- Singapore in 2016:Life after Lee Kuan Yew
For Singapore, 2015 was an extraordinary year. Proud of their country's numerous accomplishments, Singaporeans celebrated their fiftieth year of independence and participated in a year-long series of events and projects that were branded SG50. They mourned the death of their founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and wondered what the future would bring in his towering absence. Would there be an SG100 for Singapore and, if so, what would it be like? Also in 2015, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) surprised many observers by winning 69.9 per cent of votes, and 83 out of 89 seats, in a general election in which all seats were, for the first time, contested. This suggested that opposition parties, which had been making strong inroads since the general election of 2006, were not after all going to have an easy time strengthening their presence in Singapore's government and politics. Liberal democratization was not going to be a straightforward linear process in Singapore.
In the afterglow of its convincing electoral victory, a more confident PAP government concentrated on consolidating its power and protecting Singapore's interests in a post–Lee Kuan Yew world. In his National Day message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong focused on the theme of political, economic, and social stability in Singapore amidst an increasingly uncertain global and regional environment.1 [End Page 315]
Leadership Succession and Renewal
In August 2016, midway through his National Day Rally speech, an annual address to the nation that can typically go on for more than three hours, PM Lee almost collapsed. Officially explained as a brief loss of consciousness caused by fatigue and dehydration, Lee's highly televised fainting spell was reported widely in both local and foreign news outlets.2 Earlier in May, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had suffered a stroke due to an aneurysm during a cabinet meeting and was only discharged from hospital in late June.3 These two events, still broadly in the shadow of Lee Kuan Yew's passing, brought focus once again to the longstanding question of top leadership succession and renewal in Singapore.4
In a press conference immediately following the 2015 general election, PM Lee stated that one of the goals of his new cabinet was to prepare the next generation of political leadership. Even earlier, during a parliamentary debate in 2007 when Lee argued for higher civil service salaries to facilitate recruiting highly talented individuals for top government leadership positions,5 he announced his intention to have a successor ready to take over his position by 2017. The then 55-year-old PM pointed out that his two predecessors—Goh Chok Tong and Lee Kuan Yew—had stepped down when they were 63 and 67 years old, respectively.
During the 2011 general election, the PAP asserted that the next Prime Minister would very likely emerge out of the slate of new candidates fielded by the party. Four of these new parliamentarians were later identified as likely successors to PM Lee. The four—Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat, Tan Chuan Jin, and Lawrence Wong—were later joined by two parliamentarians newly elected in 2015: Ong Ye Kung and Ng Chee Meng.6 All six of these Members of Parliament (MPs), three of whom were high-ranking military officers, have since been promoted to full ministerial positions, clearly intended as part of the government's leadership renewal strategy.7
However, a clear successor for the premiership has still to be identified amongst these six likely candidates.8 Lee has repeatedly stated his plans to step down after the next general election, which has to be held by April 2021.9 Both Lee and former Prime Minister Goh had been identified and groomed for the top government job at least half a decade prior to assuming the position. With less than five years left before 2021 and no clear successor named yet, Singapore's future appears somewhat less predictable. The conventional wisdom in Singapore holds up predictability and the political stability that results from it as features that have kept Singapore attractive to foreign investors...