Lee's massive mandate assures continuity, stability in Singapore

Singapore, one of Asia's most stable nations, is assured of short-term political and economic continuity in the wake of the ruling party's recent election sweep.

But in the long run this tiny island state faces a dilemma: how to transfer power to a new generation of leaders after the eventual withdrawal of veteran Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

For the time being, the prime minister's ruling people's Action Party (PAP) remains firmly entrenched. As expected, the PAP captured all 75 parliamentary seats in the Dec. 23 elections. Thirty-seven of its candidates ran unopposed.

On the paper the PAP's overall tally jumped to 77.66 percent, compared to 72. 4 percent in 1976.

But this minor change concealed major issues that must be faced in the next five years:

1. Can Mr. Lee's succession be arranged in an orderly fashion within the PAP?

2. During this period can public confidence be maintained so that opposition outside the PAP does not grow?

In Singapore, a city-state of nearly 2.5 million, restricted press, financial fees, fear of intimidation, and lack of interest in opposition politics combine with respect for Mr. Lee's government to prevent development of city-wide opposition. As a result, some seven opposition parties put up only a handful of candidates in the election in scattered constituencies.

Thus the PAP sweep was predictable, especially since the highest PAP echelons , including the prime minister, turned out for some vigorous campaigning in inclement weather.

But low PAP vote counts in two constituencies caused some concern. Less than 60 percent of the votes went to the PAP in Potong Pasir, where the Singapore Democratic Party's Chiam See Tong made a strong showing. In Telok Blanga, Workers' Party candidate J. B. Jeyaretnam also did well.

None of this is a basic threat to the PAP.

But it does emphasize the need for Mr. Lee to demonstrate two things.

One is that a second generation of leaders chosen by Mr. Lee from within the PAP can gradually take his place in handling domestic and foreign crises. Otherwise voters could turn increasingly to opposition candidates for alternative leadership.

The second is that a new generation of PAP parliamentary members must represent their districts effectively and follow through with favorable action on local problems. Otherwise voters could turn to opposition candidates in hopes their criticism and prodding in public parliamentary debates could bring better results.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.