Singapore's founding father resigns after "watershed" election


Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore makes brief remarks after meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office at the White House October 29, 2009 in Washington, DC. Lee served as prime minister of Singapore between 1959 to 1990, and is regarded as an expert on Asian affairs and US relations with the region.


Chip Somodevilla

Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of Singapore, has resigned from the country’s cabinet after his party experienced its worst election results in 46 years. He has left leadership of the country in the hands of his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The 87-year-old Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister from 1959 to 1990, said in a joint statement with fellow former prime minister Goh Chok Tong that the "time has come for a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation.”

"After a watershed general election, we have decided to leave the cabinet and have a completely younger team of ministers to connect to and engage with this young generation,” the statement said.

In May 7 elections, the People’s Action Party had its worst result since independence in 1965, winning 60 percent of the vote — down from 67 percent in 2006 and 75 percent in 2001. The PAP, which has governed Singapore almost as a one-party state, faced the biggest challenge from opposition parties since independence, with the Workers’ Party winning six seats.

The BBC described Lee’s retirement as “a key moment in Singapore’s political history.”

“Most Americans or Europeans would not regard an opposition gain to 7 percent of the seats in parliament as a big deal, but for Singapore it was a dramatic breakthrough,” Michael D. Mosettig wrote on a PBS NewsHour blog.

Lee Kuan Yew has been the architect of Singapore’s development for more than 50 years. He has been in the cabinet since 1959, and most recently held the post of Minister Mentor, a cabinet role specifically designed for him in 2004.

Under Lee’s leadership, the tiny city-state of Singapore has prospered, but the freedoms and rights of citizens have been sacrificed.

Singapore has one of the world’s freest economies, according to the annual Index of Economic Freedom, but there are strict restrictions on media, freedom of expression and assembly, and the country’s leaders are notoriously litigious against their critics.