In a Channel NewsAsia report dated 19 october (Thursday), it is reported that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he is ready to step down as Singapore’s leader and that his successor is “very likely” already in the Cabinet.
Responding to a question during a CNBC interview on whether he was ready to step down in a couple of years, the PM said, “I’m ready.”
“What I need to make sure of is somebody is ready to take over from me,” he added.
Mr Lee, 65, has emphasised the need for leadership succession several times, saying that his successor must be ready to take over from him soon after the next general election.
In a wide-ranging interview with CNBC on Thursday, Mr Lee said that it is very likely that Singapore’s next leader is within sight, saying, “I think it is very likely that he is in the Cabinet already. But which one? That will take a while to work out.”
The interview with CNBC comes ahead of Mr Lee’s official working visit to the United States from Oct 22 to 26 at the invitation of US President Donald Trump. Mr Lee will meet Mr Trump on Oct 23 at the White House.
Mr Lee’s interview with CNBC comes amid an upturn in the economy, with Singapore gross domestic product pulling in a 4.6 per cent year-on-year growth in the third quarter.
Mr Lee indicated his wish for Singapore to “stay at the top”, saying it can do so by being up-to-date with changes.
He spoke about the importance of the SkillsFuture programme to equip Singaporeans with the necessary skills needed as the country transitions to an innovation-driven economy.
“We are facing the same challenges as many other developed countries, which is that change is rapid, that is disruptive, that we need to master new technologies, and we need to be able to do it with people who are already in the workforce – middle-aged, and not just young people in school,” Mr Lee said.
He then added that another important thing is to get the industries and the different sectors of the economy up to speed, and to cope with the transformation, which is being done through a S$4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, where roadmaps are being developed for 23 industries to address issues and help companies drive innovation and productivity.
“You have here to deal in a very tangible and concrete way with individual industries, individual firms, and not just in a stratospheric, macro, philosophical approach. You need to have a specific sense for each industry – what are the skills which are needed, what are the market areas which can be exploited, what are the changes which the companies need to make, how can we help the companies to achieve these changes,” he said.
The Prime Minister also talked briefly about his father, saying that two years after his father’s passing, he still reads the late Mr Lee’s speeches and misses him.
“We miss him, we think of him often, we read his old speeches and we say, ‘Well, that is still relevant to us today’. The way he puts it still has a ring to it,” Mr Lee said.
“At the same time, we have to build on that and move forward. Because if we just remained with what he had imagined and what he had done and nothing more, I think he would have been very disappointed. If he were still alive today, Mr Lee surmised, the advice his late father would probably mete out would be to “press forward”. I think he would have said ‘Do not be looking at the rear view mirror. Remember what has happened, understand how you got here, but look forward and press forward,'” he said.
Many people commented on the statement that the next PM is likely to be already in the cabinet.
Mr Desmond Ong wrote, “This is such a slap to the face of Tan Chuan Jin who PM deliberately moved out of the Cabinet. Such insensitive leadership! Tan Chuan Jin does seem to be one of the few PAP MPs who can connect genuinely with the electorate. A failure to cherish the talent in your organization is a failure of leadership!”
Shivam Mahadeva wrote, “It is best you step down as soon as possible because you look weak, time to retire and have a good rest.”
Reyson Goh wrote, “Step down is good. In fact, the earlier the better.
Just make sure you’re not working behind the scene. And oh, stay off the sides too.”
However, some of them stated that Mr Lee would probably still be ruling.
Vincent Khoo wrote, “Step down and then become senior minister or minister mentor?”
Peter Loo wrote, “He step down, but he still control the PAP government, give me instructions like king”
Nanny Lila wrote, “Looking for successor or puppet?”
Mr WK Lai stressed that choosing Prime Minister is citizen’s right and not his.
He wrote, “Hello bro. This is a democratic society. Who will be the PM is not decided by you, but, by the citizens! You can only decide who is the leader of your party.”
Mr Dang Quan asked Mr Lee to fix the economy first.
He wrote, “Do not hand over a bad account for the next in line to handle. Concentrate of fixing the economy and not the opposition. Do not be so greedy.”
Mr Wayne Chuia asked the Prime Minister not to overrated himself.
He wrote, “Do not overrate yourself la. With your kind of standard, any Tom, Dick or Harry can take over lei.”
Mr Steve Mei hopes that everything would be fine as the Prime Minister would still be on the seat for a couple of years.
He wrote, “So he still want to be around for a couple of years. OMG. Bless us.”
Mr Marcus Goh expressed his shock as the Government have not find someone who is ready to take over after 17 years.
He wrote, “After 17 years still cannot find somebody ready to take over?”
Mr Oli To hopes that Minister Chan Chun Sing will not be the next PM.
He wrote, “Anyone but Chan Chun Sing please. Hope it is Tharman, even if he said no previously, or Heng Swee Kiat. Heads of state in other first world countries are well over 60 yrs, so why not Singapore?”
Some speculated that he would reserve the seat for his son.
Diu Lei wrote, “Even if that person is not ready you will still push him up to warm the seat for your son.
Making sure someone is ready to take over, How arrogant that statement is, it means that they are confident that they will be in power for another 50 years?
He is talking about handing down the position of the PM like the way an Emperor hands over his reign to the Crown Prince. Still denying that we are not in a dictatorship?”
Daniel Wong wrote, “Hopefully, if he did not step down, this show that none of his party members is capable.
Maybe he is waiting for his son to take over.”
Some stated that he is just talking on the matter since he has been talking about the issue for years, yet he is still on the seat.
Alvin Teo wrote, “He say for many years liao la. Not news. Still there. Poor PM, so many illness and weak health but still sitting on the seat. Our hero!!!!”
Benson Tan wrote, “He said he wanted to step down 2 elections ago. Go figure if this is just another of his insidious ploy to hang on to power.”
Mr Chee Leong Yeong stated that this probably the right time for Muslim Indian Prime Minister.
He wrote, “Step down la. Get a Muslim Indian PM then shiok la. Singapore has no Muslim Indian PM for many decades already. No need elected one, selected one, ok la.”
Mr Jason Ko stated that the next PM election must be the murkiest succession plan ever.
He wrote, “Step Down? In 2011 there are few potential candidates for PM, after 2015 there are even more candidates and none had ascend the rank of DPM. After next GE, will not be surprise the list will go on and add more candidates. Going by PAP history, this must be the murkiest succession plan ever, if any. ”