A total of 16 fourth generation (4G) ministers have released a statement stating that a leader, amongst them, will be chosen in good time.
The statement signed by the Cabinet ministers and office holders, saying, "The younger ministers are keenly aware that leadership succession is a pressing issue and that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong intends to step down after the next general election."
"We are conscious of our responsibility, are working closely together as a team, and will settle on a leader from among us in good time," it added.
The statement was signed by (in alphabetical order) by:
- Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Chan Chun Sing
- Senior Minister of State for Communication and Information and Health, Chee Hong Tat
- Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu
- Minister for Finance, Heng Swee Keat
- Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, Koh Poh Koon
- Minister for Social and Family, Desmond Lee
- Minister for Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli
- Minister for Education (Schools), Ng Chee Meng
- Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills), Ong Ye Kung
- Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information and Education, Janil Puthucheary
- Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law, Indranee Rajah
- Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry), S. Iswaran
- Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth and Trade and Industry, Sim Ann
Missing from the list of cabinet ministers who did not sign the statement are;
- Minister for Law, K Shanmugam,
- Minister for Transport, Khaw Boon Wan,
- Minister for Trade and Industry, Lim Hng Kiang
- Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan
- Minister for Manpower, Lim Swee Say
- Minister for Communications and Information, Yaacob Ibrahim
- Minister for Defence, Ng Eng Hen
- Minister for Health, Gan Kim Yong
- Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean and
- Singapore's preferred choice of Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam
Emphasising that political stability has been the hallmark of Singapore, the leaders added that "smooth leadership succession has instilled confidence amongst Singaporeans and our friends around the world."
The statement by the 16 ministers come in the wake of Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s recent comments on Facebook, highlighting the need to settle Singapore’s fourth generation leadership within a six to nine month timeframe, this year.
Institute of Policy Studies' deputy director Gillian Koh is quoted by ST that the statement sends the message that there is a "strong, attractive group of younger leaders with different talents, skills and qualities" in place, even if one were to remove the third-generation leaders from the Cabinet as a thought experiment.
Former MP Inderjit Singh said setting out a timeline may be ESM Goh's way of putting pressure on the fourth-generation leaders, adding, "As an elder statesman who was concerned about leadership transition in the past, he is the best person to raise the alarm if he feels things are not moving as desired."
Political observer Mustafa Izzuddin stated that it is about time for the next leadership team led by a PM-designate to be made known to Singaporeans, adding that the selection of the next prime minister has traditionally been an internal matter that is seldom made public.
Next Prime Minister positioned by PAP and ST to be among the 16 signatories
The Straits Times quotes a party insider familiar with Cabinet procedures, saying that the 16 names represent the next generation of political leaders who will carry the baton for the ruling People's Action Party, adding that it is also meant to clearly indicate that the decision of selecting the next prime minister lies in the hands of these ministers.
The source is further quoted by ST to say that they do not meet regularly to discuss matters of succession as this younger caucus, as a subset of all Cabinet members, is not a formalised one.
"When matters of the next prime minister are discussed, consensus can be easily reached because they function as a "cohesive group. The dynamic is not dissimilar to any other groups when it comes to picking a leader. Everyone roughly knows who among them will be the one," the source said.
We all know that any unsanctioned leaks from the party or government will be heavily punished by the PAP government and therefore, the quoted source has to be providing information that is cleared to be revealed to the general public, or to ready the public to accept the PM of the party's choice.
As DPM Tharman is not listed among the 16 signatories, it is highly likely that Singaporeans can drop the hope that DPM Tharman will be shortlisted by the PAP cabinet to take over Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after he steps down.
Dr Tan Cheng Bock in his speech last year, commented that the only way for PAP to change its style of governance and how it select its political leaders is for someone like Tharman to be appointed as PM.
Chan Chun Sing likely to be next PM
As it stands, Minister in the Prime Minister Office, Chan Chun Sing is likely to be Singapore's next Prime Minister from the appointments and tasks that he has been given.
Minister Chan is the deputy chairman of the People's Association and command support from the party and PA grassroots due to his open and friendly approach to the ground. He has been involved in several high key appointments and duties such as leading a delegation for a visit to China. Minister Chan has also represented the Prime Minister on several occasions in Parliament, such as during the debate on the amendments for the Elected Presidency
Minister Heng who was previously touted to be the most likely candidate for the top seat, had his chances dropped after suffering a stroke which saw him hospitalised for six weeks. Minister Ong, while capable and worthy, does not command the same level of support from grassroots leaders as Minister Chan. Mr Tan Chuan Jin, a possible candidate for the PM position was reshuffled from a minister to the speaker of Parliament, which makes it pretty unlikely for him to contest.
However, while signs point to Minister Chan being inline to become the fourth PM of Singapore, ground sentiments indicate that most are not really convinced that Minister Chan is the right candidate for the premiership and that may affect PAP's vote in the General Election. Therefore, if indeed PAP intends for Minister Chan to be PM, much effort and conditioning has to be conducted with the voting population to get them mentally prepared for the appointment. Something which would explain the recent spate of moves to indicate the next PM will have to be named.