Leadership Planning II: The best-laid plans of mice and men…

by Law Kim Hwee

It bears repeating: The leadership of People’s Action Party should and must not be conflated with Singapore’s leadership and two, Singaporeans deserve the leaders and leadership we elect.

Consider this famous (mis)quote, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America”? (Charles E Wilson, President GM, 15-16 Jan 1958). Read how the quote came to be here. Misquote or not, therein lies a lesson for Singaporeans fed on a constant diet of PAP propaganda that, without the PAP, Singapore will sink.

The PAP prides itself in having a proven leadership succession process. Though the plan and process are public knowledge, the procedure is opaque to Singaporeans. Under Lee Hsien Loong, that plan is now in kilter, But the PAP will never admit their plan is out of whack. Check out this video to see how PAP’s sec-gen tries to worm his way out of his failing self-declared “urgent task…(that) we don’t have the time to lose” when asked.

So, here we find ourselves, our elected political party making promises of a smooth transition but failing to deliver on time. Are their pride and sticking to party-focused procedures more important than what’s best for Singapore and Singaporeans? What’s good for PAP is good for Singapore?

Singaporeans are not the only ones expecting the well-executed transition promised. Foreign countries and investors’ expectations, too, must be considered.

WHY should the ship of Singapore be hostage to a political party’s internal succession formula with its fixed, perhaps outdated, methodology?

Without saying too much about the international stature (if any, to speak of) of the 3 potential PMs-in-waiting (Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing, Ong Ye Kun), that there is no consensus amongst their peers is evidence that even within the party, confidence in any one of them to lead is lacking. Aside from the probable (unseen) squabbles within the PAP senior cabal over personal preferred choices, the three’s own 4G colleagues are also clueless even after sizing each out up since GE2006.

Perhaps, the conundrum is fully understandable when we consider each candidate’s pitiful  dearth of meaningful, quantifiable performance:

Heng SK helmed the ministry of education – can anyone name any change he made that resonate with meaningful impact on our children’s education? How about as minister of finance?

Chan CS – acting minister for community development, youth & sports (17 months), 2nd Minister for Defence (19 months), Minister for Social & Family development (20 months), Sec-Gen NTUC (34 months to date); pray tell the defining achievements that Chan brought in his musical chair act.

Ong YK – who couldn’t win over voters on his first 2011 try under George Yeo’s coattail, then, instead of working the Aljunied ground, ran off to comfortably bide his time as director of strategy, Keppel Corp (2013-2015), and succeeded only in his second under-the-coattail GRC attempt in GE2015…a ‘leader’ who couldn’t even win his MP seat on his own or his first attempt and needed a safer GRC to sneak in as MP…a leader? a PM choice?

Enough said.

We have shown that PAP’s succession plan is either fake or has failed. Now, we assess the 3 PMs-in-waiting to be neither proven nor adequately, let alone well-prepared enough to inspire confidence with Singaporeans or foreigners.

So, wither Singapore?

No need to regret how we voted our way here. Let’s play the cards we are dealt. Let’s get back to basics.

What are the crucial factors to consider in the next prime minister for Singapore? There are 2 key ones, namely; first, he has to be proven to be effective in crafting and carrying through policies across diverse ministries and secondly, he also has to be shown as a respected player internationally.

And Singapore does indeed have such a son. He is Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

While most Singaporeans have made known their clear preference for “PM Tharman”, the PAP is still “operating under the assumption that majority Chinese Singapore is not ready for a non-Chinese premier“. Why the disconnect? What’s playing behind the scene in PAP party politics instead of doing what good for Singapore and what Singaporeans want?

Remember PE2017, despite the clear signs that not just the Indians but majority Chinese and even a sizeable Malay voter block were not sold on a Malay President except on merits, LHL used his PM office – and the Parliament – to expend tremendous capital and ultra-ordinary urgency to push for a Malay (minority) Executive President.

Now, we should ask him, “Is the most qualified candidate as PM more critical to Singapore’s wellbeing than that of President?” If so, what is stopping him from doing the same to persuade Singapore (and Tharman) to be Singapore’s Indian Prime Minister. Isn’t that being racist?

PAP should know better that what worked before is no guarantee to work now. The times have changed. It’s not 1990 or 2004. And the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Sticking to PAP’s fixed plan now is surely, demonstrably unwise.

It is time PAP leaders act on their own lecture to citizens on “change”, getting a “new mindset”.

So what if Tharman as PM is outside PAP’s playbook? Let’s remember, what’s good for PAP is not necessarily good for Singapore and Singaporeans. As for Tharman himself, despite his own reservations and reasons not to want to be PM, shouldn’t he be putting the nation’s needs and calling before his own considerations?

(Epilogue: Some will say Teo Chee Hean has qualifications similar to Tharman. Well, domestically yes. But internationally, not by a mile. And, let’s be blunt about it, if Teo is elevated over Tharman, wouldn’t that mean PAP really, really is racist?)


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