from them at upcoming sessions. Once in a while, though, I'm sure that they will give voice to laws or policies that interest them. But it is their general silence that will truly mark the end of a political era in Singapore.

Anyway, though they are gone from Cabinet, they are still not far from the gears of power. Mr Lee will be a senior adviser at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation, where he has been chairman in years past, and Mr Goh will also be a senior adviser, though at the Monetary Authority of Singapore. With Singapore as a financial hub, these two organizations are extremely important to Singapore's continued success, so having these two men there means that they will still wield vast influence over Singapore's destiny.

Unlike these two men, George Yeo will be marching into the sunset, at least for the time being. After having lost his Aljunied constituency at the elections, he has had to vacate his position as Minister of Foreign Affairs too (ministers are appointed from Members of Parliament).

Much has been said about all of the good work that he has done in his years in Government. In fact, for almost a week after the elections, the mainstream media did nothing except talk about Mr Yeo. The thing to remember about Singapore is that no minister has ever been forced to retire because of an election loss. The closest that we came was when Dr Seet Ai Mee lost her elections. But she was in a caretaker role then as an Acting Minister. Mr Yeo, on the other hand, has been a full-fledged minister for years. So it was as if the press did not know how to react to this unprecedented event, and turned on its glow machine to the brightest.

Nonetheless, it is really sad to see such an intelligent man leave the Cabinet. Unfortunately, he was a victim of the democratic process. But he has been a gentleman to the end, from his final press interview as Minister to his quiet and humble way of leaving office. Even though he is leaving politics (apparently, PAP ministers don't think about fighting back at the next elections, since Mrs Lim Hwee Hua is also quitting politics), I believe that the Government will still find some use for him, most likely as an ambassador or a representative to an international organization.

So it is that we bid a fond farewell to Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and George Yeo from Cabinet. And there'll be no love lost with Mah Bow Tan and Raymond Lim's departures. It is now time to see how PM Lee's new Cabinet leads Singapore for the next five years and remake it into the jewel of Southeast Asia.

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