Illness Underscores Singapore Transition
Wall Street Journal on the limited impact of Lee Kuan Yew’s illness:
News that Singapore’s first and longest-serving Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, is suffering from a neurological problem affecting his ability to walk is the latest reminder of the generational shift under way in the Southeast Asian financial center.
The disease—sensory peripheral neuropathy, which Mr. Lee has already been dealing with for two years—may not dramatically alter the 88-year-old’s regular globe-trotting activities, doctors said.
But the disclosure underscores, analysts said, the urgency for Singaporean leaders, including Mr. Lee’s son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to have a long-term plan to maintain the city-state’s growth without regular input from its longtime leader.
The ruling People’s Action Party has been taking steps to reduce Mr. Lee’s dominance for years, analysts said. The elder statesman in May left Singapore’s cabinet, where he served as minister mentor, and, while still a member of Parliament, he has moved to the backbench, reserved for less-influential policy makers.
“Ten or twenty years ago, the news of [Mr. Lee] stepping down from cabinet would have overshadowed all other [political] news, but it did not dominate the Singaporean mind,” said Cherian George, a professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. “This is a good indication that future news of his incapacitation would not shock.” …
While the governing People’s Action Party remained firmly in control, winning 81 of 87 parliamentary seats in the poll, it received its lowest share of the popular vote since Singapore became a nation. The results added to the uncertainty about what will happen in Singapore once Mr. Lee, architect of the city-state’s success, dies. Analysts say the withdrawal of Mr. Lee from formal positions of power before the public disclosure of his health problems has allowed the PAP to project itself as a party under serious transformation, though Mr. Lee, co-founder of the party, still plays an important role in its vision and ethos.
Garry Rodan, a professor of politics and international studies at Australia’s Murdoch University, said Mr. Lee’s ideologies and institutions still have a huge influence over the choice of the PAP’s leaders, so any fuller withdrawal of Mr. Lee from the political process could create an atmosphere where the authority of the party’s leaders will be challenged more vigorously by the party’s critics.
Mr. Lee and his family told local papers that the disease hasn’t affected his mind or his willingness to participate in government.
Health professionals said the disease doesn’t affect patients’ intellectual capabilities, but it can sometimes force them to use wheelchairs. In Mr. Lee’s case, the disease is making it difficult for him to walk.
“The disease very rarely takes your life,” said Professor Craig Anderson, director of the Neurological and Mental Health Division at the George Institute for International Health in Sydney. “It affects one’s quality of life, but when it comes to intellect or otherwise, it is not a problem.”
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