On Ministers Leaving the Cabinet

It may come as a surprise to us that Goh Chok Tong and Kuan Yew are leaving the Cabinet. Looks like Kuan Yew’s “I’m not the Prime Minister” refrain can have an additional line now: “I’m not even a minister.”

But what is the use of having a Senior Minister and a Minister Mentor (who has once been the Senior Minister) to begin with?

I would be more impressed if they had decided to leave the Parliament altogether. And hold by-elections. And apologize for retiring late and drawing so many additional years of million-dollar salaries. And pledge to donate their pensions to Molly the Cat Welfare Society. And perhaps Kuan Yew should also step down from his role as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the GIC.

The move by the two established politicians seems somewhat disingenuous especially for Goh Chok Tong as many Marine Parade GRC voters must have voted for the PAP team because they did not want to lose a minister. (I shall not elaborate on my opinion of those who actually think this way.) Coming only a week after Singaporeans have three ministers who contested in Aljunied GRC, Singaporeans may start suspecting the rhetoric which goes that Singaporeans need to vote for the PAP because they cannot afford to lose their highly talented ministers. One retired quite unexpectedly not long before the General Election. Two are leaving the Cabinet after the General Election even though they remain as MPs for the constituencies. And three were not voted into the Parliament. It is a good reminder that no minister is (or should be) indispensable.

The question that may never get answered is the question of motivation. If the two are retiring because they can or have been getting in the way of the Prime Minister, it leaves me wondering about the strength of the latter’s leadership. If they can get in his way of setting a new leadership direction, he ought to be the one asking them to leave the Cabinet or even retire totally. But, as he tells us, it is their own decision to leave the Cabinet.

On the other hand, if they are leaving to allay the public’s concerns (which may not be justified), would the move not be rather superficial, calculated to change the image of the PAP? An extreme makeover does nothing to change one’s character even if it gains one favorable attention.

What is important to this feline member of the public is a deeper, more fundamental and more thorough change in Singapore—a change that, sacrilegious as it may sound, is amounts to an obliteration of Kuan Yew’s legacy in the Singaporean psyche. When we have such a change, the PAP will no longer be virtually synonymous with the government or Singapore. People will be able to understand and perceive the differences between the PAP, the government and the country. The civil service and the mainstream media will no longer be/ be viewed as being singularly partial towards the PAP. The PAP can become the dominant party after a General Election, and it can well also become an opposition party.

The exit of the MM and SM from the cabinet may signify the end of a certain leadership style, but it does not necessarily imply a change beyond the style. Perhaps it even marks the end of an era of politics characterized by defamation suits against opposition politicians. But in no way does it represent a willingness on the part of the PAP to loosen its stranglehold on Singapore society. If we remember the past, we may recall the Marxist conspiracy of the 1980s and the defamation suits of the 1990s-2000s. When using a pair of iron hands to throttle seems to be something of an overkill, you can simply order your victim not to breathe with the iron hands on standby. When ordering your victim seems excessively highhanded, you can tell your victim to breathe all he wants but stealthily deprive the room of ventilation. The techniques differ, but the effects remain and may even be intensified.

For the PAP, true change cannot be an attempt to gain favor in panic. True change is accepting the fact of life that you may not always be popular. True change is not a means to an end. It should stem be the end result of a certain belief. If we get the impression that the PAP is changing or trying to look as though it has changed in order not to lose more votes in the next election, we should also see that true change will ultimately defeat the purpose behind the change.Because Singaporeans do not want PAP dominance to continue to be an inevitability.

We can imagine three possible scenarios:

1. There is no change in the PAP, so the PAP continues to lose support.

2. There is superficial change in the PAP that is done in an attempt to “connect” with the people, but people are discerning to see through it so the PAP continues to lose support from Singaporeans who continue to feel alienated from the PAP.

3. There is real change in the PAP, and therefore the myth of the necessity of PAP dominance is dispelled once and for all. The PAP will not enjoy the dominance that it has always enjoyed, something it almost takes for granted.

There is, of course, a fourth scenario. Singaporeans buy into the superficial changes naively and continue to allow the PAP to enjoy its dominance. Singaporeans have proven to be a disappointing lot election after election. So this is entirely possible, if not likely.

5 Responses

  1. Hi Molly, totally agreed that is just a superficial move design to appease the ground swell of disgruntle singaporeans… I won’t expect the pap to do a bout turn on their mentality and characters just bcos of a GE… We shall wait and… They probably buying time till next GE when they import and covert immigrants to new citizens… Than our votes may come to naught…. That is what is on my mind since we didn’t seize the moment to bring down not one but at least 3 to 4 grcs….


  2. A loss of 6 ministers. If they are not replaced, our executive is either badly weakened or not (in which case, it clearly shows the deadwood we were keeping in the PMO).

  3. Coming to such a decision so soon after the elections makes one wonder why PAP fielded SM & MM as MPs in the first place.

    Not suitable to remain as Ministers but as MPs still can, so is this not another form of deceit ?

  4. “True change is accepting the fact of life that you may not always be popular.”

    Perhaps, the real lesson is “True change is accepting the fact of life that you may not always be right.”

    Eroding support has more to do with policies which are not right, not policies which are not popular. They will never get out of the woods if they don’t understand this difference.

    • Yeah, but I think the bigger problem with them is that they find it even harder to accept that they may not always get an overwhelming majority of votes (“popular”) whether they have “right” policies or not. They may actually know the drawbacks of their policies, but because they can’t accept it when people vote for other parties, they will focus their efforts on what it takes to regain the share of votes by hook or by crook.

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