Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is facing a leadership crisis amid a series of scandals involving high-profile politicians who were expected to play a key role in the country’s next chapter of governance.
The PAP, which has been in power for nearly six decades, has been rocked by a corruption probe on a cabinet minister, a resignation of a senior official over an extramarital affair, and a presidential bid by a former minister that signals a shift in the party’s direction.
These incidents have tarnished the party’s image of a clean and effective government and raised doubts about its succession plan, which was carefully crafted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Lee, who is 71 years old and has been in office since 2004, has announced that he will step down by 2025 and hand over the reins to a younger generation of leaders. He has appointed Finance Minister Wong Kan Seng as his successor, who will become Singapore’s fifth prime minister.
However, Wong, who is 60 years old and has been in politics for 35 years, faces a tougher challenge to win the trust and support of the voters, especially the younger ones who are more vocal and diverse in their views and aspirations.
The PAP’s popularity has been declining in recent years, as the country grapples with economic slowdown, aging population, social inequality, and geopolitical tensions. In the last general election in 2020, the PAP won 61.2% of the popular vote, its lowest share since independence in 1965. It also lost two more seats to the opposition Workers’ Party, which now holds 12 out of 93 seats in Parliament.
The PAP’s dominance is also being challenged by new political parties and personalities, such as Tan Cheng Bock, a former PAP minister who left the party in 2011 and formed his own Progress Singapore Party. Tan, who is 81 years old and has a strong grassroots appeal, announced last week that he will run for president in 2025, a largely ceremonial but influential role that can veto certain government decisions.
Tan’s presidential bid is seen as a sign of discontent within the PAP ranks, as well as an attempt to offer an alternative voice to the people. Tan narrowly lost the presidential election in 2011 to Tony Tan, another former PAP minister who was endorsed by Lee.
The PAP’s internal troubles have also exposed its vulnerability to external pressures, such as the rising influence of China and the United States in the region. Singapore, which is a small but wealthy city-state with a multiethnic population, has to balance its relations with both superpowers while maintaining its own sovereignty and interests.
The PAP’s ability to navigate these complex challenges will depend largely on its leadership transition and renewal. The party will have to prove that it can adapt to the changing times and expectations of the people, while preserving its core values and principles that have guided its governance for decades.
The party will also have to deal with the legacy and influence of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore and Lee Hsien Loong’s father, who died in 2015. Lee Kuan Yew was revered for transforming Singapore from a poor British colony into a prosperous global hub, but also criticized for his authoritarian style and suppression of dissent.
The PAP will have to find its own identity and vision for the future, without relying too much on the past or on Lee Hsien Loong’s authority. The party will have to show that it can renew itself and remain relevant and responsive to the people’s needs and aspirations.
The PAP’s political drama may be an opportunity for the party to reflect on its strengths and weaknesses, and to prepare for a smooth and successful leadership transition. The party may also benefit from having more diversity and competition within its ranks and in the political arena, as long as it does not compromise on its integrity and unity.
The PAP has faced many challenges and crises before, and has always emerged stronger and more resilient. The party will have to do so again if it wants to continue its long reign over Singapore.