SINGAPORE AFTER LEE KUAN YEW

LEE KUAN YEW PREPARES A NEW GENERATION OF LEADERS

After serving as prime minister from 1959 to 1990, Mr. Lee was followed by two handpicked successors, Goh Chok Tong and Mr. Lee’s eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong. Groomed for the job, the younger Mr. Lee has been prime minister since 2004.

Although Lee Kuan Yew retained a firm grip on the reins of government during the second decade of the country's independence, the shift in leadership had been irrevocably set in motion. By the early 1980s, a second generation of leaders were beginning to occupy the important decision-making posts. The stars of the new team included Goh Chok Tong, Tony Tan, S. Dhanabalan, and Ong Teng Cheong, who were all full ministers in the government by 1980. In that year, the PAP won its fourth consecutive general election, capturing all the seats. Its 75.6 percent vote margin was five points higher than that of the 1976 election. The PAP leadership was shaken out of its complacency the following year, however, when Workers' Party candidate J. B. Jeyaretnam won with 52 percent of the votes the by-election to fill a vacancy in Anson District. In the general election held in December 1984, Jeyaretnam retained his seat and was joined on the opposition benches by Chiam See Tong, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, which was founded in 1980. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In September 1984, power in the PAP Central Executive Committee was transferred to the second-generation leaders, with only Lee Kuan Yew, as secretary general, remaining of the original committee members. When Lee hinted in 1985 that he was considering retirement, his most likely successor appeared to be Goh Chok Tong, serving then as first deputy prime minister and defence minister. Speculation also centered on the prime minister's son, Lee Hsien Loong, who had resigned his military career to win a seat in Parliament in the 1984 election. After two decades of the highly successful, but tightly controlled, administration of Lee Kuan Yew, it was difficult to say whether the future would bring a more open and participatory government, yet one with the same knack for success exhibited by the old guard. The answer to that question would only come with the final passing of Lee Kuan Yew from the political scene. *

Goh Chok Tong

Goh Chok Tong was Prime Minister of Singapore from 1990, when Lee Kuan Yew retired to 2004, when Lee’s son Lee Hsien Loong took power. Goh was Lee Kuan Yew’s deputy when Lee was prime minister. Goh was the first deputy prime minister and first minister of defense. The Straits Times described the transfer of power to Goh as “well-planned, seamless, almost nondescript.”

In late 1989, Lee announced that he would step down in late 1990 and that his successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, had already largely taken over the day-to-day management of the government. However, based on the prime minister's own assertions that he was not yet ready to relinquish all control, observers speculated on just what powers Lee would continue to hold. Goh acknowledged in late 1989 the growing sophistication and rising expectations of younger Singaporeans, who want a greater participation in the country's political life, and noted that he expected the opposition to claim a larger share of seats in parliament in the 1990s.

In contrasting his leadership style with that of Lee, Goh stated that Lee "believes in firm government from the center . . . whereas our style is a little more consultative, more consensus-building." The transition to a new generation of leaders was a phenomenon not unique to Singapore. In neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, the independence generation was also rapidly dwindling, and the 1990s will surely mark the passing from the scene of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and President Soeharto as well as Lee Kuan Yew. The close relationship between Singapore and both its neighbors had been built to a large extent on personal ties between Lee and his counterparts in Malaysia and Indonesia. *

Goh Chok Tong as Prime Minister

Goh was seen somewhat as a caretaker prime minister who took over when Lee Kuan Yew had gotten too old but his son Lee Hsien Loong was too young to takeover. His government was sometimes called the second generation administration with Lee Sr. being the first generation and Lee Jr. being the third generation

Goh was very tall. In many ways he was the perfect successor to Lee Kuan Yew. He lacked Lee’s charisma but also lacked his pomposity but conveyed an image of strength, stability and reasonableness. He came across as affable and friendly and quietly persuasive.

Goh was well liked by Singaporeans. His affable style went down better than the authoritarian and patronizing style of Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong. Goh was able to do things like get people to take wage cuts at a time of rising unemployment to get the economy going,

Goh promised a "Kinder, gentler" Singapore and "eased restrictions on the press and adult movies, opened a ministry for the arts and freed some political prisoners." He poured more money into museums, libaries and set up an Arts Council. His government tried to get the restrictions on Playboy lifted but canned the decision after it was discovered that three quarters of Singaporeans opposed the move.

In an election in 1997, the People’s Action Party took 65 percent of the popular vote. After 14 years in office, in 2004 Goh stepped down in favor of Lee Hsien Loong, the minister of finance and son of Lee Kuan Yew. The elder Lee stayed on as minister mentor and Goh as senior minister.

Economic and Military Issues Under Goh Chok Tong

Singapore continued make great economic advances in the 1990s and early 2000s under Goh. The Asian economic crisis of 1997–98 was not the major setback for Singapore that it was for other Southeast Asian nations; the regional economic downturn did bring fluctuating growth rates to Singapore but no serious problems. Except for oil-rich Brunei, Singapore remained the most prosperous nation in the region.

In late 1989, Goh discussed the prospect of Johor State, the nearby Indonesian island of Batam (currently being developed), and Singapore forming a "triangle of growth" within the region in a cooperative rather than competitive effort. There were also signs of increased military cooperation among the three countries. Singapore, for example, conducted bilateral land exercises for the first time with both Malaysia and Indonesia in 1989.

Bilateral air and naval exercises had been conducted with both countries during most of the 1980s. All three countries (along with Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines) were members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN), formed in 1967 to promote closer political and economic cooperation within the region. The invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam in 1978 brought increased unity to the organization throughout the 1980s, as it sought to find a peaceful solution to the Cambodian problem. Although there was considerable bilateral military cooperation among ASEAN states, the organization was not viewed by its members as a military alliance. However, Singapore and Malaysia, along with Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, were also members of the 1971 Five-Powers Defence Agreement, which provided for consultation and support by the latter three nations in the event of an attack on Singapore or Malaysia. Cooperation under the agreement diminished during the 1970s, but by the late 1980s extensive military exercises involving all five participants were again being held. *

Lee Hsien Loong

Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, became Singapore’s third prime minister in August 2004 when he was 52. The Straits Times described his takeover of power as a “non-event” and a “typical Singaporean-style succession...dignified and equable. No surprises, no intrigues, no coups, no in-fighting and certainly no histrionics.” Lee Kuan Yew insisted that Lee Hsien Loong rose to his position through merit rather than nepotism.

Lee Hsien Loong achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the Singapore military and served in the cabinet as minister for trade and industry and second minister for defence. His meteoric rise in the late 1980s through the ranks of bureaucratic and political responsibility was regarded with interest by both foreign and domestic observers. Lee Hsien Loong was confirmed in office in a democratic election held on May 6, 2006.

After taking power, Lee reshuffled his cabinet a little but kept many old faces. Goh stayed on as senior mister. Lee Kuan Yew became “senior mentor.” Lee Hsien Loong’s goal was to continue delivering material success while opening up Singapore and allowing more personal freedoms. In a survey, eight of ten Singaporeans said that Lee was the best person for the job.

On growing up as the son of the most famous man in Singapore, Lee told the Washington Post: “I did not choose my father, but I am proud of him.”

Lee Hsien Loong’s Life

Lee Hsien Loong ahd been viewed as the future prime minister ever since he was named deputy prime minister under Goh Chok Tong in 1990. He had attained the rank of brigadier general in the Singapore army at the age of 32, served as governor of Singapore’s central bank. He has held all the top economic posts in the government, including Finance Minister, a position he claimed in 2001 and continued to hold after he was named Prime Minister. He is regarded as conservative and a serious, no-nonsense politician.

Lee career’s has been marked by over-achievement. He speaks three of Singapore’s official languages, plus Russian. He earned a first in mathematics at Cambridge and holds a masters in public administration from Harvard. Like his father he is both a micromanager and a long range planner. In regards to his father and his political career, Lee has said being his son has made his career more difficult because everyone thinks he got where he did based on nepotism and connections rather than merit.

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, In 2012, “Ever since I can remember, during my reporting days, I had been hearing about former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew grooming his son for political office. As a student, Hsien Loong learned the Russian language in anticipation of the Soviet Union emerging as a global economic (and political) power. That would have benefited any Asian leader who could speak the language, it was thought. It didn’t happen that way, of course, which shows that history can put paid to man’s best-laid plans. Instead of winning the Cold War and continuing to lead half of Europe, the Soviet Union disintegrated. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, November 3, 2012 ==]

Lee’s wife, Ho Ching, is a senior official at Temasek Holding Company, Singapore’s powerful domestic investment arm, which owns stakes in nearly all of Singapore’s largest companies. His younger brother, Lee Hsien Yang, is the chief executive of Singapore Telecommunications. See Temasek

Lee battled lymphoma in the early 1990s and appears to be free of the disease. His first wife died while bearing his second child. The experiences mellowed him out a bit. Before then he was known as brilliant but also for being impatient and not suffering fools very well.

Singapore's PAP Wins 2006 Elections by a Landslide

In May 2006, the People's Action Party (PAP) of Lee Hsien Loong and Lee Kuan Yew won parliamentary elections by a landslide. Associated Press reported: “NO SURPRISES The final results of the parliamentary elections showed the ruling party claiming 82 out of the 84 seats, including 37 uncontested seats. Singapore's ruling party celebrated a landslide victory in parliamentary elections that signaled continuity in the city-state's trademark mix of economic success, social stability and tight political controls. The result was widely expected, but the percentage of votes won by the ruling party dropped to 66.6 percent from 75.3 percent in the last election in 2001, indicating that more Singaporeans want new voices in government. [Source: AP, May 6, 2006]

The PAP has won every general election since Singapore became independent in 1965. The state's sharp limits on speech and assembly have undercut the struggling opposition, and ruling party leaders have sidelined some opponents with defamation suits that have rendered them bankrupt, making them ineligible for office. Lee said yesterday that voters had rejected an opposition "more interested in impressing foreign supporters," referring to a low vote count for the Singapore Democratic Party of Chee Soon Juan, made bankrupt from defamation suits brought by the ruling party. Chee is a frequent critic of the government's tight controls on free speech.

The vote was the first electoral test of the 54-year-old Lee's popularity since the son of national founder and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew became prime minister in 2004. "We have a lot of work ahead of us," Lee said. "I want also to continue to encourage open, serious debate on issues because neither the PAP nor the government, nor, may I say, the opposition, has all the solutions and answers to all the questions and problems."

Since assuming power in 2004, Lee has promised a more open society. Critics say little has changed since the time his father ran the country from independence until 1990. Ruling party leaders had dismissed suggestions that politics in Singapore amounted to one-party rule, saying they would welcome a vigorous contest with a credible opposition. They called many of the current opposition figures inexperienced or incompetent. Lee, who said some Singaporeans may have voted for the opposition because of rising costs, had campaigned on a pledge not to leave behind the poor, the elderly and the unemployed.

Many Singaporeans view the PAP as the safest choice, and its candidates said constituencies that vote for them will get priority in government funds for housing upgrades and other benefits. Some people, especially among the younger generation, say they want more public debate and a loosening of controls. Candidates for the opposition highlighted a growing income disparity between the rich and poor in the city-state of 4.3 million, where some people struggle financially despite the country's status as a high-tech, manufacturing hub.

The local media, which rarely deviates from the government line, devoted blanket coverage to the election. "PM gets his strong mandate," ran the banner headline in the Straits Times newspaper. The daily featured 18 pages of election news. The widely circulated tabloid Today said there were "82 reasons to smile," a reference to the PAP securing 82 parliamentary seats. Lee has acknowledged his party was unlikely to match the 75 percent mandate it secured in 2001 when an economic recession and the threat of terrorist attacks saw the electorate rally behind his predecessor.

Campaigning and Voting in Singapore’s 2006 Elections

Reuters reported: “Singaporeans voted in a general election in which anything less than a resounding victory for the ruling People's Action Party could be regarded as a failure for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The poll is the first real popularity test for Lee, 54, since he was appointed in August 2004 without an election in a planned leadership transition. The opposition has fielded candidates for more than half the seats in parliament, denying the PAP an automatic victory on Nomination Day for the first time in nearly two decades. [Source: Reuters, May 7, 2006]

“Polls closed at 8 p m 1730 hrs IST and the first results were expected around two hours later. Throughout the day, hundreds of voters trickled in to voting centres, waiting in orderly queues as policemen looked on. Voting is compulsory, but only about a quarter of Singapore's population of 4.4 million had a chance to vote due to walkovers in 37 of the 84 seats. Many were voting for the first time. ''This is my first time voting and I voted for the opposition as I felt that they were going to try to do more for the needy. I wanted to give them a chance,'' said Jacinta Huang, a 24-year-old social worker.

Singapore bans election surveys and exit polls, making it difficult to gauge opinion. But opposition rallies have drawn big crowds including the prime minister's own teenage son. Lee told reporters on Friday night he had asked his son why he had not attended a PAP rally and his son had replied: ''So boring and logical''. Lee added: ''So I think it's okay. Many more (are) like that, want to hear but when it comes to the moment to vote and decide, I think they know what's in their interest.''

''Minister Mentor'' filed defamation suits against the leaders of the Singapore Democratic Party at the start of campaigning. It's a timeworn PAP tactic that has bankrupted some opposition leaders, thus disqualifying them for parliament. Some voters seemed to be turned off by Singapore's hardball politics. ''I believed in the PAP before, but I think the party no longer represents me or the way I see things,'' said W M Ng, a 36-year-old advertising executive. ''They tell you what to do, and you do it. They don't listen. I don't agree with their heavy-handed style of government.''

Aware of the need to woo young voters, the PAP is fielding 24 new candidates, what it calls its ''fourth generation'' of leaders. But the bedrock of PAP support has always been older voters, who lived through Singapore's rocky post-independence years and witnessed its transformation into an economic powerhouse. ''What concerns me most is peace and safety,'' said taxi-driver Lee Kwok Seng, 44. ''The government has given me safety and I don't want crime in Singapore.'' When Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister, he promised more political openness, but there has been scant evidence of that.

Singapore Stops Opposition Protest During World Bank Meeting

The Singapore government strictly enforces limits on public speaking and demonstrations and said it would require political parties and individuals to register if they wish to post political content on Web sites. In September 2006, Fayen Wong of Reuters wrote: “Singapore police stopped an opposition politician from leading a protest march past the venue for the annual IMF-World Bank meetings, again highlighting the city-state's restrictions on freedom of speech. [Source: Fayen Wong, Reuters, September 16, 2006]

Singapore, which had hoped to show off its economic success by hosting the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings this month, has instead attracted surprisingly strong criticism from the two bodies and from NGOs when it blacklisted accredited activists. With some 16,000 delegates in town for the meetings, including central bankers and finance ministers from around the world, Singapore's curbs on its critics have come under scrutiny. Opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the tiny Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and six other activists wearing white tee-shirts with slogans such as "Freedom Now" held a rally at "Speaker's Corner."

But police stopped their planned march to the convention center, where the IMF/World Bank meetings are taking place. "The objective of this rally is to highlight that it is our right as citizens of Singapore to gather freely," Chee told a crowd of about 200 people, including journalists. "Singapore is the only economically developed country to oppress its citizens to this extent."

Under Singapore law, public gatherings of more than four people require a police permit. Before Chee arrived, police asked members of the crowd for their names and their reason for gathering at the park. The moves to stop the protest march came a day after Singapore said it would allow 22 blacklisted globalization foes to enter the country. The World Bank said it was pleased the government had relented, but called for the other five to be allowed in, too.

Anti-globalization activists have staged sometimes violent protests at similar meetings in the past, criticizing rich countries for being callous about the poor and the environment. Some would-be participants have already been deported or refused entry. ActionAid said that Maria Clara Soares, its head of policy for the Americas Region and a former economic advisor to the Brazilian Ministry of Finance, was held for 30 hours and subsequently deported on Friday. Three other senior ActionAid activists, all officially accredited by the World Bank and IMF, were detained at the airport for several hours, and repeatedly interrogated and fingerprinted before being released, the group said. Singapore police say the tight controls are necessary because the tiny island state with the most advanced economy in Southeast Asia was a terrorist target.

Singapore's PAP Wins 2011 Elections

In May 2011 election, The ruling People's Action Party won 60 percent of the vote, down from 67 percent in 2006 and 75 percent in 2001. The Workers Party won six seats, the most the opposition has held since independence. The share of seats means that the party retains the two-thirds majority allowing it to amend the constitution. Associated Press reported: “PAP leaders after the election have said they were surprised at the level of resentment some voters felt toward the government for its perceived arrogance and lack of collaboration with citizens. The Southeast Asia island is one of the world's richest countries, but soaring housing prices amid a surge of foreign workers have left poorer Singaporeans struggling. [Source: Associated Press, May 14, 2011]

CNN reported: The People's Action Party won 81 seats, while the opposition Workers' Party took six, according to the Elections Department. The general elections determined 82 seats of the incoming parliament; five seats were already decided as that slate ran unopposed in one district. The economy took center stage in the election in the Asian city-state. Many voters said they were worried about the relatively high cost of living and the rise of low-wage immigrant workers. A record 2.2 million people are eligible to vote, many for the first time, the government-backed Straits Times newspaper reported. In the last parliamentary election in 2006, 1.22 million people voted when 47 out of 84 seats were up for grabs, the newspaper said. [Source: CNN, May 8, 2011]

Lee Hsien Loong needed to get at least 61 percent of the votes and lose no more than four seat to avoid the PAP's worst electoral result— in 1991. He Loong said the result would prompt some soul-searching as the opposition has made significant gains. The BBC reported: The opposition described its own wins, including a seat held by the country's foreign minister, as a "political landmark". Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong agreed it was a "watershed election". "It marks a distinct shift in our political landscape," Mr Lee told an early morning news conference on Sunday. "Many [Singaporeans] wish for the government to adopt a different style and approach," he said. "Many desire to see more opposition voices in parliament to check the PAP government." He expressed willingness to work with lawmakers from the opposition. [Source: BBC, May 9, 2011]

Meaning of the 2011 Parliamentary Elections

Associated Press reported: In part the strong performance by the opposition is “a backlash against soaring housing prices, a surge in foreign workers and rising income inequality. But more fundamentally, as Singapore has become one of the richest countries in the world, its people are no longer willing to accept the unquestioned rule of the PAP. The emergence of the Internet has also allowed Singaporeans to bypass the state-owned media to express discontent, creating a more rancorous, irreverent public discourse."The May election unleashed a greater political consciousness in Singapore, something that's been developing over the last couple years," Eugene Tan, an assistant professor of law at Singapore Management University, told AP. "There's a stronger hint of defiance to the powers that be." [Source: Alex Kennedy, AP, August 26 2011]

Southeast Asian expert Michael Montesano of the BBC wrote: “The opposition wins represent their best performance since Singapore became independent from the Malaysian federation in 1965. Compulsory voting ensured a high turnout in Saturday's vote, with close to 2.06 million people - 93 percent of the electorate - taking part. The BBC's Rachel Harvey said that for the first time in a Singapore election the many parties of the traditionally fragmented opposition adopted a co-ordinated strategy which allowed them to challenge almost every seat. In addition, the explosion of new media has opened up greater space for debate in a country where traditional platforms - TV, radio and newspapers - are strictly controlled, she says. [Ibid]

Before the election, Lee Kuan Yew warned voters in the Aljunied district that they would "repent" for five years if they voted for opposition candidates. Prime Minister Lee later distanced himself from his father's comments, but the opposition won all five of Aljunied's seats. [Source: Associated Press, May 14, 2011]

Lee Hsien Loong Reshuffles Cabinet After 2011 Polls

After the 2011 Election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reshuffled his cabinet after five ministers stepped down. Shamim Adam and Weiyi Lim of AFP wrote: K. Shanmugam will be minister for foreign affairs, succeeding George Yeo who was defeated in the polls. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who will retain his position as finance minister, is also deputy prime minister and manpower minister. Teo Chee Hean remains as deputy prime minister. Wong Kan Seng, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan and Transport Minister Raymond Lim will retire from the cabinet, according to a government statement. The new lineup is a “fresh slate after a watershed election,” said Lee. The government will “review existing policies and approaches” and “engage a new generation of Singaporeans,” he said. Shanmugaratnam, who has been Minister of Finance since December 2007, is a former education minister. [Source: Shamim Adam & Weiyi Lim, AFP, May 18, 2011]

The announcement comes after Singapore’s former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong announced they will resign from the cabinet to make way for younger leaders. Lee Kuan Yew will be made senior adviser to sovereign wealth fund Government of Singapore Investment Corp., while Goh is senior adviser to the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

“The most important decisions are still made in the cabinet at a collective leadership level, so you can expect a great degree of policy continuity despite the changes,” said Ng Soon Nam, Singapore-based chief investment officer at Nikko Asset Management, which oversees about $126 billion. “It’s good that they are refreshing the cabinet.”

Prime Minister Lee’s ruling People’s Action Party won the general election with the smallest margin of popular votes since independence. He pledged his party will change the way it rules after the opposition won a record number of seats in elections that must be held every five years. Lim Hwee Hua, Singapore’s first woman minister and who helps oversee the finance and transport ministries, also lost this month. A parliamentary seat is a requirement to hold a ministerial post in the cabinet.

Singapore’s ministers are among the world’s highest paid, earning millions of dollars annually as the government benchmarks their wages against salaries of chief executive officers and other top earners in the country. The government says such earnings prevent corruption and help attract and retain talent. Opposition parties in this month’s elections decried the amount of ministerial compensation and compared their wages to those of ordinary Singaporeans who are facing a rising cost of living and depressed wages as a result of an influx of foreign workers.

PAP Favorite Barely Wins Singapore’s 2011 Presidential Election

Former Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan won a narrow victory to become the country's seventh president, but the closeness of the election was seen as a sign that the popularity of the PAP is declining. The Guardian reported: “The 71-year-old Tan received 35 percent of about 2.1 million votes in the election, edging former member of parliament Tan Cheng Bock by just 7,269 ballots. Tan Jee Say earned 25 percent of the vote, while Tan Kin Lian got 5 percent. The election was Singapore's first contested vote for president — mainly a ceremonial position in the country's parliamentary government — since 1993.

"I plan to work my utmost for Singaporeans whatever be their political affiliation," Tan said after the results were announced. "The presidency is above politics." [Source: Alex Kennedy, AP, August 27, 2011]

Analysts were closely watching the performance of Tony Tan, who was backed by most of the political establishment, as a barometer of voter discontent with the ruling People's Action Party. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the PAP did not officially endorse Tan, but Lee praised Tan and didn't mention any of the other three candidates. Before the election Tan was executive director of sovereign wealth fund Government of Singapore Investment Corp. and chairman of media company Singapore Press Holdings.

"The overwhelming majority of the voters didn't vote for the government-sponsored candidate," said Tan Jee Say, who lost a bid for a parliament seat in May representing the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. "More than 60 percent wanted some checks and balances." Singapore's constitution allows the president to veto the use of the country's reserves and some public office appointments, but doesn't give the post any executive authority.

Tan Cheng Bock was a PAP member of parliament from 1980 to 2006, but said during the campaign that he would put the interests of the country above those of the party and speak out if the government makes a mistake. "I'm not a proxy to any political party. I'm not a proxy to the PAP," he said early Sunday before the results were announced. "I'm the one who can unify all Singaporeans." Outgoing President S.R. Nathan won two six-year terms unopposed.

Feisty Campaigning before the 2011 Presidental Vote

Before the 2011 presidential election, Alex Kennedy of Associated Press wrote: “Choi Bee Tong makes for an unusual political rebel, especially in straight-laced Singapore. The 73-year-old retired school teacher plans to vote for opposition politician Tan Jee Say to be the next president. Choi brought her two toddler grandchildren to a raucous rally with 30,000 Tan supporters who booed, hissed and yelled insults every time a speaker mentioned the ruling People's Action Party or the candidate backed by most of the political establishment, Tony Tan. "I think many Singaporeans like me would like to have a president who serves a bigger role, instead of being a PAP puppet," Choi said. "Political awakening has finally happened in Singapore, and I want my grandchildren to see this." [Source: Alex Kennedy, AP, August 26 2011]

A growing number of Singaporeans are dissatisfied with their government, and increasingly the once-cowed populace is no longer afraid to speak out. They have been getting a rare opportunity to do so this year because of two elections, one for parliament and one for president.Political activity, such as public speech and assembly, is curtailed and closely controlled by the government, but 10 days of outdoor rallies are allowed ahead of parliamentary elections every five years and presidential votes every six.

Inspired by this more competitive and lively political atmosphere, sculptor Christopher Pereira began making fiberglass likenesses of Singapore politicians. He showed off his latest creation — a 30-centimeter (12-inch) figurine of Lee Kuan Yew — by attaching it to his back at the Tan Jee Say rally. But he was soon surrounded by an angry mob hurling anti-government insults. "They got right in my face, threatened me and told me to get out," Pereira said. "I was surprised how aggressive people were with me. That wouldn't have happened 10 or 20 years ago."

"There's no doubt that Tony Tan is widely perceived to be the preferred candidate (of the government)," Eugene Tan, an assistant professor of law at Singapore Management University, said. "He's generally regarded as a steady, safe pair of hands." Much of the debate among the candidates has centered on the extent of the president's powers. The constitution allows the president to veto the use of the country's reserves and some public office appointments, but doesn't give the post any executive authority.

Candidates Tan Cheng Bock, a former PAP member of parliament and medical doctor, and Tan Kin Lian, a former insurance company executive, have said if elected they would take on a more active role in voicing the concerns of citizens. Tony Tan and government spokesmen sought to quell calls for an expanded role for the president. "The president is not a center of power in Singapore, remember that," Tony Tan, 71, said in a speech in the downtown financial district earlier this week. "There's only one center of power in Singapore and that is the government."

PAP Loses By-Election, Struggles to Stem Citizens' Rising Discontent

In January 2013, voters handed Singapore's ruling People's Action Party its second by-election defeat in eight months, giving the opposition another seat in Parliament and signaling widening discontent over immigration policies and rising income inequality. Associated Press reported: “Opposition Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian won 54.5 percent of about 29,800 votes cast Saturday in the Punggol East district, beating three other candidates including the PAP's Koh Poh Koon, who received 43.7 percent. The Workers' Party now has seven seats in Parliament and the PAP has 80. [Source: Associated Press, January 26, 2013]

"Despite this victory, the Workers' Party is still a small party with much to do and improve upon," party chairwoman Sylvia Lim told reporters. The PAP "will continue to work to improve the lives of Singaporeans, and present our report card for voters to judge in the next general elections," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement. Lee had called the by-election after the sudden resignation of PAP lawmaker Michael Palmer over an extramarital affair, adding to a list of sex scandals that have rocked the city-state. Lee and other PAP heavyweights had hoped to avoid another electoral embarrassment after the party's loss in a by-election in May 2012.

Analysts say the PAP defeat forces the party to re-examine policies that have brought popular discontent. "This is a shock for the PAP," said Bridget Welsh, an associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. "They went to the polls so quickly with confidence and had expected to win. So, this is a devastating loss. It forces the PAP to have a very serious evaluation of their policies, and what they've done wrong." Political blogger Andrew Loh said the PAP's loss "is a reflection of the uncertainty that Singaporeans have about their future. They also want stronger voices in Parliament."

Challenges Lee Hsien Loong Faces in Modern Singapore

In 2012, Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “If Lee Hsien Loong had indeed been groomed for political leadership from childhood as popularly believed, nothing could have prepared him for the Singapore that he leads today. In particular the change in values wrought by the Internet. Underage prostitution, online pimping, teacher-student affairs, schoolgirls filming themselves in the nude, etc are on the rise! As Prime Minister, he has been finding out about the web’s political — and now increasingly social impacts on society — which is not always to his liking. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, November 3, 2012 ==]

“In recent weeks, this once conservative city has been discovering just how a large portion of its well-educated people have changed since the era of Lee Kuan Yew where the ban on long-hair and Playboy magazine was enforced. Lately two Malaysian students, Alvin Tan and Vivien Lee filmed themselves having sex and posted the videos for public viewing. In open forums they expressed “no regrets” but advised people to be open about sex. Tan, a bright law student, was a Malaysian permanent resident and an Asean scholar at National University of Singapore (NUS). Although the couple does not reflect the average youths in either Singapore or Malaysia, their explicit, close-up shots of their crude sex acts shocked even the most liberal-minded. ==

“Generally, Singapore remains a conservative society where people are serious about families and their work. More recently,a senior executive of National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Amy Cheong made a racially-insensitive rant on Facebook against Malays holding long, noisy weddings at public void decks. One posting was laden with expletives that have become all too familiar online these days. The Malaysian-born Australian was fired a day later as NTUC assistant director in the membership department despite her public apology. It drew criticism from ministers, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who called on Netizens to show respect to each other. ==

“It shows how people’s values of sex and race are under pressure as Singapore goes through a period of intense transformation and social frictions, locals against locals and foreigners against Singaporeans. The Internet is not, of course, the sole troublemaker but the anonymity that it provides most writers has allowed them to spread hate messages without the fear of exposure. The Internet remains a borderless world that is not easy to track web offenders, particularly among un-sympathetic service providers outside Singapore, he said. In many ways, the world around the prime minister has changed dramatically since his school days and it is making his job somewhat more complex compared to Lee Senior’s. So can the controversial code of Internet practice find public acceptance and take off, or will it be caught in a cyber web of ill-effective regulations? ==

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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