SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of modern Singapore, said on Saturday he was leaving the cabinet, the first time he will not be part of the government of the wealthy city state since independence in 1965.
Lee and Goh Chok Tong, who succeeded him as prime minister in 1990, announced in a joint statement that they were opting out of government since last week’s general election signaled the emergence of a new generation. Both men were returned to parliament in the poll.
“We have made our contributions to the development of Singapore,” the two said. “The time has come for a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation.
“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.
“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.”
Lee, 87, served as “minister mentor” in the cabinet.
The long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), co-founded by Lee Kuan Yew, won the May 7 election with 81 of 87 seats, but took only about 60 percent of the popular vote, its lowest ever since independence.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s son, said after the election there had been a distinct shift in the political landscape.
“Many (Singaporeans) wish for the government to adopt a different style and approach,” he said at a news conference last week. “Many desire to see more opposition voices in parliament to check the PAP government.”
This election was remarkable for the stridency of anti-government rhetoric both at opposition rallies and on the Internet.
The PAP-led government has transformed Singapore from a third world backwater to a first world financial center, but critics say decisions are not taken in an inclusive manner, and dissent is muzzled.
Much of the ire was focused on the unwelcome side-effects of surging economic growth, including widening income disparities, rising costs of living and an influx of foreigners.
“Some policies like immigration will have to be re-thought,” said Manu Bhaskaran, director of Centennial Asia Advisors.
“Policy change will come, not because the senior minister and the minister mentor have resigned, but because of the prime minister and his cabinet’s assessment of what Singapore needs.”
Reporting by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Daniel Magnowski