Much has been recently made about succession plans in Singapore’s Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led Government. While Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (Lee) had previously indicated that he intended to retire by his 70th birthday, this was the pre-COVID-19 pandemic plan. Post pandemic, Lee has given hints that his retirement will be delayed in order to see the country through this health and economic crisis.
Senior PAP stalwarts have also chimed in to hammer home the same message of a delayed succession plan. Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean (Teo) was the first, saying that “when you are sailing into a storm, you want to be certain who your captain is, and that he will not be changed halfway…..You want to make sure that he is there – together with you, working with you, guiding you through the storm.” Presumably, the captain is Lee and the storm is COVID-19.
More recently, former Senior Minister S Jayakumar (Jayakumar) also said in an interview while plugging his new book, that he was glad that Lee had given himself some flexibility on the succession timeline. He said that “however capable the 4G leaders, we should not change horses in midstream”.
Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (Goh) was also quick to jump onto the bandwagon, noting on social media that the current crisis reminded him of the proverb: “Don’t change horses in mid-stream”.
The PAP does not have a reputation for encouraging lone wolves or loose cannons. Every public communication will therefore likely be curated and agreed beforehand to send out a united front. In view of this, there is no coincidence to Teo, Jayakumar and Goh’s messaging.
Without knocking the message, the question still remains as to who has made the decision that it is in everyone’s best interest for there to be no change in leadership?
In any given crisis, there can be two schools of thought. One school will be of the view that because a particular crisis occurred under the watch of the given leader, that leader should go to make way for fresh leadership. The other school of thought will be what Goh, Jayakumar and Teo are advocating.
Yet, are the trio performing the role of advisors imparting wisdom or are they paving the way for the announcement of a decision that has already been made? In other words. are Goh, Jayakumar and Teo merely presenting the “already made” decision that Lee should stay on as fait accompli?
If the latter, who is the unseen hand that made the decision? Who is that intimate individual or group that holds the highest decision making powers of the land? As stakeholders, doesn’t the public deserve to know how and who makes such decisions? Shouldn’t something as important as this be at least voted upon within the PAP?
People talk about needing checks and balances within Government so that the PAP cannot “ownself check ownself”. But within the PAP itself, are there checks and balances? Clearly, not all are equal within the party – so whose decision ranks supreme? Has Lee unilaterally decided that he should stay? Did he seek counsel from anyone else within the party? If so, who?
In addition, does this mean that the 4G leadership are far from ready to take power? While Jayakumar has tried to say that this is not the case, it remains a fact that Lee feels (for whatever reason) that the timing is not right to relinquish power. It is also noteworthy that 4G leaders like Lawrence Wong and Josephine Teo had both (on separate occasions) appeared teary-eyed in public, giving the impression that the pressure has gotten to them.
The decision for Lee to stay might well be right. Be that as it may, the public still needs to be told of why and how the decision is reached. Last I checked, Singapore is not supposed to be a dictatorship.