NTU Prof: Next PM between Chan and Heng, Ong is out

In a CNA report yesterday (25 Apr), Assistant Professor Woo Jun Jie at the Public Policy & Global Affairs Programme of NTU thinks that Ong Ye Kung is out of the race for Prime Minister. The competition for Singapore’s next PM has now been further narrowed to between Chan Chun Sing and Heng Swee Keat. Prof Woo teaches Singapore Politics and Singapore Foreign Policy at NTU.

Prof Woo noted that Chan is slated to take on leadership positions at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and Public Service Division while retaining his role as deputy chairman of the People’s Association.

“Mr Chan will be assuming new, important positions that will grant him invaluable exposure to economic policy and allow him to foster close ties with the public administration,” Prof Woo said. “More importantly, there are important synergies between these new roles and Mr Chan’s experience in policy and government.”

He said that Chan has accumulated strong experience in labour and social issues in NTUC and MSF respectively.

“While such experience in social policy and labour relations arguably provides Mr Chan with an edge in fostering strong social consensus and leading labour transformation, his new portfolio will allow him to combine these strengths with economic development and industrial policy,” Prof Woo added.

He also noted that Chan’s appointment to MTI mirrors that of PM Lee and ESM Goh in their earlier years before becoming PM. Both PM Lee and ESM Goh also spent an extensive period of time in defence, experience that Mr Chan shares.

Prof Woo thinks that with the MTI portfolio, it will make Chan a “relatively well-rounded Prime Ministerial candidate”.

Heng Swee Keat well-suited to the technocratic governance of Singapore’s economy

Heng, on the other hand, presents a more traditional set of skills and capabilities that are well-suited to the technocratic governance of Singapore’s economy, Prof Woo said.

“Specifically, Mr Heng’s experience as Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and Minister for Finance places him in good stead to drive Singapore’s continued development as a leading global financial centre. His leadership of the Future Economy Council, and role in driving Singapore’s Industry Transformation Maps also make Mr Heng a key figure in Singapore’s ongoing economic transformation,” he noted.

“These roles will be crucial for a potential Prime Minister.”

He also observed that PM Lee and ESM Goh have both also served as MAS Chairmen, with PM Lee serving as Minister for Finance for six years while ESM Goh served as Senior Minister of State for Finance.

PM Lee also headed the 2001 Economic Review Committee that bears many similarities to the Future Economy Council headed by Heng, Prof Woo opined. Heng has made great strides in raising the quality of Singapore’s education system as well as ensuring more equal education policy outcomes – including expanding the number of university places, the removal of the secondary school league tables and raising the quality of teaching.

“Furthermore, Mr Heng has played a key role in chairing Our Singapore Conversation, which reached out to 47,000 Singaporeans, as well as the SG50 Steering Committee,” he added. In the security area, he has spent some 14 years in the Singapore Police Force.

“Regardless, Mr Heng’s expertise and reputation as a top financial regulator and finance minister make him a highly skilled technocratic Prime Minister capable of leading economic and financial sector transformation,” Prof Woo opined.

Ong Ye Kung does not have enough exposure as the other two

With regard to Ong, Prof Woo noted that in the Cabinet reshuffle, Ong has consolidated his position in MOE with Ng Chee Meng moving out. At the same time, he retains leadership over the SkillsFuture Initiative.

But historical precedence suggests that the multiple portfolios held by Chan and Heng over the years – and the additional responsibilities they will take over from DPM Teo – place these two men in a stronger position for the top job over Ong, Prof Woo said.

Both PM Lee and ESM Goh had previously held multiple portfolios before becoming Prime Minister. Hence, Ong’s exposure seems to be more limited when comparing with PM Lee and ESM Goh.

“Given the need for a future Prime Minister to acquire a broad set of skills and exposure to a wide range of policy issues, and the track record of our past Prime Ministers, it seems the search for Lee Hsien Loong’s successor has narrowed (to 2),” Prof Woo concluded.

Chan: PM Lee decides where I go and what I do

Meanwhile, in an ST report last Fri (20 Apr), Chan told reporters, “Where I go, what I do, is the Prime Minister’s prerogative.”

Chan gave this reply when he was asked whether he is moving to a new role after the Cabinet reshuffle.

Last year, when he was asked by foreign correspondents if he would like the job of PM, he said, “All of us have to be prepared to do the job when called upon.”

“In Singapore, leadership is a responsibility to be borne, not a position to be sought,” he said, citing a comment previously made by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

This is according to a Reuters’ report.

But later, he complained to Reuters about the misreporting and Reuters corrected the story to make it clear that Chan was talking about his colleagues as well as himself together.

In any case, it looks like he has absolutely no say in assuming his new role as Minister of Trade and Industry, since he told everyone that where he goes and what he does is PM Lee’s “prerogative”.