The loss of popular support for ruling parties that have governed for decades in Singapore and Malaysia must be met by new leaders who can fulfil younger voters' aspirations, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this week.
In his first public comments comparing Singapore's General Election of May 2011 and Malaysia's polls in May this year, Mr Lee said: "You are talking about a generational change, you are talking about new social norms, new technology, new experiences of a generation which is growing up, which sees a different world and would like to have aspirations of their own and not just the aspirations of the older generation.
"It is necessary for every country to be able to produce the leadership which will work for that generation. And you cannot have a country where the population is 40 years old, but the leaders are very, very old as a team because there would be a gap."
He was replying to a question from Ms Shamsiah Sanin, an assistant editor at Berita Harian (Malaysia), in an interview with 15 journalists from Asean countries on Tuesday at the Istana. The transcript of the hour-long interview on a range of issues, from Singapore-Malaysia ties to Myanmar's future, was released yesterday.
In the May 2011 polls, the People's Action Party (PAP) lost a group representation constituency for the first time and saw its overall vote fall from 66.6 per cent in 2006 to 60.1 per cent.
In Malaysia's May polls, the Barisan Nasional (BN) retained control of Parliament but saw its share of the popular vote slide below 50 per cent, to 47 per cent.
Mr Lee said that while the issues in the two polls were "not quite the same", there were similarities, including concerns over the cost of living on both sides of the Causeway.
Mr Lee, who promoted and added new members to his Cabinet this month, also cautioned about the challenges of ensuring smooth leadership transitions.
Concerns include "where the young leaders come from, how they fit in with the old, how they can take over from the previous generation of leadership, whether they belong to the same party or not", he said.
As a ruling party, he noted, the PAP tries to stay abreast of changes. "But you have to keep on doing that because it is a very, very rapidly changing environment and all our societies are similarly experiencing that," he said.
Asked about Singapore's ties with Malaysia, he disagreed with a Malaysian journalist's description of it as a "love and hate relationship".
Singapore is "friends with Malaysia", he told Sin Chew Daily's deputy executive editor-in-chief Tay Tian Yan.
Both are close economic partners and "mirror images of each other" in ethnic make-up and approaches taken to manage multiracial societies, which have "made things more complicated", he added.
He cited how Malaysian newspapers are not allowed to circulate in Singapore, and Singapore's in Malaysia.
"That is part of our history. But it does not stop us from looking forward, from working together," he said, adding that he was "very comfortable" working with Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Expressing optimism about bilateral ties, Mr Lee said: "When you are neighbours, you will always from time to time have some complexity to deal with. But I think we can deal with them in a mature way, knowing that we will always be neighbours with each other."