Even amid a destabilising medical and economic crisis, one enduring feature of Singapore politics is evident in the run-up to the general election. This is leadership transition. The retirement from politics of two stalwarts, the first from the ruling party and the second from the opposition, illustrates the simultaneous transition of power from one generation to another at the two ends of the electoral spectrum. Several other leaders and stalwarts on both sides are also retiring, in a long-running tradition of making way to refresh the ranks with younger candidates and new blood.
Those who are strong and confident enough know when to step aside, and Singapore's politics has become stronger over the years because of the willingness of such leaders to leave the stage when newer actors emerge. The retirement of Mr Goh Chok Tong, first elected in 1976 and who served as prime minister from 1990 to 2004, is an intrinsic part of the planned and continuing succession process that has been a mainstay of the People's Action Party. Taking over from Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a formidable task. Mr Goh created distinctive space for his style of politics with an emphasis on consultative governance. That approach to governing has continued as the template of politics in the third generation under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's leadership, and it is set to remain that way for the fourth generation, led by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat. As a political leader and MP for 44 years, Mr Goh will also be remembered for having maintained development, security, growth and Singapore's place in the world.
On the other side of the political aisle, former Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang also decided to step down from electoral politics. His, too, has been a remarkable career, one that he is concluding after almost 40 years in politics, 29 of them as an MP and 17 years at the helm of his party. Mr Low, who feels that his work is done, succeeded in bringing his party from the acerbic fringes of electoral politics into the credible mainstream, and having it try and serve as an effective check on the ruling party. Other leaders, too, are stepping down. Their gracious acceptance of departure from the political limelight signals a worthy acceptance of the fact that personal popularity, no matter how great and well deserved, must give way to the greater demands of political change. The needs of the electorate evolve as a nation's demography changes and renewal takes place in different arenas - politics, party and country. Singapore is fortunate in that its politics has not been held hostage by wilful, stubborn or squabbling leaders intent on holding on to power in the face of internal and external tectonic shifts. Such examples proliferate elsewhere. Here, political transitions paradoxically offer the best form of stability, and continuity.