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Dawn of a post-Lee Kuan Yew era in Singapore

Goh Meng Seng

I have spoken about Post-LKY era in several occasions over the last few years and I have just done that on the day Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew died, 9 September 2010. When I heard that news, it immediately struck upon me that we are walking right into Post-LKY without any adequate preparation at all.

The loss of his beloved wife at this ripe old age of 87 would have great impact on his health and well being, especially so when he has just been admitted into hospital for chest infections.

When I watch him speak at his wife’s funeral, reading his eulogy painfully with a barely audible voice and head facing down most of the time, I suddenly felt very sorry for him. The once one of the best political orators in this region, has suddenly lost his flare and magical touch. The severely wounded old lion may not roar again. I still hope that he would have a speedy recovery from both his illness and grief.

Someone has a lively discussion with me about Post-LKY era and declare that “LKY doesn’t matter at all”. I said, “But the fact that we are using LKY as the indication in Post-LKY era discussions truly reflects the fact that his political life is an important part of Singapore’s history!”

Although Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is still alive, but death to everyone, including all of us, is certain, just a matter of when. With due respect to MM Lee, for the benefits of Singapore, we will have to examine all the possibilities carefully so that we could prepare ourselves, the Nation, for a smooth transition into Post-LKY era.

There are many questions of uncertainties with regard to Post-LKY era:

1) Will LKY’s legacy outlive his passing?

2) Can the present social-economic-political model sustain in the long run?

3) Will there be power struggle within PAP? If so, will political instability occur?

4) Will both foreign and local investors maintain their confidence in our country’s stability?

5) Will Singapore’s political hegemony continue to strive?

The ultimate question is, will Singapore be better or worse off without Mr Lee Kuan Yew and how could we maintain or develop our political system thereafter?

In human history, particularly Chinese ancient and modern history, the passing of an Emperor or a political Strongman will always trigger off power struggle within the system. eg. The death of Chairman Mao Zhe Tong is the prime example how the power vacuum leads to intense power struggle. Luckily for China, Chairman Mao during his last breaths, has done the right thing of reinstating Deng Xiao Peng so that the Gang of Four could not extend their political atrocities by capturing power.

In Singapore’s context, one may think that all is fine since Mr Lee Hsien Loong has become the third generation Prime Minister in Singapore. However, from all observations made so far, the undercurrent of power struggle is quite eminent.

It is only natural for any organizations to have different cliques or factions, especially so for political parties no matter how big or small they are. The most important thing is to find the balance whereby all factions could compromise and work together for the bigger picture. However, when there is a change in the dynamics between the factions due to the diminishing or total absence of a strongman like MM Lee, it will initiate fresh round of struggle to find the new balance of interests and power among them. Whether we like it or not, such realignment of power balance will take place.

In my opinion, for the sake of the country, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew should retire from active politics in either the form of total withdrawal from contest for the coming GE or just become a backbencher. This is to allow the Nation and all social, political and economic sectors to get used to a system without Strongman LKY. We need such gradual transitional period to cushion off the impact of the uncertainties arise from Post-LKY era.

Post-LKY era will pose great challenges as well as opportunities for the country as a whole. Post-LKY era will practically mean the end of strongman politics in Singapore. Many countries in the world have gone through such transition. eg. Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and even China etc.

The common phenomenon of Strongman politics in many countries during last century is basically due to the Post War impact whereby strong leadership is needed for the initial phase of stability, recovery and rebuilding from the devastating effects of World War II and the political uncertainty imposed by Cold War. However, most of the countries have walked out of the need of Strongman politics and many of them are working towards a more open and democratic political system.

Whether Singapore will follow the footsteps of these countries in embarking on the journey of developing a more open and democratic political system suitable for Singapore’s context will depend largely on voters, not merely the ruling party alone.

It is a world trend for such political transition to happen because the model of political hegemony is NOT SUSTAINABLE in the long run. We should ensure the transition from Strongman politics to democratic development to be in a controlled and smooth manner.

Concurrently, we should reexamine on the kinds of political models we want for Post-LKY era. This should be done with the interests of our future generations instead of the usual narrowly defined interests of the ruling party.

MM Lee has once said that if the “opposition party” wins the elections twice consecutively, Singapore will be doomed. The basic reason why he comes to that conclusion is that the present political system is designed in such a way that a lot of power has been CENTRALIZED to give the ruling party absolute control. There is practically little SEPARATION of POWER to talk about, least, any meaningful checks and balance system. It is basically a system that is designed to entrenched the system of power hegemony.

However, MM Lee may have forgotten that the main threat of “dooming” Singapore may not come from any opposition party winning the elections but rather a corrupt group of politicians evolving out of PAP itself! The PAP may be seen as relatively clean by world standards but NOBODY can guarantee that this will forever be so and PAP will never be led by corrupt leaders in future!

I really hope that we will not face turbulent time ahead in Post-LKY era. If that happens, it would also mean that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has failed to build a sustainable system that could outlive his own legacy. There is still time, no matter how little it is, for MM Lee to do what is right for Singapore.

MM Lee should initiate and oversee the fundamentals of a better and more democratic political system to be established before he retires from Singapore politics. Nobody else in PAP has such political clout to do it except him.

He should institutionalize the independence of the Elections Department and fair play in our elections.

1) Gerrymandering and pork barrel politics should be outlawed.

2) A form of Proportional Representation should be adopted.

3) Independence of the press and government establishments like People’s Association should be established.

4) All political parties should be given equal access to Government resources and funding to enhance healthy competition.

5) Political Donations Act should be amended to allow political parties to solicit funds.

6) Freedom of speech should be further institutionalized so that political parties or politicians could air their views freely in the context of public interests.

7) Freedom of information access to government statistics and data should be made available for enhancing political debates.

8) Intimidation or use of coercion on political opponents through government agencies, institutions or GLCs should be outlawed. No one should be intimidated or persecuted for his political beliefs and involvement.

There may be more things to be done but it would be a good start with the above mentioned. There is an urgency for him to do so else Singapore will fall and become the victim of intense power struggle within his own party after his passing. That would be a sad Post-LKY era the entire Nation will face in time to come.
- Temasek Review

(Goh Meng Seng is a member of the Workers Party in Singapore and an active opposition leader)

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