Friday, May 20, 2011

A Cabinet Without Lee Kuan Yew

Many years ago, I wrote about the legacy that Goh Chok Tong could leave towards the end of his political career. The view, which follows below, was published in Today on 12 April 2003.

It took 8 years for Goh to achieve this, and I am glad he finally persuaded his predecessor to make a grand exit with him. Singapore was ready for a future without Lee Kuan Yew more than a decade ago.

Dharmendra Yadav


Not too long ago, Ravi Veloo - a product of the Lee Kuan Yew Government - argued the legacy that his Prime Minister (now Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew) could leave behind towards the end of his political career: a split People's Action Party. [For Ravi's view, see here]

Today, as a product of the Goh Chok Tong Government, I wish to argue the legacy that my Prime Minister could leave behind as he gets ready to step down: a Cabinet without Mr Lee.

I do not mean any disrespect to Mr Lee. In fact, I do appreciate what he and the Old Guard have achieved for Singapore.

However, I raise this issue in the interest of the very country his team has dutifully shaped. I also acknowledge that this suggestion may be seen as controversial and, perhaps even extreme or radical, by some circles.

But we are in the business of "Remaking Singapore", aren't we?

During his recent visit to India, Mr Goh announced that he wishes to implement plans for a third generation of leaders to be tested as full ministers.

A Cabinet reshuffle is in the works.

It is no secret that Mr Goh wants a new PAP leadership to be ready by the next General Elections, due by 2007.

Bearing in mind mankind's brutal history of power struggles, Mr Goh's vision is indeed noble.

As such, this seems to be the best time for him to invite and permit Mr Lee to join the backbench. Such a move will allow the Cabinet's level of preparedness to be tested without the presence of a long-serving and seasoned politician.

Consequently, this would establish the Cabinet's ability to perform and deliver tangible results without the guidance of Mr Lee.

On several occasions, Mr Goh has asserted that Singapore can survive without Mr Lee. What better way to prove this conclusively?

Of course, like any change, this will be a difficult process. Nonetheless, true nation states are known to outlast the legacies of their leaders.

Considering the current Cabinet's track record in managing highly volatile uncertainties, it would not be too difficult a process for the Cabinet to adapt to Mr Lee's absence.

In addition, such a move by him, if it does happen, will coincide with a similarly scheduled move by one his political counterparts, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed.

This may, in turn, enable the leadership of both countries to look at their outstanding problems with a fresh set of lenses and possibly progress innovatively towards resolving these matters.

Furthermore, Mr Lee's skills set can be put to better use outside the Cabinet.

We rarely hear him, the great orator, in Parliament these days. Perhaps, this stems from his desire not to overshadow his Cabinet colleagues.

If former Parliament Speaker Tan Soo Khoon's return to the backbench is a benchmark (don't mind the pun), I dare say Mr Lee's presence there will steer other MPs to perform even better.

After all, some of Mr Lee's more revolutionary speeches were made as an opposition politician. In the backbench, he will also not be bound by the Cabinet principle of collective responsibility.

Plus, a father is often said to be his son's best and most-informed critic. (At least, I know my father is!)

It is now highly likely that, Mr Lee's son, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is likely to be Singapore's next Prime Minister.

As such, with the Senior Minister as a "check-and-balance" in the backbench, the future PM may perform even better.

Separately, in this post Cold War era, a number of large countries no longer exist.

This has led to the growth of many small countries, which increasingly look to Singapore as a role model.

Similarly, large states in certain countries have also been divided into smaller states.

Such countries and states also view Singapore as an example and often look up to Mr Lee for advice since he is an eminent member of the global community. Freeing him from Cabinet duties will mean that he will be better able to share his expertise with such groups, if he so chooses.

Mr Lee's enhanced commitments in the international scene will not only raise Singapore's international profile but will also effectively position it as a credible knowledge base in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Mr Lee's departure will also clear the way for Mr Goh to test himself as a Senior Minister.

During his tenure as head of Government, Mr Goh was impressive in establishing that his decisions were in the interest of his country. Mr Goh should be encouraged to continue this tradition by serving our country as a Senior Minister. If we truly desire to "remake Singapore", we must quickly get used to a future without Mr Lee.

The time for us to say goodbye to the Senior Minister is drawing close. Will Mr Goh take the opportunity to introduce a Cabinet without Mr Lee?

* The writer is a Singaporean law student in England.

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