Singapore: the next generation takes power

Lee Kuan Yew resigns as Minister Mentor, freeing his son to make key decisions.

Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 until 1990, and since still in cabinet in advisory roles, has resigned.  "A fresh clean slate" was needed said Lee, according to the BBC.  Current PM Lee Hsien Loong, his son, is now in sole charge.  The "dynasty is secure" reports Rachel Harvey of the BBC.

What's going to change?

Lee's decision comes in the wake of the opposition Workers Party's success in building a parliamentary caucus of six members at recent elections.  Their triumph in overcoming electoral barriers was achieved because locals are concerned about high immigration leaving many of the city state's poorest unable to compete for low-paid work.

Hawkers selling food are now likely to be foreigners often from mainland China.  The once-supreme local cuisine has deteriorated markedly as a result, for sure.

But the nature of society has changed too, as the city booms to the sound of construction of high-rise offices for private bankers from Europe and Australasia and of yet more expensive shopping malls.

And the elderly poor feel excluded as they languish in sparsely furnished living rooms in HDB flats, dependant on their children for additional financial support.  The Workers Party has benefitted from this invigorated protest vote.

There's been criticism of the high salaries paid to senior government officials.  This might be uncalled for, as the Peoples Action Party has presided over the creation of a modern economic miracle.  They've transformed Singapore from a mosquito-ridden, gambling-addicted, Triad-gang infested, impoverished, opium-smoking Third World town at the bottom of the Malay peninsular into one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities.  So successful has Lee's programme been that the Peoples Republic of China has in parts used his centralised top-down government as a model.

Singapore is now safe, clean, healthy, vibrant and unbelievably wealthy - on the whole.  It has become a dynamic international entrepĂ´t and manufacturing centre.  A star performer to which neighbours look in awe.  Chinese from Malaysia and elsewhere have poured in to work and live, excited by career prospects and delighted by efficiencies on offer.

The transport system works like a dream, the health system is the envy of the East, the airport is one of the world's best and the education provided to their children some of the most effective in Asia.  The National University of Singapore, according to The Times, ranks at World Number 34 - ahead of establishments like McGill, Melbourne, Edinburgh, Trinity College Dublin or King's College London.  Singapore, a country with a similar population to that of New Zealand can boast such an institution.  By contrast, the University of Auckland ranks at Number 145 in The Times survey.

Singapore has religious tolerance and racial harmony.  There are four national languages and increasingly Caucasions are adopting citizenship and snapping up real estate.  Local Indians, Malays, Chinese, Europeans and international expatriates live alongside each other in apparent mutual respect.

Yet this progress has been at a cost.  The price has been freedom of speech, of assembly and of dissention.  Small rebellions occur, in the form of wild hairstyles, body and facial piecings and sexual deviance.  The elderly feel estranged.  The young thwarted, some of the most ambitious, artistic and adventurous of whom have departed for London, Sydney, New York or Shanghai.  They've been replaced by less sophisticated newcomers from the Peoples Republic and elsewhere.  And the PAP government's ambitious targets for growth and development have caused social casualties.

Lee Kuan Yew is one of the great politicians of the past one-hunded years.  It will be interesting to watch how his legacy is treated, or viewed in retrospect by historians.  The question will be can Singapore now fully democratise?  And will the world's and Singapore's media be permitted to criticise the government with impunity?

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