MM Lee on stepping down: It's the right thing to do

MM Lee is stepping down as Minister Mentor. (AFP file photo)
MM Lee is stepping down as Minister Mentor. (AFP file photo)

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew says his decision to step down from Cabinet is the "right thing to do"  and sends a clear message that there is a "break from the past."

In an email to The Sunday Times, the 87-year-old founding father of Singapore said, "SM Goh and I believe this is the right thing to do, to give PM and his team the room to break from the past, and we want to make it clear that the PAP has never been averse to change."

In what could be an oblique acknowledgment he and SM Goh may have cost the ruling People's Action Party some votes during the recent General Elections, MM Lee added, "It is vital to avoid a situation where people vote to have more opposition for opposition's sake."

MM Lee attracted widespread criticism for his remarks that Aljunied GRC constituents would "repent" if they voted for the opposition, while SM Goh was involved in an ugly war of words with his previous staff member and Singapore Democratic Party member, Tan Jee Say. SM Goh also raised eyebrows when he appeared to defend then-Foreign Minister George Yeo, only to inadvertently put down some other Cabinet Ministers.

MM Lee's email came hours after he and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong issued a surprise 168-word statement on Saturday evening announcing that both senior politicians were leaving the Cabinet.

In a joint-email statement to the media, the two leaders and former Prime Minister said they have considered the "new political situation" and it's time for a new generation to take the country forward.

Here is their statement in full:

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.

SM Goh Chok Tong will still remain as Marine Parade MP. (Getty file photo)
SM Goh Chok Tong will still remain as Marine Parade MP. (Getty file photo)

It will be the first time Lee will be out of government in 52 years -- he was first elected prime minister in 1959, when colonial ruler Britain granted self-rule to Singapore, and stepped down in 1990 in favour of Goh.

Goh himself has spent 35 years in office, including 14 years as Prime Minister. He handed over the PM role to Lee's son, current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 59, in 2004.

Both MM Lee and SM Goh will remain Members of Parliament for their respective constituencies of Tanjong Pagar and Marine Parade.

SM Goh, 69, wrote on the MParader Facebook page in the wake of his statement and said, "I will now have more time to devote to our GRC. Team Marine Parade will build a consensus on creating our 4G Home."

The announcement caught many by surprise.

Political commentator Cherian George was surprised by the timing and the reasons behind the two ministers' announcement.

"The signal from the election was addressed to the whole government, not to any particular generation of ministers," said the 46-year-old associate professor in journalism from National Technological University.

"But it's a momentous move, and shows Mr Lee acting in what he thinks is in Singapore's interests," he added.

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) also issued a public statement in response, lauding MM Lee as "the architect of modern Singapore", and credited SM Goh's leadership for Singapore's successful navigation through crises such as the Asian financial crisis and the SARS outbreak.

"We welcome their decision to encourage new, younger voices in their leadership structure," the party said in their statement issued to the media and released to the public through their Facebook page.

"But this renewal must not be limited to the People's Action Party; it must extend to our political culture with an inclusion of perspectives from outside the Party."

Student Lim Yan Liang, 24, told Yahoo! Singapore he felt that the decision made by the two outgoing ministers seemed quite a populist one.

"They're trying to contain the damage from the results of the election as much as possible by stepping down," he said, referring to the increased vote share that went to the opposition from the 7th May polls.

"This is a step in the right direction," said retiree Steven Lye, 72. "It shows the government is willing to back up its talk with concrete action.

"Singapore will miss them, and I am sure they appreciate their past services," he added.

The surprise statement also sparked a flurry of reaction within the online community, with Facebook users posting a range of comments.

A comment by Eugene Yuhin Wong on Yahoo Singapore's Facebook page said, "Our election was a total sham. If they announced it before elections, a certain GRC will be opposition area. Those two just put in eight MPs at one shot."

Another user, Alamak Chua, wrote, "Their retirements are long overdue. Nowhere else in the world has such cabinet posts. They should have done that long ago to save our taxpayers' money on their (million-dollar) salaries and their overseas trips."

However, Freddy How Yong Song wished the two outgoing Ministers well, saying, "It's good news the Cabinet needs new faces and the old should go away gracefully. I respect their decision and hope for the best in their near and far future."

Others reacted with sadness.

Gina Sg wrote, "I'm sad. Thank you MM Lee and SM Goh for their contribution to Singapore. Without their guidance , Singapore would not be what it is today. From an insignificant dot country to a country well known for it's stable financial infrastructure!"

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