The People’s Action Party (PAP)’s planned power transfers is “antithetical to democratic systems”, says Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan in a Facebook post on Monday (12 Apr).
Commenting on the ruling party’s change in succession plans following Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s announcement on Thursday (8 Apr) that he will not be running for the Prime Minister position, Dr Chee said that the PAP’s “highly engineered method of finding a new leader reminds one of the clunky political systems that are better suited to old-world politics where the staid and uninspired take centre stage”.
“Systems like the erstwhile Soviet Union which saw the political baton pass from Khrushchev to Brezhnev to Andropov to Chernenko to Gorbachev produced leaders whose political thought were as different as shades of grey.
“Such planned power transfers are, however, antithetical to democratic systems. This is because leaders emerge – through suasion – from the rightness and imperativeness of their cause. They are not anointed by their predecessors which often means that fealty to party overrides commitment to the country,” he said.
In truly democratic systems where “power resides in the people”, however, “vision and capability trump gender, race and age”, said Dr Chee.
“This is why New Zealand elected a female prime minister whose compassionate, competent and visionary leadership has endeared her to beyond Kiwi land; why London voted for a Muslim of Pakistani descent as its mayor who, by all counts, remains popular with the electorate; why Taiwan plumbed for a female president whose progressive and compassionate policies are embraced by the people; and why the US elected a septuagenarian as a president who, despite his age, is performing competently and whose approval-ratings remain high,” he elaborated.
In Singapore, however, the path of leadership renewal is guided by “a narrative framed by the PAP so that previous leaders can protect their own legacy and interests by gripping status quo”, said Dr Chee.
The country, he said, has to “contend with a group of self-proclaimed “exceptionals” whose vision for the country is wrung from decades of withering groupthink”.
“Their topmost concern seems to be how to prolong their own grip on power regardless of how times and circumstances change. To expect them to evolve with the people and imagine a free, inclusive and democratic Singapore is to indulge in flights of fancy,” said Dr Chee.
Singaporeans, he opined, “are reduced to hoping for an administrator who is a little more personable here or a wee bit more articulate there”.
“In the meantime, policies that continue to endanger our country’s progress are still intractably in place.
“The faster and clearer we can see through this PAP-speak and -thought, the quicker Singapore can find a leader worthy and capable of forging a bigger and brighter future for this nation,” said Dr Chee.
Mr Heng last week said that he will also be relinquishing his role as the Finance Minister due to his age and fear that he cannot fulfil the exceptional demands of the job.
In a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, said that he would have “too short of a runway” to become the next Prime Minister as he would be in his mid-60s when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
“But when I also consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then.
“We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-COVID-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building effort,” he wrote.
In his reply to Mr Heng, PM Lee who is currently 69, said he understood and respected Mr Heng’s decision, and was glad that he has agreed to stay in the Cabinet.
Separately, the next generation of leaders — the fourth-generation (4G) leadership — said in a statement that they would “need more time to select another leader from among us” given their priority to handle the country’s pressing immediate challenges and ensure that Singapore emerges stronger from the COVID-19 crisis.
“We have therefore requested PM Lee Hsien Loong to stay on as Prime Minister until such time when a new successor is chosen by the team and is ready to take over. We are grateful that PM has agreed to our request,” it noted.