PM Lee undergoes surgery: Govt affairs will proceed as usual, say analysts

But while government business may not be affected, some analysts said Mr Lee's health could affect when he will call elections. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
But while government business may not be affected, some analysts said Mr Lee's health could affect when he will call elections. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Experienced team in place, but questions on succession will arise

Politicians and political pundits greeted the news about Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's cancer diagnosis with concern for his health, but confidence that it will be business as usual for the Government.

The Cabinet has always worked as a team, they said, and other ministers will cover for him while he is recuperating.

Market watchers, meanwhile, do not expect a big reaction from the financial markets, and said that any negative sentiment would likely be short-lived.

Mr Lee was diagnosed with prostate cancer last month and will undergo an operation today to remove his prostate gland. He will be on medical leave for a week. In his absence, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean will be Acting Prime Minister.

Singapore Management University law professor and former Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan said he does not expect the business of the Government to be affected in any significant way.

"A well-oiled system and established processes are in place. His deputies are experienced and they have stood in for him whenever he's travelling," he said.

At Ang Mo Kio GRC, which Mr Lee helms, his fellow MPs are also ready to pitch in. They have often helped out at his weekly meet-the-people sessions and grassroots events when he was busy or away on official trips.

Mr Inderjit Singh, who is from the GRC, said: "I'm going to ask him to rest, we will take care of Ang Mo Kio."

His fellow MP Seng Han Thong added that the GRC "works as a team".

This is also the way the Cabinet has functioned - making collective decisions as a team, said political watchers.

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin said that is because Mr Lee himself had put in a system in which no one person, including himself, is indispensable.

"The Prime Minister has always believed that Singapore cannot depend on one man, that's why he assigns key projects to different ministers. Should any key office-holder, not just in politics but also in statutory boards, have to step down, the system will not collapse. That is a key feature of our system," he said.

Yesterday, as Mr Lee's Cabinet colleagues wished him a speedy recovery, many took the chance to encourage him to rest, saying they would take care of things.

Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said on Facebook: "The team will continue to do our best to take care of Singapore and Singaporeans while PM Lee recuperates."

Professor Tan said that this unexpected health issue for the country's top man underscores the importance of leadership renewal and succession.

"There can be unexpected situations cropping up so it's important to ensure that, even if there's change, there will always be continuity," he said.

But while government business may not be affected, some analysts said Mr Lee's health could affect when he will call elections.

The next general election has to be called by January 2017, but some have predicted that it will happen this year.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said the "likelihood of the election being pushed back has increased as a result of the health scare".

Meanwhile, market watchers said that while the news of Mr Lee's illness may have a negative impact on the stock market and the Singapore dollar, the effects will not last.

Remisier Desmond Leong said traders may adopt a wait-and-see attitude when the stock market opens, and wait to find out how Mr Lee's operation goes.

This being the season when companies report earnings, the market would be driven mainly by corporate results, said remisier Alvin Yong.

"Such weakness will be short-lived since (PM Lee) still looks healthy from his Facebook posting and he has survived such an illness before," he said.

yuenc@sph.com.sg

rachaelb@sph.com.sg