SINGAPORE: Japan’s The Nikkei, the world’s largest financial newspaper, has reported that the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) is “walking on thin ice” following a spate of scandals involving high-profile politicians that became public last month.
The article, entitled ‘Singapore political drama exposes frailty of Lee’s succession plan’, covered the corruption investigation involving Transport Minister S Iswaran and the extramarital affair between Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and backbencher MP Cheng Li Hui.
Both Mr Tan and Ms Cheng have resigned, while Mr Iswaran has been suspended and had his pay cut after being arrested and released on bail by the Corrupt Practices Bureau of Investigation (CPIB) as part of their ongoing probe.
The Nikkei holds that the recent controversies have weakened Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s succession plans.
PM Lee, who has served as head of government for nearly two decades since 2004, said previously that he wanted to pass the baton to his successor by 2019. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to delay his plans, and he announced that he would be handing the reins of the Government to his successor in good order after dealing with the health crisis.
It has been months since Singapore transitioned to living with endemic COVID and revoked safe distancing and mask-wearing rules.
PM Lee’s designated successor Lawrence Wong remains Deputy Prime Minister with no clear date on when he would become Singapore’s fourth PM, even as political pundits predicted that the next election might be held as soon as mid-2024.
The Nikkei has suggested that the ruling party may postpone the election to the end of 2025 in light of the recent scandals.
Noting that “the party’s foundations have grown weaker,” the publication quoted prominent historian Dr Michael Barr who said, “Singaporeans don’t feel that they are going forward economically or socially and haven’t done [so] for a decade or more. The image of good, stable and effective government overseen by good people is now in serious doubt.”
He added, “One immediate political impact is that the government’s preparations for a very early general election have undoubtedly died in a ditch.”
Pointing out that the 10 seats won by the opposition in the 2020 general election reflect “voters’ declining confidence in the ruling party,” The Nikkei also featured the views of American academic Meredith Weiss, who said that “none of these incidents can help” the succession plan.
For local academic Chong Ja Ian, who teaches at the National University of Singapore, the timing of leadership renewal will hinge on how the PAP’s fourth-generation leaders handle what Mr Wong has deemed a “setback.”
He told the Japanese publication, “Should the fourth-generation leader under Wong demonstrate initiative and decisiveness in ownership and putting forward a reform plan that addresses the underlying issues leading to the challenges that have come up, there could be greater confidence in their leadership. That could pave the way for the fourth-generation leaders to take over.”
Read the Nikkei article in full here.