Monday, May 16, 2011

Change in Singapore Has a Message for Indonesians (and others)

It came as a surprise to both Singaporeans and the people of Asean, but it was not unexpected. After more than 50 years in the political arena, Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, together with Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, announced over the weekend that they were stepping down from the cabinet.

Their decision came after a watershed election in which the ruling People’s Action Party won only 60.1 percent of the vote, with the ruling party losing a Group Representative Constituency, an electoral division, for the first time.

The message from the Singaporean electorate was loud and clear. They wanted a government that was more engaged with the younger generation and one that was open to listening to diverse views. While both Lee and Goh will remain in Parliament, their leaving the cabinet marks the end of an era.

How the decision will affect ties between Indonesia and Singapore remains unclear, but in all likelihood the impact will be minimal. As TB Hasanuddin, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs commission at Indonesia’s House of Representatives, said, there is no reason to worry about the resignations.

This is because the relationship between the two neighbors is not likely to change course or be diminished. Strong and deep ties have been built over the past five decades and cannot be easily shaken. As new leaders emerge on both sides, they must continue to foster these ties for our mutual benefit.

Going beyond the immediate impact of the decision, the message emanating from Singapore is that political renewal is both necessary and vital. Leaders who remain in power too long risk losing touch with the electorate and are no longer able to feel the pulse of younger voters.

This message is also relevant to Indonesian politicians. If the administration and the House are unable to live up to the aspirations of a young and dynamic population, they will be forced to step down.

In a fast-changing world, no government can afford to rest on its laurels or past achievements. Each new generation demands policies that are in line with its views and needs. Political leaders ignore such demands at their own peril. Jakarta Globe

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