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PM Lee admits change in political scene

May 8, 2011

He says that the election marks a distinct shift in the political landscape which everyone must adjust to.

By Bernice Han

SINGAPORE: As Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong contemplated another term of office after a big election win, he nevertheless acknowledged opposition gains had changed the political landscape.

In Saturday’s general election, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) won 81 of 87 seats, compared with its haul of 82 of 84 seats when Singapore last voted in 2006.

The PAP’s share of the popular vote fell to an all-time low of 60 percent, from 67 percent in 2006.

Lee also lost a trusted aide when Foreign Minister George Yeo was booted out of a hotly contested district along with four other members of the PAP, which has ruled Singapore for 52 years and has never lost more than four seats before.

The opposition Workers’ Party grabbed a total of six seats after tapping voter anger over rising costs, stagnant wages, the presence of over a million foreign workers and the PAP’s perceived aloofness from ordinary Singaporeans.

“This is a watershed general election,” Lee said, adding the PAP would have to undergo “soul searching” after the vote.

“So this election marks a distinct shift in our political landscape which all of us must adjust to, not only the political parties but Singaporeans at large,” the 59-year-old leader said in a televised post-election address.

Four days before the vote, Lee had made a rare apology for policy mistakes in a bid to stop the momentum of the opposition, which had run a tight campaign focusing on issues that resonated with the electorate.

Lee, prime minister since 2004, steered Singapore from a recession in 2009 to record economic growth of 14.5 percent last year.

But the prosperity is not evenly spread, with many Singaporeans feeling the crunch from higher housing costs and competition for jobs from immigrants.

Disconnected ruling party

Despite being Asia’s second wealthiest society after Japan, the gap between Singapore’s rich and poor families has widened, according to official statistics.

“Very clearly, the message is that the PAP has been too arrogant and disconnected with the ground,” Siew Kum Hong, a former lawmaker, said of the election results.

“It’s a rebuff to the whole party and the result in Aljunied (where foreign minister Yeo lost) showed the apology by the PM is too little, too late,” he told AFP.

Lee was sworn in as the nation’s third prime minister on Aug 12, 2004, succeeding Goh Chok Tong, the former deputy of his father Lee Kuan Yew, who led Singapore to independence from Malaysia in 1965.

The Lee patriarch was himself re-elected to parliament on Saturday without opposition at the age of 87.

Leader on his own right

As the son of Singapore’s founding leader, Lee Hsien Loong had to live with the popular view that he could not have become prime minister in 2004 without his pedigree.

“Many of my critics thought this smacked of nepotism, that he was unduly favoured because he was my son,” Lee Kuan Yew said in his memoirs, referring to his son’s appointment as deputy prime minister in 1990.

He said his son eventually “established his own standing as a political leader in his own right.”

Born on Feb 10, 1952, Lee graduated from Britain’s Cambridge University with first-class honours in mathematics and a diploma in computer science.

He is the father of four children and is married to Ho Ching, who heads Temasek Holdings, one of Singapore’s two state investment agencies.

As prime minister, Lee has presided over efforts to retool the city-state’s export-driven economy by reducing its heavy reliance on electronics.

One of his biggest decisions was in 2005 when he lifted a longstanding ban on casino gambling despite the objections of church and civic groups.

The casinos have become money-spinners for Singapore but also caused gambling-linked social problems for the local population, and it emerged during the campaign that the cabinet was split over the casino issue.

Lee joined the Singapore Armed Forces in 1971 and rose to the rank of brigadier-general before leaving the military in 1984 to run for parliament.

He headed various ministries including finance and trade before becoming deputy prime minister to Goh, who stepped down in 2004 as part of a succession process worked out within the PAP.



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