Singapore

4G ministers says they will pick a leader 'in good time'

PAP's fourth-generation leadership team members release first joint comment on succession; Ong Ye Kung has someone in mind

In their first joint comment on the issue of succession, the ruling People's Action Party's fourth-generation leadership team members said they would pick a leader among themselves "in good time".

The 16 office-holders were responding yesterday to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's call on Sunday for the team to do so in six to nine months.

One of those in the running to become Singapore's fourth prime minister, Mr Ong Ye Kung, told The Straits Times he has already made his choice of who he thought should lead but added that it would be inappropriate to put himself forward.

In an interview earlier this week, the Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) said: "I am shaping up in my mind someone who can be the leader among us."

The 48-year-old declined to name the person he has in mind, but when asked if ministers can nominate themselves, he replied: "That doesn't sound like it is in the right spirit."

As to how he decided on the person he intends to support, Mr Ong said he considered the person's conviction and ability to drive long-term important policy, as well as public and party support for the person.

Observers said Mr Ong is still in the race in spite of his comments, as the others in his cohort could pick him. It is too early to rule out any of the three front runners, they added.

IN CONTENTION

Apart from Mr Ong, the two other ministers tipped to be in contention for the job are Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 56, and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, 48. Both declined to comment when contacted earlier this week.

Yesterday, the fourth-generation team issued a statement saying they are aware that the question is an urgent one.

It said: "Political stability has been the hallmark of Singapore and smooth leadership succession has instilled confidence amongst Singaporeans and our friends around the world.

"The younger ministers are keenly aware leadership succession is a pressing issue and that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong intends to step down after the next general election. We are conscious of our responsibility, are working closely together as a team, and will settle on a leader from amongst us in good time."

The statement was signed in alphabetical order by the group, including the three front runners.

It gives, for the first time, an indication of those in the cohort that will decide the next prime minister.

Their statement came as interest in Singapore's political leadership succession was piqued by Mr Goh's Facebook post on New Year's Eve. He said he hopes Mr Lee can formally designate his potential successor before this year's end.

PRESSURE

It is the first time a senior figure from the PAP has publicly stated a timeline.

Some party insiders believe Mr Goh's time frame is partly a bid to pressure the younger leaders to come to a consensus.

Mr Lee has said he intends to hand over the reins to a successor by the time he turns 70, in 2022. This means the next prime minister will have the shortest run-up phase.

Mr Lee was deputy prime minister for 14 years, while Mr Goh spent five years as first deputy prime minister.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo told The Straits Times earlier this week that there is "nothing unexpected" about Mr Goh's comment.

She said the process of choosing a new prime minister has not changed, with the fourth-generation ministers choosing one among them to lead.

"It is a tested process; it has worked well for us. It ensures there is a strong team in place, so I think that is indeed what will happen," she said.

Mrs Teo said Singaporeans have to wait until after Parliament opens in May with a President's Address - for further developments on the leadership succession front.

Mr Lee has said he will prorogue Parliament this year.

"The President is making her inaugural address. We have to give due respect to the importance of the occasion,' said Mrs Teo.

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