Speaking to Singapore media in New Delhi as he wrapped up his visits to Sri Lanka and India, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced last Friday (26 January) that no new deputy prime ministers will be appointed during the Cabinet reshuffle, which would take place after this year’s Budget in February.
The Minister was among the 10 Asean leaders attending India’s Republic Day Parade on Friday as chief guests. When asked about the timeline for the formal designation of the next prime minister suggested by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, PM Lee responded, “My assessment is, it probably will take a little bit longer.”
ESM Goh had said he hoped that younger ministers will choose their leader in the first six to nine months of this year, and that this person can be made PM-designate within 2018.
On a Facebook post, ESM Goh wrote, “One urgent challenge I would like to see settled is our fourth generation leadership. Every succession is different, but one thing remains the same: each cohort will have to pick one amongst themselves to lead, and support him. I hope the current cohort will do so in 6 – 9 months’ time. Then PM can formally designate their choice as his potential successor before 2018 ends.”
Responding to this, the PM said, “ESM (Goh) is speaking with the privilege of watching things rather than being responsible to make it happen. I think we know it’s a very serious matter. The team is taking shape. The dynamics amongst them, they are working it out. They are learning to work together.
“Also, they need a bit of time for Singaporeans to get a feel of them – not just to be known as public figures, but to be responsible for significant policies. Carrying them, justifying them, defending them, adapting them, making them work, and showing that they deserve to lead,” he said.
He then added, “I would not be able to say for certain that it will be settled within the next six to nine months, but it will have to be done in good time. I’m confident it will be.”
According to the PM, the Cabinet reshuffle will be “a significant step in exposing and building the new team, and putting them into different portfolios”.
He said, “Successor designation – that will depend on the dynamics and I would not say that that is imminent. If it is settled, everybody will know.”
When pointed that three candidates, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister in Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing and Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung have been predicted by observers to be the most potential candidates for the Prime Minister position. PM Lee said, “I think they are all good ministers.”
Media then asked another question on whether he had somebody in mind who is best suited for the job of PM, the PM said, “I think there is a strong team,” adding that many people see the leadership as being “personalised as one person”.
“Actually, there’s a team. The team works together and they have one – Mr Lee Kuan Yew said – striker. Now, you have to strike from time to time, but you’re really also sometimes spokesman on behalf of the team, bringing together a collective wisdom and giving voice to that. In the next team, that aspect of it will have to be even more important,” he said.
The PM then promised to be helpful when asked whether he will make known to the younger ministers his views on the relative strengths of each member of the team.
“I know that Mr Lee (Kuan Yew) from time to time used to give his public views of younger members of his team and what their strengths were. The then younger members of his team found it always a little bit awkward to be put under the spotlight, and I don’t think I need to do that to my younger ministers,” he said.
Pm Lee’s remarks come less than a month after a total of 16 fourth generation (4G) ministers released a statement stating that a leader, amongst them, will be chosen in good time.
When asked about his comment, PM Lee said that he doubted the idea that this is an exhaustive list of fourth generation of ministers, noting that “a lot was made” of the fact that a few senior ministers of state were left out of the statement, who are Dr Lam Pin Min, Dr Maliki Osman and Dr Amy Khor.
“They didn’t intend to (leave them out), and I don’t think you should put a lot of weight on that,” he stressed.
He said that what he had said earlier on his intention to hand over the reins to his successor after the next election, and sooner after it, rather than later remains unchanged..
“If so, what role will this person, once he is chosen, play in fighting the next general election, which has to be called by April 2021? He will have to pull his weight and… show that he deserves to be what his peers and his colleagues in Cabinet think that he can do. This is necessary. If you’re unable to win elections, you cannot be the leader. You can be a great thinker, you can be a great planner, but you have to be in politics,” he ended.