by Vincent Low
In 1990 when Lee Kuan Yew stepped down as Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong was sworn in as the second generation PM with Lee Hsien Loong appointed as Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) – essentially, the PM-designate as the third generation PM of Singapore.
Goh himself was the First DPM from 1985 to 1990 while Lee Kuan Yew was the PM. Goh became the PM-designate after the second generation leaders decided among themselves in 1984 to elect Goh as their leader.
At the time, the second generation leaders were Ong Teng Cheong, Tony Tan, Lim Chee Onn, Dhanabalan, Ahmad Mattar, Jayakumar and Goh himself. They were all roped in during 1972 to 1980.
After the second generation leaders were more or less in place, first generation leaders left the Cabinet one-by-one. For example, Lim Kim San left the Cabinet in 1980, Toh Chin Chye in 1981, Goh Keng Swee in 1984 while Rajaratnam in 1988.
But Lee Kuan Yew continued to stay on in the Cabinet even after Goh became the PM. He stayed on as the Senior Minister.
Lee Hsien Loong became 3rd-Gen PM in 2004
After serving as DPM for 14 years, Lee Hsien Loong finally became the third generation PM, replacing Goh in 2004.
However, Goh continued to stay on in the Cabinet as Senior Minister while Lee Kuan Yew as Minister Mentor.
Before 2004, some second generation leaders were already making way for third generation leaders to come on board by leaving the Cabinet.
Mr Ong left in 1993 to run for Singapore’s first elected presidency. He served one term as the Elected President of Singapore from 1993 to 1999. He passed away in 2002.
Tony Tan and Dhanabalan resigned from Cabinet in 1991, one year after Goh became PM.
In 1992, Lee Hsien Loong was diagnosed with cancer and Dhanabalan had to be temporarily recalled back to take over Lee’s duties at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Dhanabalan left again in 1993.
Tony Tan returned back to the Cabinet in 1995 at Goh’s request to shore up the government and finally left in 2005.
Goh and Lee Kuan Yew finally left Cabinet together in 2011
In 2011 GE, PAP obtained the lowest percentage of votes ever in Singapore’s history garnering 60%. The incident triggered the resignation of Goh and Lee Kuan Yew from the Cabinet.
Immediately one week after the 2011 GE in May, both issued a joint statement to the public saying PM Lee and his team “should have a fresh clean slate”:
“We have studied the new political situation and thought how it can affect the future. We have made our contributions to the development of Singapore. The time has come for a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation.
The Prime Minister and his team of younger leaders should have a fresh clean slate. A younger generation, besides having a non-corrupt and meritocratic government and a high standard of living, wants to be more engaged in the decisions which affect them.
After a watershed general election, we have decided to leave the cabinet and have a completely younger team of ministers to connect to and engage with this young generation in shaping the future of our Singapore. But the younger team must always have in mind the interests of the older generation. This generation who has contributed to Singapore must be well-looked after.”
About a month ago, ESM Goh (now just an ordinary MP) wrote on his Facebook page, expressing his concerns of the urgent need for the 4th generation leaders to elect the next PM amongst them. He wanted to see the PM-designate in place by Jun or Sep this year.
But PM Lee rebuked him publicly through the media saying, “ESM (Goh) is speaking with the privilege of watching things rather than being responsible to make it happen.” PM Lee thinks it will take a “little bit longer” to appoint the next PM-designate.
DPM Teo hopes for “senior members” to be in cabinet
DPM Teo Chee Hean, who is also Minister-in-charge of the civil service, said that it would be useful to have some “more senior” members in Cabinet to ensure continuity.
This was said during the Singapore Perspectives 2018 conference organised by the Institute of Policy, in response to a question by a member of the audience if there could be a larger representation of older people in Cabinet and the Civil Service so that there are more policymakers who can represent the point of view of older people in Singapore as the country ages.
Mr Teo said, this is one of the unique features of Singapore’s political system, and former prime ministers have remained in Cabinet as senior ministers and minister mentor after stepping down.
This was beneficial and a “great help” for younger members of the Cabinet in the past, he said of his own experience and hopes the younger leadership would also see the usefulness and benefits of such an arrangement.
In any case, when the 4th PM of Singapore is eventually elected and put in place, the question remains if PM Lee will leave a “fresh clean slate” for the 4th generation leaders by leaving the Cabinet? Or perhaps he will remain in the Cabinet as Senior Minister?
What do you think?