Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Where next for George Yeo?

May 10, 2011

ST Editorial

THE electoral defeat of Foreign Minister George Yeo has probably punched a huge hole in the Prime Minister's Cabinet formation plans. It will be patched, but with some difficulty as the job requires multi-faceted skills and a touch of finesse. Singaporeans will rue the exit of a polymath-activist whose intellect and philosophical acuity gained Singapore a sizeable reputation in the international policy arena. Workers' Party leader Low Thia Khiang, who led his team to a famous victory in Aljunied GRC, might wish it was some other minister that he had brought down. This of course takes nothing away from his party's achievement. It had tapped skilfully and winningly into the prevailing mood for broader democratic representation.

One might speculate if the People's Action Party's deployment of candidates could have been better judged relative to the opposition's tactical placements. One might even speculate if the Group Representation Constituency system has in-built weaknesses, whereby untested candidates can saunter into Parliament while a high-value (indeed, invaluable) asset, like Mr Yeo - or Mr Ong Ye Kung, one of the most impressive among the newcomers - can end up as casualties, through no fault of their own or that of their team. This has been a prodigious waste of talent.

If the Singapore Parliament were a bicameral with an upper chamber of appointed legislators, Mr Yeo's Cabinet services might yet be retained - but alas Singapore doesn't have any such chamber. There would also be no by-election to rescue a defeated minister, PM Lee Hsien Loong had said before the elections. That is the correct position, for the integrity of the electoral system has to be preserved. Mr Yeo is thus probably lost to political office - irretrievably.

He has not indicated whether he will bow out of politics or mull his options to fight another day. He is 56, not young by the next electoral cycle but young enough for a public role here or abroad.

Domestically, it has been suggested in some quarters that he stand for President. The election is due this year. It is an intriguing proposition. He has all the requisite qualities - of both heart and mind, as well as of spirit.

Finally, a word is in order about how Mr Yeo conducted himself in this campaign: He displayed enormous grace under pressure. It is difficult to think of any other politician in Singapore's history who has made people, including his opponents, feel as uplifted as he did in this race. He raised everyone to a higher plane.

He is a man of rare distinction.

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