Singapore Politics - Insights from the Inside

Friday, September 23, 2005 

Updates on General Elections
Recently, there has been a lot of movements by both PAP and the opposition parties. Seems like they are gearing up to prepare for elections in late December or early January. Although these MPs don't know the real election dates, but they are not leaving it to chance. No one (except PM Lee and maybe his father) knows the actual date for the elections, and even the movements by PAP are just in preparation for any early election calls.
Traditionally, the PAP conference are held during November. Thus it is logical to take this time to get their logistics, flags and equipment (and white pants) ready for elections. This might be a good opportunity to have a "dress rehearsal" to see and group their cadres and party members together.
Anyway, my point is that, don't be surprise if the elections is called during late December and early January. If by December, there is no news, then elections is unlikely for the next 6 months due to the budget debates in parliament. PM Lee might capitalise on the increase in jobs and other optimistic economic indicators. But here are some changes to the key people who I think will change before or after the elections. Mostly likely it will be after the elections unless of the retirement of certain Ministers.
Like Dr Tony Tan, Prof Jayakumar was an DPM that wasn't going to be the Prime Minister (defying the logic of DPMs). Being 66 years old this year, he is likely to retire before the elections and make way for the younger generation. As the former Foreign Minister, Jaya did wonderfully well in tackling touchy issues such as Malaysia's water supply and relations. Thus, the DPM post is more like a reward for him but is never going to challenge or deputize PM Lee for the Prime Minister role.
Many would say that the other DPM seat (other than DPM Wong Kan Seng's) would be between Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean or Foreign Minister George Yeo. According to my sources, I've heard that George Yeo earned much praises from MM Lee and accredited him for the successes in FTAs (during his time as Minister of MTI), National Library & Esplanade (during his time as the Minister for MICA), casino (he first brought up the topic in parliament) and many creative means to boost Singapore's economy. Whereas, Teo Chee Hean with his style and statue resembles much like SM Goh and is equally as popular as SM Goh. Both George and Chee Hean were borned in the same year and both were previously with SAF. George joined politics four years earlier than Chee Hean at 1988 and 1992 respectively.
Somehow, I think Chee Hean's popularity will give him the edge over George. Depending on how George fairs for the "Battle of Aljunied" in the coming elections might determine the new DPM.

I think this position of Minister for Transport is of interest to many laymen like me. Not because this position is of particular importance but due to Yeo Cheow Tong himself. Ministry of Transport is by no means an easy Ministry to deal with. And to be fair with Yeo Cheow Tong, he did a reasonably okay job in managing it. However, most would also felt that he is sided with the transport providers too much and made one too many "political mistakes". Buangkok, LTA, NEL, Nicol Highway, Hock Kee reallocation, bus fare hikes, night ERP, just to name a few.

But even though he might be an "election liability" (might be too strong of a word), PM Lee will still put him in as the anchor Minister for the GRC. Yeo Cheow Tong will not be immediately dropped or asked to retire simply because SM Goh will not allow it. And making too many changes in the GE with a new PM maybe be too much risk. I think Yeo Cheow Tong will continue to stand in elections as a Minister and after the GE, he will be transferred to PMO. PMO, to some seems like a "retirement Ministry" for out-of-favour Ministers (eg, Lee Yock Suan, Mattiaus Yao, Lim Boon Heng).

So who will replace him as the Transport Minister? My top pick is Khaw Boon Wan, the present Health Minister. He is known to be a man with a Buddhist calm and always tries to balance cost with quality, as he did in MOH. He would be the ideal man to bring in to a Ministry that has trouble dealing with the public. He did quite a good job in lowering and adding transparency into all public hospitals and I think a similar thing needs to be done on Transport.

The other two possible candidates is Dr Balaji Sadasivan and Heng Chee How. Dr Balaji was previously in Ministry of Transport and is one of the few Senior Minister of State or Minister of State to have prior experience in MOT, other than Lim Hwee Hua. But I doubt Lim Hwee Hua is ready to head a Ministry as she hasn't been proven in her stint as the Minister of State. Heng Chee How, another rising star, might be too soft-spoken for such as publicly demanding Ministry. Since MOT is such a tough Ministry to handle, it is unlikely to have a new Minister to take charge of it immediately.

As mentioned earlier, Jayakumar should be retiring soon (before or after elections) and one of the remaining portfolio he has is the Ministry of Law. Compared to the rest of the Ministries, MinLaw is quite a small Ministry (situated in The Treasury with MTI) and in terms of scope as well. Ho Peng Kee has been understudying Jayakumar for quite sometime and he is the only full-fletched lawyer in the Cabinet (other than MM LKY).

I think this is a straightforward swap but during elections, we might see one or two lawyers MPs being promoted as Ministers of State. Maybe Davinder Singh (MM's lawyer and MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and K Shanmugam (MP for Sembawang GRC), that is if they want to make the switch (since they are making quite a lot as MP lawyers).

Lim Boon Heng's one of the remaining portfolio is as the Secretary-General of NTUC. Even this post will be passed on the Lim Swee Say very soon. So what other portfolios does he have and would he take on? Maybe none. He is one of the most likely candidate to step down as a Minister but still contest in the elections as a MP.

Surprisingly, Lim Boon Heng is the Chairman of the PAP Central Executive Committee, a post previously held by Dr Tony Tan. Nonetheless, I think it is time for him to step down as he might not be featuring in PM Lee's plans in the near future.

Another lost-favoured Minister that seems likely to step down is Dr Lee Boon Yang. He was often considered as "Goh Chok Tong's" men and maybe the change of leadership might lead to him to leave as well. He has been in parliament since 1984 and has undertook many portfolios in Manpower, Defence, MICA and others. One of the most tell-tale signs of him stepping down is the reduction of his security officers (go figure it).

Dr Balaji's adaptabilty and versatility are his best assets. He could fit in to many Ministries such as Transport, MICA and Health. His knowledge and experience in Health and Medicine is likely to make him a Second Minister to Health if he leads other Ministries after the elections. However, MICA is one of the easier Ministry for newly promoted Ministers and seems like this is his likely destination.

Gan Kim Yong's promotion to Minister of State for Education and Manpower has already been announced and will take effect from 1 October 2005. So have we ever had two Ministers of States in the same Ministry? Mostly likely no. Chan Soo Sen was one of the few MOS that was not promoted in the last round of Cabinet Reshuffling and is likely to step down. Chan Soo Sen was at MOE to assist Tharman in the Mandarin education, which was his forte. But if he is to leave MOE, is there any Ministry that might need him? Maybe no. His hand over to Gan Kim Yong seems quick and even during the CDAC Award Presentation on 18 September 2005, there was two Guest-of-Honour on the stage giving out prizes at the same time! I guess his time is up.

Dr Teo, Mayor of North West District, seems to be an likely candidate for promotion. Anyway, usually, the rank of Mayor is similar to Minister of State but maybe less prestigious. Dr Teo is one of the few that I predict that will move up the ranks. Besides that, he is one of the very few non-Minister to be inside the PAP Central Executive Committee (CEC).

We need more women Ministers, demanded by the Women's Wing! Lim Hwee Hua seems to be leading the race for that. However, I don't think she is ready to head her own Ministry as yet. She might need more exposure at different Ministries before becoming a full Minister. Her promotion to Senior Minister of State seems fair.

LG Lim Chuan Poh was the youngest and highest ranked General and Chief of Defence Force (CDF) in Singapore's history. At the age of 35, he "retired" his SAF position as the CDF with three stars on his shoulders. Now, he is the permanent secretary of MOE, a position which I think is preparing him for politics. He might follow the footsteps of Teo Chee Hean and George Yeo in rising from the army to becoming a Minister.
Since Cedric Foo left his position as the Minister of State for Defence, there has been a vacant post in Mindef. Who else can be a better candidate that was previously the highest ranked general and decorated by the Ministry of Defence of most of the South East Asian countries?

Just like Lim Hwee Hua, I think there should be more female representation in the government and Ministries.

As a Parliamentary Secretary, he is getting lots more exposure compared to his same-ranked colleagues. He is one of the potential Malay Minister-to-be. For Dr Maliki, I'm quite certained of his promotion in the near future.
Note: All commentaries, opinions and thoughts are highly opinionated and may not represent the true facts or happenings of the coming GE (so don't bet your HDB flat on it and sue me!). All information are also based on publically released information and data.

The Idealist

  • Thrasymachus
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