The swearing-in of the cabinet last night formally marked the end of this watershed election, a most memorable fortnight for the folks following political affairs in Singapore. Members of Parliament were elected in and declared by the Returning Officer after Polling Day; Non-Constituency Member of Parliament seats were offered to the best losers and taken; the sudden resignation of the Minister Mentor and Senior Minister caused a mini-tsunami in the cabinet, as a result ministers were reshuffled or dropped, the latter joining before them those slated to resign and those who lost the elections in their constituency.
The momentous decision by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew to leave the cabinet in order to give the "younger leaders .... a fresh clean slate" marked the end of his 52 years in government. For 52 years, our Minister Mentor has served in various capacities in the cabinet: as the first Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990, our great helmsman steered the little ship from third world to first; as Senior Minister from 1990 to 2004, he was the goalkeeper of the team; and finally as Minister Mentor from 2004 to 2011, he was the forecaster, a databank and radar for the team.
The previous Cabinet met for the last time on Thursday in the Istana before the swearing-in of the new Cabinet. For nine of them, including the Minister Mentor Lee and Senior Minister Goh, it was also their last Cabinet meeting. The mood was reflective, according to those present. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said:
"We were all conscious that this was the end of an era .... MM spoke, recalling his first Cabinet meeting in May 1959 in City Hall, just after PAP had won the election. He said there was a photo of that meeting too .... MM said he was happy that the new team taking over was a strong one, and that he and SM had made the right decision to step down completely."
Despite searching high and low in the archives for that photo of MM Lee's first Cabinet meeting, I failed to find it. If anyone has seen the 1959 boardroom photo somewhere, do share with me. The first Cabinet in 1959 had only nine ministers, including the Prime Minister. When the Minister Mentor attended his last meeting on Thursday, the Cabinet had ballooned to 21 members.
The closest I found was a photo taken right in front of City Hall, the nine ministers of the first Cabinet decked in full whites and seated below the steps of their future government office, with a huge PAP banner as backdrop. Even in the black and white photo, there can be no doubt about the color they were sporting. It was vintage PAP. From the perspective of a citizen 50 years later, the lightning logo in front of City Hall was rather ominous - from that day onwards, PAP and the government are one.
* By the way, the date given by PM Lee is wrong. Polling Day for the 1959 General Elections was May 30. The Cabinet was sworn-in on Friday June 5. The earliest date for the first Cabinet meeting has to be June 5, not May 31. Technically there is no new Cabinet before the oath-taking. Three possibilities here: MM Lee recalled incorrectly the date (June 1959, not May 1959), PM Lee heard him wrongly or the press made a mistake. Hopefully one of them "stands corrected".
Our First Cabinet Ministers (from left to right in the 1959 photo):
- Mr Yong Nyuk Lin - Minister of Education
- Mr Ong Pang Boon - Minister of Home Affairs
- Dr Goh Keng Swee - Minister of Finance
- Dr Toh Chin Chye - Deputy Prime Minister
- Mr Lee Kuan Yew - Prime Minister
- Mr Ong Eng Guan - Minister for National Development
- Inche Ahmad bin Ibrahim - Minister of Health
- Mr S. Rajaratnam - Minister of Culture
- Mr K. M. Byrne - Minister of Labour and Law
Our latest Cabinet Ministers (from left to right, bottom to top in the 2011 photo):
- Mr Lim Hng Kiang - Minister for Trade and Industry
- Mr Teo Chee Hean - Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Home Affairs, Coordinating Minister for National Security
- Mr Lee Hsien Loong - Prime Minister
- Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam - Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Finance, Minister for Manpower
- Mr Lim Swee Say - Minister, Prime Minister's Office
- Dr Vivian Balakrishnan - Minister for the Environment and Water Resources
- Mr Khaw Boon Wan - Minister for National Development
- Assoc Prof Yaacob Ibrahim - Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts
- Dr Ng Eng Hen - Minister for Defence
- Mr K Shanmugam - Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Law
- Mr Heng Swee Keat - Minister for Education
- Mr Lui Tuck Yew - Minister for Transport, Second Minister for Foreign Affairs
- Mr Gan Kim Yong - Minister for Health
- Mr S Iswaran - Minister, Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs, Second Minister for Trade and Industry
- MG(NS) Chan Chun Sing - Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports