Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Singapore Cabinet Exposes Lack of Talent: Opposition Leader

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday announced a sweeping cabinet revamp after the ruling People’s Action Party was rocked by its worst ever election showing.

The party old guard led by his father Lee Kuan Yew, 87, and Goh Chok Tong, 70 -- former prime ministers who served as advisers to the government -- are out of the new cabinet at their own request, the premier said.

“They have dedicated their lives to Singapore, building up the nation, raising living standards and enabling future generations to enjoy a better life in a transformed Singapore,” said Lee, now the oldest cabinet member at 59.

“I have considered this carefully and decided to accept their decision.”

Also out are the widely criticized ministers in charge of internal security, housing and transport -- three of the hottest issues in the May 7 polls, which the prime minister has called a “watershed” event for the island republic.

In the most notable promotion, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 54, was elevated to deputy prime minister and also handed the manpower portfolio, a key position in an economy grappling with growing anti-immigrant sentiment.

Tharman also took over as chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the central bank.

Analysts said it was one of the most dramatic cabinet overhauls ever seen in Singapore, with 11 of the 14 ministries having a new boss.

The average minister’s age will be 52 and the youngest is 42-year-old neophyte lawmaker Chan Chun Sing, a former army chief who took over the community, youth and sports portfolio.

“One thing we can say is they are really serious about rejuvenation,” said Reuben Wong, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore’s political science department. “Obviously they are responding to a lot of public unhappiness.”

Lee Kuan Yew had been part of the cabinet since he led the PAP to its first election victory in 1959, when Singapore gained self-rule from Britain, and transformed the sleepy port into an economic dynamo during his 31-year rule.

In addition to giving up his title of minister mentor, the senior Lee stepped down as chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. (GIC), which invests Singapore’s foreign reserves, in favour of his son.

The new cabinet appointments will take effect Saturday when the new ministers are sworn into office by President S.R. Nathan at the Istana state complex, said a statement from the prime minister’s office.

Foreign Minister George Yeo, 56, who lost his seat to become the biggest casualty of the election, will be replaced by Law Minister K. Shanmugam, 52, who will hold both portfolios.

The overhaul came after the PAP’s share of all votes cast fell to an all-time low of 60 percent in the general election, reflecting voter anger with the government despite Singapore’s rapid economic progress.

The PAP has suffered a continued drop in popularity since it garnered 67 percent of the popular vote in 2006 and 75 percent in 2001.

Only a controversial group-voting system under which most lawmakers are elected in clusters prevented the opposition from winning more than the six seats it secured out of 87 at stake in the recent election.

In a normal one-on-one parliamentary contest in each district, the opposition’s 40 percent share of the vote would have translated to 35 seats. Agence France-Presse

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