Singapore’s founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), said on Saturday he would quit the Cabinet to make way for younger leaders after the ruling party’s worst performance in an election.
Former Singaporean prime minister Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟), now a senior minister, will also leave the Cabinet, according to a statement he released jointly with the 87-year-old Lee, who holds the special title minister mentor.
The surprise move by Lee, popularly known as “LKY” and Goh, who turns 70 next week, came after general elections on May 7 revealed deep resentment against the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore for over half a century.
Lee’s son, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍), 59, took over from Goh in 2004, but kept his two predecessors as his closest advisers to tap their experience and international connections.
“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,” LKY and Goh said.
The pair, who will remain in parliament, said the time had come for “a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation.”
“This decision reflects the first major steps toward serious reform of the PAP, a generational transformation,” said Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University. “The retirement of LKY was long overdue, as he has been seen as disconnecting from contemporary Singaporeans.”
Although PAP won 81 out of the 87 elected seats at stake, the opposition scored its best performance since Singapore became a republic in 1965.
In the most telling result, the PAP’s share of all votes cast — the equivalent of an approval rating — fell to an all-time low of 60 percent from 67 percent in 2006 and 75 percent in 2001.
Ahead of the May 7 election, thousands of Singaporeans joined opposition rallies and vented their anger on issues including high living costs, the large intake of foreign workers in recent years and the PAP’s perceived arrogance and aloofness after many years in power.
Ordinary Singaporeans used the Web, particularly social -media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to air their gripes and bypass the pro-PAP mainstream media, while former PAP activists and civil servants ran as opposition candidates.
Kenneth Jeyaretnam, the head of the opposition Reform Party and son of the late pro-democracy campaigner J.B. Jeyaretnam, was cynical about the departure of the two former prime ministers, who will both remain in parliament.
“It’s a public relations exercise to show renewal, but it’s up to the voters to say what they think of the move,” Jeyaretnam said.
Opposition politician Chee Soon Juan (徐順全), who served jail terms and paid fines after losing libel suits filed by LKY, said the former prime minister should “completely retire from the political scene.”