Singapore PM lays out transition strategy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2002, 12:00am

Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong has laid out a 10-year road map for a progressive transition of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) leadership, including confirmation of his own resignation plans.

In a speech to party members, Mr Goh said that by the next general election - due by 2007 - the PAP would be led by a new prime minister.

Mr Goh, the PAP's secretary-general, added that by 2012, the party's upper ranks and the cabinet would be in the hands of the so-called third generation.

His remarks, delivered on Sunday at the PAP's biannual conference, were reported yesterday in state-linked media, which is heavily influenced by the government.

Mr Goh has often said he intends to retire before the next poll and has made it clear that he wants Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to replace him.

Most observers expect Mr Goh to step down next year or in 2004, leaving Mr Lee enough time to get used to the prime minister's office before he has to lead an election campaign.

Mr Lee, who is also finance minister and head of the central bank, is the son of Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the country's first prime minister, who handed the reins to Mr Goh in 1990.

The PAP is one of the most successive political parties in Asia, although its critics charge that many of Singapore's laws favour its continued rule, leaving its opponents weak.

It has been in office since self-government was granted in 1959 and has won every general election since independence in 1965.

The country's fragmented political opposition holds just two of the 84 elected seats in parliament.

Mr Goh said the 2007 election would be a watershed contest, setting the scene for the elevation of many younger ministers.

'It is a watershed because it will pave the way for a complete changeover in the political leadership by 2012,' the Straits Times reported him as saying.

In the jargon favoured by the PAP, Senior Minister Lee led the first generation, Mr Goh has presided over the second, and Deputy Prime Minister Lee embodies the third.

Despite the PAP's effective hammerlock on power, Mr Goh warned against complacency within party ranks, while raising the possibility of a stronger challenge from the opposition.

He said that should the country's economy continue to fare badly, the PAP's political foes could exploit people's disaffection to garner more support at the ballot box. Last year the city-state suffered its worst recession in a generation, and this year's recovery has been patchy.

Mr Goh and his senior party colleagues set great store by giving the clearest possible public signals of their plans for political transition, in part to reassure foreign investors of the country's continued stability.