He has spent years talking up the capabilities of the 4G leadership and urging Singaporeans to give them our fullest support. Yet Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is now putting leadership transition on hold indefinitely.
He is unlikely to achieve his target of stepping down by the time he turns 70. Asked about his plans, the 68-year-old said last week: “I had expressed the hope that I would be able to hand over by the time I celebrate my 70th birthday. But I do not determine the path of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will also depend on how events unfold.”
So it’s now out of the Prime Minister’s hands. The virus is the one calling the shots. The virus determines when 3G hands over to 4G. Since it is expected to be around for the long haul, the process could be long and winding.
Goh Chok Tong became PM at 49, Lee Hsien Loong at 52. PM-in-waiting Heng Swee Keat is already 59. If he and the 4G team are not ready now, when will they ever be ready?
If PM Lee stays on until the next general election, he will be 73 – well past his target of stepping down by 70. Heng will be 64, primed to serve one, at most two terms. Is that true leadership renewal?
COVID-19 has become the be all and end all. Asked why quite a number of older ministers have been retained for the new cabinet, PM Lee pointed to the virus, saying experienced ministers are needed for continuity and “in this crisis, this need is even greater.”
The government had also earlier claimed it urgently needed a fresh mandate to steer Singapore through COVID-19. And during campaigning for GE2020, the rallying cry was that the People’s Action Party needed a strong mandate to overcome COVID-19.
In short, COVID-19 is responsible for recession and retrenchments, for seeking fresh mandate, for seeking strong mandate, for continuity with older ministers, for setting back leadership renewal, for keeping PM Lee longer on the job, for preventing the 4G team from taking over.
Since they cannot defeat COVID-19, they might as well make it the culprit for just about everything.