Sunday, 8 November 2020

Governing: A Singapore Perspective by S. Jayakumar

1G to 4G - Singapore's leadership transitions
In his latest book, former senior minister S. Jayakumar shares his thoughts on how Singapore handles the issue of leadership succession in government. Here are excerpts from the book, Governing: A Singapore Perspective
The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2020

Some readers who are not Singaporeans might understandably be puzzled by references to "3G" or "4G", which means third generation and fourth generation respectively. Therefore, before I discuss the transition to the 4G leadership, it may be useful to quickly recap the different generations of leadership.

A different "G" label - indicating a distinct generational change - for different prime ministers' Cabinets is somewhat of a misnomer, and perhaps even misleading.

This is because each prime minister had a mix of ministers who were new and young, as well as older and more experienced. Several ministers served in the Cabinets of more than one prime minister.

For example, I was one of the few ministers who had the unique privilege of having served all three prime ministers. I was first elected as a Member of Parliament in 1980, appointed as a minister of state in 1981, and became a full minister in 1984, and I stepped down in 2011.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's Generation of Leaders (1G)

Looking back, PM Lee Kuan Yew's team was the 1G leadership, although hardly anyone uses that term to refer to the founding fathers' group. PM Lee Kuan Yew's key Cabinet colleagues included Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye, Eddie Barker, Ong Pang Boon and Othman Wok.

PM Lee Kuan Yew served as PM for 31 years. In the latter half of the 1970s, he brought into his team younger people whom he hoped to test out to form the next generation of leaders. They included Goh Chok Tong, Tony Tan, Ong Teng Cheong, S. Dhanabalan, Lim Chee Onn and myself.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's Generation of Leaders (2G)

Goh Chok Tong became Prime Minister in 1990 and stepped down in 2004, serving as PM for close to 14 years.

The process by which the 2G leaders selected him has been recounted, first by myself and later, by Goh Chok Tong himself.

In December 1984, Tony Tan organised a coffee/orange juice session at his home, attended by Ong Teng Cheong, S. Dhanabalan, Yeo Ning Hong, Ahmad Mattar, Lee Hsien Loong and myself. Chok Tong himself joined the meeting later. Several ministers of state were also present.

It was not a lengthy meeting and we decided that the leader of the team should be Goh Chok Tong.

PM Goh Chok Tong's team of key ministers included those present at that meeting, as well as Wong Kan Seng, Lim Hng Kiang and Lim Boon Heng.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Generation of Leaders (3G)

Lee Hsien Loong, who entered politics in 1984, became Prime Minister in 2004, and at the time of writing, he has served 16 years as Prime Minister.

Before that, he was Deputy Prime Minister for almost 14 years in Goh Chok Tong's Cabinet.

PM Lee Hsien Loong's 3G team of key ministers included Teo Chee Hean, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Ng Eng Hen, K. Shanmugam, Lim Hng Kiang, Wong Kan Seng, Vivian Balakrishnan, Khaw Boon Wan, George Yeo, Yaacob Ibrahim, Mah Bow Tan and myself.

The process of selecting Lee Hsien Loong as PM was simpler. He had been appointed as DPM in 1990 and his performance as DPM had been outstanding. None of us in PM Goh Chok Tong's Cabinet had any doubts that he should succeed Goh Chok Tong as Prime Minister.

Sometime in mid-2004, Wong Kan Seng organised a lunch among ministers at his office and as Lim Boon Heng recalled it, the meeting was short because "the choice [of Lee Hsien Loong] was clear".

How did the 4G Decide on new leaders?

The process of selecting the 4G leaders was also different.

In December 2017, Goh Chok Tong, who was then Emeritus Senior Minister, nudged the 4G team to settle the question of leadership early so that PM Lee Hsien Loong could settle on his successor by the end of 2018.

On Nov 23, 2018, almost 11 months later, 32 ministers and Members of Parliament issued a joint statement: "Now we have a consensus that the team will be led by Swee Keat."

They also noted that Heng Swee Keat had asked Chan Chun Sing to be his deputy, and Chun Sing had agreed to this.

In their joint statement, they said: "We endorse and support Swee Keat and Chun Sing as our leaders."

This ended months of speculation at that time on who the next PM might be.

This reinforced the expectation that he would become Singapore's next prime minister sometime after General Election 2020 (GE2020). It seemed that the only question was when PM Lee would step down.

Before 2020, PM Lee Hsien Loong had hoped to step down by his 70th birthday

In mid-2017, PM Lee Hsien Loong set out his thoughts on how long he planned to remain as Prime Minister.

He said that the next general election (which was held on July 10, 2020) would be the last that he would lead as Prime Minister, and added that he hoped to step down before he turned 70 years of age (which would be in February 2022).

Going by this, Singaporeans expected to have a 4G prime minister sometime in 2021 or 2022.

Many Singaporeans expected and hoped that after stepping down as PM, Lee Hsien Loong would continue to be in the Cabinet, just as former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong did after they stepped down as PM.

I asked PM Lee Hsien Loong if he had announced his intentions prematurely

After PM Lee announced his intention to step down after the following general election (held in July 2020), many people were concerned and disappointed. They included not only my friends but also some taxi drivers with whom I sometimes had interesting conversations during taxi rides.

They wondered why he made that announcement when the identity of his successor was not yet known, and even if it was known, such a person would have to be tested.

They asked: "Why could PM Lee not have waited?" After all, he was young and fit enough for at least two, if not three more terms. They hoped PM Lee would change his mind and urged me to persuade him to do so if I should meet him.

These concerned people agreed that the key members of the 4G - Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing, Tan Chuan-Jin, Ong Ye Kung and Lawrence Wong - all appeared to be capable and competent, but still, they expressed some reservations.

Some were concerned about Heng Swee Keat's health, as he had suffered a stroke in May 2016 because of an aneurysm. He was tipped to be the leader of the 4G. Fortunately, Heng Swee Keat made a complete recovery after immediate surgery.

Other typical comments they made were: "they are not ready" or "they do not have enough experience in politics".

I reminded them that I myself had been pulled out from the university with zero experience in politics and after one year of being a Member of Parliament, I was appointed to political office, first as minister of state, then as full minister. The only non-academic experience I had was serving as Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 1971 to 1974.

There were several others in the 2G team who also became ministers without any prior political experience.

PM Lee Hsien Loong used to invite me to lunch periodically, mainly to discuss our preparations for Malaysia's application to revise the International Court of Justice's 2008 Judgment on the Pedra Branca case. (I was chairman of the Inter-Ministry Committee preparing for that case.)

During one such lunch in the later part of 2017, I told him about the feedback I had received.

He said he was aware and, in fact, had also received such feedback. However, he had clearly given the matter careful thought.

He explained that if he postponed the timeline, it would not be good for Singapore. He would be much older, and so too would be his successor.

It would be better if the new PM and his key team members were to take over earlier. I found his explanation persuasive.

He was determined in not wanting to stay on as the nation's leader longer than necessary.

All this was, of course, before Covid-19.

Revisiting PM Lee Hsien Loong's timeline on succession during the Covid-19 pandemic and post-GE2020

After the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and after GE2020, the views that PM Lee should remain longer at the helm have intensified.

When PM Lee had earlier expressed his thoughts about when he would step down, nobody had expected the tumultuous calamity that Covid-19 would inflict upon Singapore and the world.

It is Singapore's worst crisis. It has had grave consequences for the health and lives of the people as well as Singapore's economy.

All signs point to a long-drawn-out crisis. PM Lee has clearly realised that we are in an extraordinary situation.

At his online Fullerton Rally Speech on July 6, 2020 during the election campaign, he said he had not expected to encounter such "an overwhelming crisis" in the last stretch of his premiership, and added: "You have my word: Together with my older colleagues like Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, as well as the 4G ministers, I will see this through. I am determined to hand over Singapore intact and in good working order to the next team."

He repeated this assurance almost verbatim in his televised comments on the GE2020 results in the early hours of July 11, 2020.

He put it another way at the press conference on July 25, 2020 on the new Cabinet line-up: "I do not determine the path of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a lot will depend on how events unfold."

I am glad that PM Lee has given himself some flexibility on the succession timeline. In my view, however capable the 4G leaders, we should not change horses in midstream.

Another question further down the road is this: what if the crisis takes even longer to abate? What if Singapore is still in dire straits in four to five years' time closer to the next general election?

Would PM Lee also be prepared to revisit his earlier intention not to lead the next general election as PM?

Of course, if "normalcy" has been restored before the next GE, I think the public will support his desire to step down as PM. However, if the crisis persists, I believe many Singaporeans will want him to reconsider that aspect of his timeline as well, and hand over only after Singapore has turned the dangerous corner.

It is, of course, still early days, but that scenario has to be considered.

Much will depend on the success of measures taken to address both the health and economic fronts.

Quite apart from the pandemic, the coming four or five years will see a volatile external environment, especially with tensions rising between the United States and China. Singapore will need a pair of safe, experienced hands during this period.

Whether one or both aspects of PM Lee's timeline are adjusted, there will likely be some slippage in his schedule for handing over the reins to the 4G team.

The 4G leaders have shown a steady hand under very difficult circumstances. I and many other Singaporeans were encouraged by the calm and unruffled manner in which they tackled the many twists and turns of the Covid-19 crisis. In their regular TV briefings, they were transparent in setting out the facts, and confident in making and explaining decisions as the outbreak progressed.

However, PM Lee's indication that he will see the crisis through, in my view, gives a valuable opportunity to the younger 4G ministers (and even some of those newly elected MPs who were also made office-holders) to learn from PM Lee and the more senior ministers.

It is just like how I and my generation of ministers consider ourselves most fortunate to have learnt from the likes of Lee Kuan Yew, S. Rajaratnam and Goh Keng Swee.

Viewing political succession in context

I have alluded to the possibility that PM Lee's earlier planned schedule for handing over the reins to his successor may have to be adjusted.

Whenever any succession looms on the horizon, it is inevitable that there will be speculation, concerns and even anxiety. It is therefore important to view the issue of political succession in context.

With that in mind, let me make the following general observations.

Firstly, Singapore is fortunate in that all three prime ministers carefully planned for succession. Such succession planning has brought about many years of stability and continuity for Singapore.

In this regard, I recall that at the swearing-in ceremony of his eighth Cabinet in 1988, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said that one of the important qualities by which political leaders are judged is "by the way they have provided for continuity so that a successor Government will continue to protect and advance the interests of their people".

Secondly, leadership succession is never any easy task in any country. Some countries do not consciously plan for it. Even when they do, things do not always go according to plan.

The next leader may emerge unexpectedly from nowhere with little or no experience in government. Sometimes, even a well-known figure, like Winston Churchill who enjoyed enormous personal prestige after leading Britain to victory in World War II, can be booted out from office.

Thirdly, even in countries like Singapore where leaders systematically plan for and groom successor teams, there can be bumps and hiccups along the way.

For example, it is well known that there were strong disagreements in the transition to 2G. Some of the old guard did not agree with the pace set by PM Lee.

More complications arose when PM Lee Kuan Yew publicly said that Goh Chok Tong had not been his first choice as his successor. Furthermore, to prod Chok Tong into improving his public speaking skills, PM Lee Kuan Yew described him as "wooden".

To his credit, Goh Chok Tong took all this in his stride. He proved to be a good prime minister, and he and the 2G ensured that the transition worked smoothly.

Fourthly, whether PM Lee Hsien Loong retires two years from now or a few years later, the exact timing is not the critical issue. What is important for Singapore is that there is no abandonment of the strategic impulse to plan for and execute an orderly succession.

The timing of handing over to the new team is a tactical decision, which will depend on many factors that every prime minister will have to weigh carefully, but hanging on to power cannot be a consideration.

Fifthly, for effective succession planning, we need to have a sizeable core of young capable leaders who have the potential to take over the reins. A prerequisite is that committed and competent people who care deeply about Singapore's future must be prepared to come forward and take on responsibility.

Of course, today, with social media's relentless and sometimes unfair scrutiny of the minutiae of a political candidate's personality, credentials as well as his past, it will be more difficult to persuade such good people to serve. However, if good people shy away, then even the best of succession planning will produce poor results.

I must confess that I too was nearly guilty of not agreeing to serve. In 1974 when the chairman of the People's Action Party, Dr Toh Chin Chye, first broached the idea of my entering politics, I demurred and said that I was not ready. He did not press me.

Later, in 1979, when Goh Chok Tong, through S. Dhanabalan, asked me to stand in the next general election, my first response was that I preferred to continue teaching law at the university.

But they asked me this question: "Supposing you are on the top of our list, and if you say no, and we have to go down the list and everybody else keeps saying no. We then go to the bottom of the list and then later, would you regret it if things went awry in Singapore?"

When it was put in that way, I found it very difficult to refuse.

I urge every Singaporean who may be approached to serve, and who find themselves reluctant, to carefully ponder over the same question that was put to me decades ago.

Jayakumar gives take on governance in new book
Ex-senior minister offers inside look at Govt's workings, talks about leadership succession
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2020

Former senior minister S. Jayakumar has launched a book chronicling his experiences of Singapore's governance, as well as giving his views on issues such as the Lee family dispute over their 38 Oxley Road home and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's retirement plan if the Covid-19 crisis does not abate.

Titled Governing: A Singapore Perspective, the 192-page volume includes first-hand and behind-the-scenes accounts of his time spent working with founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, as well as topics such as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's leadership succession, the 4G leaders and this year's general election.

At the book launch yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prof Jayakumar, 81, said that when he began writing the book, it was never his intention to give a lesson to Singaporeans.

"I've been in politics long enough to know that Singaporeans don't like to be told lessons, don't like preaching by ex-ministers or ministers. Those of us who are parents will know that when we tell our kids how it was back in our time, their eyes glaze over.

"But... I can best describe the book as my invitation to Singaporean readers to come with me on a journey into behind-the-scenes workings of the Government, and try to lift the veil of mystery."

His previous book in 2015, Be At The Table Or Be On The Menu: A Singapore Memoir, discussed Singapore's foreign policy and developments during his political career which spanned 31 years.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who was guest of honour at the launch, said he counts Prof Jayakumar as a "close friend and fearsome golf kaki".

He had this to say of the man who had worked with all three of Singapore's prime ministers: "There are very few like him who have been in the thick of the action or had ringside seats to Singapore's political struggles across such a lengthy period. It is no wonder then that Prof Jayakumar writes with authenticity and authority, not vicariously bestowed by position, but as a first-hand witness of those events."

Prof Jayakumar, he added, "has no axe to grind, no point to prove, no lofty ambition that craves to be fulfilled".

"Brief, to the point, no hyperbole or unsubstantiated assertions, with caveats where necessary for precision, coupled with a prodigious memory and searing intellect. These qualities not only translate to reliable accounts, but also convey the core of the issues, challenges and events distilled in his book," Dr Ng said.

Prof Jayakumar entered politics in 1980 and held portfolios including foreign affairs, law, home affairs and labour. He was deputy prime minister from 2004 to 2009.

He retired from politics at the 2011 General Election, but has continued to advise the Government, at first in an unofficial capacity, and from June 2018 as Senior Legal Adviser to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

In August, he was awarded Singapore's highest civilian honour, the Order of Temasek (With High Distinction).

Dr Ng said that in writing the book, Prof Jayakumar's intent is not only to inform and sometimes entertain, but, ultimately, to leave the reader with the seminal truths and choices that Singapore and Singaporeans must make to master their own future.

"This book does not shy away from provocative issues, as long as they are core to Singapore's existence and well-being."

If Covid-19 crisis goes on, PM Lee may have to consider staying on to lead PAP in next GE, says S. Jayakumar
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Nov 2020

If Singapore is still suffering from the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic in four to five years, will Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have to remain longer at the helm, and revisit his earlier intention not to lead the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) into the next general election?

This is the question posed by former senior minister S. Jayakumar in his new book, Governing: A Singapore Perspective.

In it, he wrote that after the onset of the pandemic and GE2020, the view that PM Lee should remain longer at the helm has intensified, despite the Prime Minister stating that he hopes to step down by the time he turns 70, which would be in February 2022.

Much depends on how long the Covid-19 crisis takes to abate, said Professor Jayakumar. "Of course, if 'normalcy' has been restored before the next GE, I think the public will support his desire to step down as PM.

"However, if the crisis persists, I believe many Singaporeans will want him to reconsider that aspect of his timeline as well, and hand over only after Singapore has turned the dangerous corner."

Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, now may not be the right time to talk of leadership succession, said Prof Jayakumar.

Singapore is in a "very perilous and very dangerous situation in our history as a country", he told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Oct 30 when they interviewed him about his new book.

"We've had many other crises before, but this is a particularly difficult one," he said. "I don't think this is the time, really, to talk of succession."

In his Fullerton election rally on July 6, PM Lee said he had not expected to encounter such "an overwhelming crisis" in the last stretch of his premiership.

He also said he would see this through with his older colleagues, such as senior ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and the 4G (fourth-generation) ministers so as to hand over Singapore intact and in good working order to the next team.

Prof Jayakumar wrote in the book that he is glad PM Lee has given himself some flexibility in terms of the succession timeline. "In my view, however capable the 4G leaders, we should not change horses in midstream."

When asked if a shift in the timeline would affect a smooth transition to the 4G leadership, Prof Jayakumar said: "I've not spoken to the 4G, I do not know their views, but I'm quite sure that they will be guided by the main consideration of what is best in Singapore's interests. I'm confident of that. We'll have to see how events unfold."

Led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, the 4G leaders are the next generation of ministers who will helm the Government when PM Lee steps down.

In the book, Prof Jayakumar wrote that the Prime Minister's indication that he will see the Covid-19 crisis through gives a valuable opportunity for the younger 4G ministers - and newly elected MPs who were also made office-holders - to learn from PM Lee and the more senior ministers.

He likened this to the way he and his generation of ministers had learnt from pioneer leaders such as Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr S. Rajaratnam and Dr Goh Keng Swee.

He observed that the 4G leaders have shown a steady hand under difficult circumstances. They have been transparent in setting out the facts in their regular television briefings, and confident in making and explaining decisions as the coronavirus outbreak progressed, he said.

Despite criticisms that they were mishandling the crisis owing to an earlier spike in infection numbers, the 4G leaders have done a "creditable job", he added.

"I was worried as to whether they would be flustered by this criticism, and was very cheered when I saw that they were unfazed. They went about their tasks in a very determined manner."

A more formidable challenge, he said in his book, is winning the hearts and minds of younger Singaporeans. This is because they have needs that are more emotional and experiential, they want their voices heard and they want to play a part.

He disagreed with those who say that the young are "soft", are by default rebellious and counter-establishment, and likely to vote against the PAP.

"I do not think this is necessarily true," he wrote, adding that if the 4G leaders demonstrate good leadership and the ability to govern well through a crisis, the younger generation would respect them and look up to them.

Book excerpts


"In 1974, when the Chairman of PAP, Dr Toh Chin Chye, first broached the idea of my entering politics, I demurred and said that I was not ready.

"Later, in 1979, when Goh Chok Tong, through S. Dhanabalan, asked me to stand in the next General Election, my first response was that I preferred to continue teaching law at the university. But they asked me this question: "Supposing you are on the top of our list, and if you say no, and we have to go down the list and everybody else keeps saying no. We then go to the bottom of the list and then later, would you regret it if things went awry in Singapore?

"When it was put in that way, I found it very difficult to refuse."

Foreign interference and Pofma

While the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) is "a piece of long overdue legislation" that deals with both deliberate falsehoods originating from abroad, as well as from within Singapore, the real safeguard is still Singaporeans' own vigilance, said Professor Jayakumar.

In his book, he noted that the report of the parliamentary Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods in 2018 disclosed that foreign powers had indeed sought to influence Singapore's politics.

"Will Pofma be effective in dealing with such kinds of foreign interference in our affairs? Yes, to some extent, because it covers falsehoods that might have originated from an overseas source but have been communicated in Singapore over the Internet," he wrote of the legislation which was enacted in 2019.

"No, to a large extent, because the country mounting such operations would be skilful in covering its tracks, and in feigning innocence."

Hence, no matter how well-crafted laws are, or how effective security agencies may be, they cannot completely safeguard Singapore from being targeted by a foreign country, he said.

He urged Singaporeans to be more astute and discerning when other countries try to sell them a line criticising Singapore's policies or its leaders.

An example he cited is when the media in China publishes scathing criticisms of Singapore over speeches made by the Government on the South China Sea, or other sensitive topics.

"More than once, some of my friends who are Singaporean Chinese businessmen have come up to me and asked whether we should be 'nicer' to China," he said.

He explained that it is not a question of being "nice", but doing and saying what is in Singapore's national interests.

"If we succumb to these pressures, there will be no end to it. Today, it may be China, tomorrow, it could be Indonesia, and the next time, it would be some other foreign country."

Lee family dispute

He was "astonished" by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling's attacks on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Prof Jayakumar wrote in his book that surely the PM's younger siblings must have known this would harm not only the PM's reputation, but also Singapore's.

"It would also sully the legacy of their father, who was the founding father of modern Singapore," he said, referring to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

On June 14, 2017, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee said in a joint statement that they felt "threatened" in their attempt to carry out their late father's wish to demolish their family home at 38 Oxley Road, and that they had lost confidence in PM Lee as a leader.

Prof Jayakumar pointed out that the statement was issued when Mr Lee was on overseas leave, a fact "that itself raised the eyebrows of many people on the siblings' choice of timing".

He said he has nothing personally against the two siblings, who are highly intelligent and talented.

In fact, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife, Ms Lee Suet Fern, had been to his home for dinner and vice versa.

Then Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, he said, hit the nail on the head when he spoke in Parliament on July 4, 2017:

"I have come to the conclusion that neither money nor the house is the real issue. The dispute over 38 Oxley Road is only a fig leaf for the deep cracks within the family, cracks which perhaps started decades ago."

The PSP garnered more than 48 per cent of the votes in West Coast GRC in the general election this year, resulting in two of its candidates qualifying to be Non-Constituency MPs.

Prof Jayakumar said many analysts have assessed that this was due to party chief Tan Cheng Bock's continued popularity in areas where he served previously as a PAP MP, and not because of the "Lee Hsien Yang factor".

Homosexual acts: Section 377A

On the calls by some to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which outlaws homosexual acts between males, Prof Jayakumar wrote that the Government has to balance the LGBT movement's demands with "hard political realities and sensitivities".

"One such reality is that there is a core of Muslims as well as conservative Christians who strongly oppose homosexuality," he said.

"There are also other conservative Singaporeans who oppose homosexuality on grounds unconnected with religion. The Government cannot disregard their views."

He acknowledged that the Government's position of letting matters evolve, and keeping S377A on the statute book but not enforcing it, creates a legal anomaly.

But this is a pragmatic approach on a sensitive topic, he added.

Citing several countries which have retained death penalty laws but do not carry out executions, he said that while this, too, can be said to be a legally inelegant approach, it is a practical solution for these countries.

He, however, added that the writing may be on the wall as the international LGBT movement has evolved at a rapid pace.

Taiwan's Constitutional Court in 2017 declared unconstitutional a law prohibiting same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court of India in 2018 decriminalised consensual adult gay sex.

What worries some of those who want to keep S377A, he said, is whether matters will simply stop with the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.

"But if that is just the start of new pressures to go further on gay marriage or adoption, then we may be launched on far-reaching changes, which are contentious and divisive, even in the West."

Last Friday (Oct 30), at a media briefing on his new book, a reporter asked whether a national referendum should be held on such issues where there is no consensus.

Prof Jayakumar replied that it was neither possible nor practical to govern by referendum.

"The Government is elected by the people and has a mandate for a period of years. Its job is to govern to the best of its ability," he said.

"It's not possible to please all people on many of these difficult issues. The art of government is really one of judgment and feeling the pulse of society."

Increased opposition presence in Parliament

In what was dubbed a crisis election this year, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) won 61.24 per cent of the votes, an 8.7-point swing from its 69.9 per cent share in the 2015 polls. The opposition presence in Parliament almost doubled to 10 elected MPs.

Asked by reporters for his views on debates that have since taken place in the House, such as on foreign worker policy and minimum wage, Prof Jayakumar said there is more sparring from opposition members and backbenchers.

"What's more important is: What is the purpose of these debates? If they result in bringing about a sharper focus of the pros and cons of important issues or policies, that's not a bad thing.

"But I'm not in favour of debate for debating's sake."

He wrote that a few days after GE2020, he e-mailed a Cabinet minister saying that people should not be beguiled by the Workers' Party's stance that it only wants to check the Government.

While their line this time was to prevent a clean sweep of all seats, at the next general election, their aim will be to prevent the PAP from having a two-thirds majority, he added.

"Further down the road, we should not rule out them (in concert with other opposition parties) trying to prevent PAP winning a majority of seats. They will do so if they have enough winnable candidates.

"As I see it, the camel has gotten its nose into the PAP tent. It will want to occupy the whole tent in two, three or four elections down the road."

He painted four possible political scenarios facing Singapore in the coming decades: a dominant PAP government which would continue to command a two-thirds majority in Parliament; a PAP government which does not have a two-thirds majority, but still has a comfortable majority of parliamentary seats; a "revolving door" government where a PAP or a non-PAP government comes into power in turns, winning elections by very narrow margins of a handful of seats; and a dominant non-PAP government, which would come into power with a commanding majority of parliamentary seats.

On a two-party system, which some analysts have raised as a possibility, he said the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had "strong views" on it.

The biggest problem with such a system, as Mr Lee saw it, is that once it is in place, the best people will choose not to be in politics.

This is because getting elected will be a dicey affair, and campaigns will tend to become unnecessarily uncivil, even vicious.

At the same time, he added, Mr Lee was a realist and he did not think it was pre-ordained that PAP will rule forever.

"In fact, he could anticipate a scenario where PAP could lose power. What was important for him was that a successful Singapore be kept going."

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