12 November 2017
What will the next Singaporean PM offer
Lee Hsien Loong has indicated he will step down as Prime Minister after the next election. Who will succeed him and what will this mean for Singapore?
By Oliver Ward
Lee Hsien Loong threw the hungry public a bone on who might succeed him as Prime Minister of Singapore. Lee, 65, revealed he would step down as Prime Minister before the age of 70, after the next election. He admitted in an interview that his successor would “very likely” be from the ministers already in his cabinet.
Who are the frontrunners?
Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean, 62, and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 60, are approaching Lee’s age themselves. This means the Deputy Prime Ministers are extremely unlikely to be in contention as his successor.
Recent cabinet reshuffles indicate the next prime minister comes from the fourth generation of Singaporean leadership. The frontrunners among this younger group are Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat and Ong Ye Kung.
In a recent interview, Chan Chun Sing predicted that no matter who becomes Prime Minister after Lee, there would be “business continuity” in Singapore. However, the three candidates have subtle differences in their approach.
Finance Minister, Heng Swee Keat, promoted a forward-looking budget for 2017. His budget included corporation tax rebates, additional Special Employment Credit and Wage Credit Scheme enhancements. This will give an extra S$1.4 billion (US$1 billion) to Singaporean businesses to explore new avenues of revenue and innovative business solutions.
Ong Ye Kung’s economic plan instead focuses on improved ties and coordination between agencies to help bring innovative ideas to fruition. He believes public servants have the responsibility to enable new activities rather than impose stifling regulation and red tape…
Chan has used his position as secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to boost Singapore’s economy through wage increases and better support for professionals, managers and executives (PMEs)…
The succession of Lee Hsien Loong by Ong Ye Kung would perhaps offer the most continuity. Ong served Lee personally from 1997 to 2005, first as press secretary, then as his principal private secretary.
Chan Chun Sing is the most likely choice
The early frontrunner for succession is Chan Chun Sing. When Lee moved him to the NTUC in 2015, it was a strong suggestion that he wanted Chan to play a stronger role in domestic politics. Since then he has also expanded his activities in external affairs. Chan visited several Chinese cities alone in September 2017 in preparation for Lee’s trip to Beijing.
4 November 2017
Why Singaporeans are anxious to know who will replace Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Accustomed to knowing well in advance who will be their next leader, many in the Lion City are wondering why there is still no sign with only five years to go before Lee retires
The current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has set 2022 as the year he will retire. Lee, 65 and in power since 2004, has for some years voiced his wish to stand down before he turns 70. He repeated that hope in a CNBC interview last month, and further raised eyebrows among the chattering classes because of a suggestion that he might even bring forward the handover date.
Asked by CNBC whether he was ready to step down in the next couple of years, Lee replied in the affirmative but added the caveat he needed to make sure “somebody is ready to take over from me”. However, he has given away few clues about whom that might be.
Lee has acknowledged that the run-up period for succession has shrunk significantly, but insists he will not jump the gun and handpick his successor. He has maintained that the fourth prime minister will be picked the same way he and Goh were selected: the sitting premier stays out of the succession process, and gives that responsibility to younger ministers who choose one among themselves as the first among equals.
The most that can be said is that the field may have narrowed. The Straits Times, which rarely strays from the official narrative, last week ran a picture of three ministers with the label “front runners”: Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat and Ong Ye Kung.
Meanwhile, with a dearth of clues on the succession in the public domain, Singaporean palace politics watchers have little choice but to wait for the next milestone in the process – the elevation of a minister to the post of deputy prime minister.
Lee Hsien Loong has said he would carry out a major cabinet shake up some time next year, likely after the budget debate wraps up in March. In the CNBC interview, Lee said the “4G” team was likely to come to a consensus on their new leader “in time”.
But “it cannot be a very long time because the clock ticks and waits for no man,” he said. ■