Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said earlier this month that he was “determined to hand over Singapore, intact and in good working order, to the next team.”
The question is hand over to who?
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat was supposed to be the chosen one but suddenly it is up in the air. There is all this talk now that Heng may not be the one after all. If someone else has to be anointed Prime Minister-designate, it would derail leadership transition.
PM Lee has said several times that he does not wish to continue beyond the age of 70. He is now 68. Time is not on his side. He is in danger of missing his target.
For some time now, Malaysia’s leadership woes have been the butt of jokes and ridicule. More than once, Goh Chok Tong has thrown shade at his former counterpart, Mahathir Mohamad. He said in a Facebook post five months ago:
“It is a privilege for a septuagenarian to bevable to enjoy nature and the simple pleasures of life, unlike nonagenarian Mahathir. We got our politics right and our planned political succession is proceeding smoothly.”
Wasn’t Goh being too smug about Singapore’s political succession proceeding smoothly?
Not only is succession an issue for the Pr me Minister, but it is also an issue for his wife Ho Ching, chief executive officer of Temasek Holdings.
More than a decade ago, Temasek attempted leadership transition. It failed at replacing Ho Ching with CEO-designate Charles “Chip” Goodyear back in 2009, who abruptly left after several months.
All we got was a terse statement from then-Chairman S Dhanabalan: “It is with much regret that both Chip and the Board have accepted that it is best not to proceed with the leadership transition. We wish Chip all the best in his future endeavours and are happy that Ho Ching has agreed to continue as Executive Director and CEO.”
It would appear that the Board is happy to this day that Ho Ching, now aged 67, “has agreed” to remain as CEO. A global search was reportedly carried out but it obviously came up empty.
It has been 16 years now since PM Lee and Ho Ching have been in their respective positions – and yet their successors are still ever so elusive. Given the paucity and performance of the 4G leadership, it is understandable why the political leadership transition has been stuttering. But for Ho Ching, it is hard to tell why a successor – whether from within or outside the organisation – is so elusive.
Will we see PM Lee mark his 20th year in office and Ho Ching celebrates her 20th anniversary as Temasek CEO, in four years’ time?
It would be quite a turnaround for a country that prides itself on unsentimental, no-nonsense leadership renewal.