14 years on, where is Lee Hsien Loong’s promise to find a successor?

At his swearing-in speech as Prime Minister on 12 August 2004, Lee Hsien Loong said that finding a successor was his “top priority”.

He professed at the Istana, “We must continue to search for younger Singaporeans in their early 30s and 40s to rejuvenate the team, to inject new perspectives and to prepare for leadership succession at all levels – ministers, MPs, at the grassroots, in the trade unions”.

Despite the supposed importance of a successor, Lee said last week (16 May) that Singapore’s next premier has yet to be identified.

As quoted by the mainstream media, Lee did not “believe we are ready to settle on a choice yet. Nor is it helpful to treat this either as a horse race or a campaign to lobby support for one candidate or the other. This is a team game, and we want a strong, cohesive team so Team Singapore is the winner.”

Singapore’s next Prime Minister will have a lot more problems to deal with

Former TODAY editor P N Balaji said that Singapore’s 4G leadership would have to deal with more problems than the current leadership. He likened this to a “perfect storm coming together to wreak havoc on a country that has now to grapple with who will lead the country post-2021”.

Hungarian research article took the same view, which said that Singapore’s tried and tested “political efforts… do not bring the desired effects any longer, so reforms are of pressing necessity”. Such problems include the “slowing down of economy, the stagnation of productiveness, the ageing population, the influx of foreign migrant labour force and the development issues of transport infrastructure”.

The research article also added that Singapore will face “severe pressure from China and other ASEAN States”.

The implications of leadership succession, and the lack thereof does not inspire confidence

Based on the above, the lack of a successor could be more serious than it seems. For one, it gives stability which enables Singapore to gain the confidence of investors.

Balaji said that Singapore’s “smooth and predictable handover has been a Singapore hallmark which made the country a haven for investors and foreigners flocking to put in their money and sink roots here. Now, the next leader is not even in sight making this safe haven a little unpredictable, even a little vulnerable.

This would then beg the next question on how the leader is selected.

According to Professor Cherian George in an article, the late Lee Kuan Yew “gave the PAP a Leninist structure, ensuring that its summit could never be conquered from the base”. The leader is chosen by the PAP’s Central Executive Committee which is selects from cadres. Professor George said that this is akin to “basically [electing] itself”.

He added that “some say Lee’s presumptive first choice, Chan Chun Sing, may not be getting the unanimous backing of his peers”.

Such uncertainty is not positive.

According to another article by the South China Morning Post, “The fact that the successor may not be known for another year may not inspire confidence in the 4G leadership.”

What do you think?