The murky waters in and around political succession in Singapore seems to have cleared up somewhat. Speculation on whether former army man Mr Chan Chun Sing (Chan) would take top spot has cooled with the announcement by current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) that the 4G political office holders have chosen Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (Heng) as their leader who has in turn asked Chan to be his deputy. From the looks of things (although not 100% concrete), we can perhaps regard Heng as PM Lee’s successor.
While people who had previously been concerned with the uncertainty around political succession can breathe a sigh of relief now that a successor has been chosen, it is important to note that Heng will have a sharp learning curve. Unlike PM Lee and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Heng has not spent years waiting in the wings. He only entered politics in 2011 and was made a minister immediately after his win at the general elections in 2011. With only 7 years or so under his belt and without the benefit of having spent years as a member of parliament (MP), does Heng have all the experience necessary to lead the country?
It is also noteworthy that Heng has been a career civil servant for most of his life. The 57-year-old began his career in the police force before entering the civil service, eventually becoming the principal private secretary to the senior Lee between 1997 and 2000. While he has had some experience in the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), this can arguably be construed as government affiliated experience which is not really akin to the rigours of the private sector. Is someone who has had virtually no private sector experience able to comprehensively grasp the challenges that come with running a country?
Of course, Heng would not be the only Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) leader to not have had genuine private sector experience. His contender, Chan would have been in a similar boat. That said, with the complications surrounding an increasingly globalised world, is it sufficient to only have experience from a government or government affiliated arena?
There are also concerns for rumoured rifts within the PAP establishment. We have had Goh and PM Lee publicly disagreeing on succession issues earlier this year. Is Heng a strong enough and popular enough figure to unify the party?
Last but not least, Heng suffered a health scare in 2016. While he has apparently been given a clean bill of health, can the potential of further ill health cause instability?
The issue of succession in Singapore has not been an open or straightforward process with pundits having predicted that Chan would take over the reins. Is it time to make the process more streamlined and clear? Clarity is after all the hallmark of stability.