Education Minister Ng Eng Hen can hardly be classified as a PAP heavyweight and so his political views on MM Lee Kuan Yew should be taken with a certain amount of circumspection. He is probably overawed by the intimidating reputation of MM Lee. Which lightweight minister is not? MM Lee is after all the father of the prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and is probably the power behind the throne.
So when Dr. Ng Eng Hen was popped the question as to why MM Lee was not stepping down by Mr. Dennis Tan, a workplace safety and health trainer and member of the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) at a dialogue following Dr. Ng's speech to members of the NUSS and NUS alumni and staff on Friday night (22-1-10), to his credit he appeared not flustered and was able to give a dipolmatic answer. Dr. Ng replied: "The question is, does MM add value to Singapore? I'm not talking about in history, I'm talking about now. That's the question that should be asked, not whether he should retire or not. Singaporeans must decide. MM spots pitfalls, he tells you what to avoid. He pushed for F1, for the IRs. So you decide. At the end of the day, it's the vote. If his constituents at Tanjong Pagar feel he's not adding value, they are free to vote."
Very diplomatic except that this is the stock answer any minister, or for the matter the prime minister himelf, will give any inquisitive or well-meaning individuals who have the well-being of the political future of Singapore at heart. The PAP leadership has anticipated that the stepping down of MM Lee will be a hot topic, especially among the young electorate who wonder why this old scrooge is still drawing a whopping salary of over $3 million a year doing nothing but "forecasting". So all the ministers are primed to give the stock reply, maybe varying in style in giving it in some cases so as not to give the impression of regimentation.
There are very widespread dissensions among the public, PAP supporters notwithstanding, that MM Lee should be removed from his Minister Mentor's post. If the PAP leadership is still ignorant about this, it shows that their feedback unit is malfunctioning or their ground is feeding them only information that the leadership wants to hear. Whether MM Lee is adding value to Singapore is a moot point but he himself confesses that he does nothing but "forecasting". Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong may find himself in an untenable position if he acts alone to remove MM Lee. who is after all his father. But it will be different if the ministers show some backbone and initiate action which would absolve the prime minister from the onerous responsibility of having to do the task himself and incur the infamy of being unfilial.
Does the PAP leadership sincerely believe that leaving the constituents at Tanjong Pagar to decide is the right course to resolve this matter. There are so many imponderables, one of which, very crucial, is whether the opposition is able to put up a team of credible candidates to face M M Lee's slate of candidates. Another is MM Lee is in a GRC and it will be impracticable to expect electors to vote against MM Lee without affecting his fellow-candidates. He still has his admirers among the electors, who are either blind to or condone his kinks. The million-dollar question is: Is the PAP leadership heeding the call of the public and sincere in wanting to resolve the problem of the removal of MM Lee ? The ball is in the PAP court.