Singapore

More than one qualified prime minister candidate: PM Lee

PM Lee: Success of next PM dependent on core team of advisers

More than one person among the fourth-generation (4G) leaders are qualified to be the next prime minister, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He also disclosed that he expects the one who is eventually picked for the top job to be made known before the next general election, due by 2021.

Now, it is incumbent on the team of 4G leaders to come to a consensus on who they want to lead, he said on the third day of debate on the President's Address.

Once they have chosen, there is "no other option" but for the team to work together, complement each other's strengths and weaknesses and take collective responsibility for decisions.

"To me, this working together is just as important, if not more important, than the question of who should be the next PM," he said.

"Whoever becomes the next PM, the team has to work closely together for him to succeed. If they cannot or do not do so, the next PM will fail, whoever he is."

All of Singapore's prime ministers, from Mr Lee Kuan Yew to Mr Goh Chok Tong, have worked with a talented core team of ministers whose advice they take seriously, he added.

"All three of us were not sole leaders, but primus inter pares - that means first among equals - but the emphasis is equals, but just that we are the first among equals with our colleagues," he said.

The 4G leaders will similarly form such a team of stalwarts, added Mr Lee, and the recent Cabinet reshuffle has kick-started the process by putting them at the helm of two-thirds of all ministries.

But with Mr Lee having indicated his wish to hand over the reins some time after the next general election, speculation has been rife about who will succeed him.

NOT A 'HORSE RACE'

Acknowledging that people are anxious to know, he said: "These things take time. They cannot be forced."

He also said it would not be helpful to "treat this either as a horse race, or a campaign to lobby support for one or the other candidate".

Besides setting out their responsibilities, Mr Lee also had advice for the 4G ministers.

They should act as stewards of the country, rather than its manager, and certainly not its owner.

They should also keep faith with the past generations while being responsible to the present generation, and building the country for the future generations.

"We need new leaders for each generation, from each generation. Because each generation has its own challenges to tackle, and tough choices to make," he said.

Responding to Workers' Party MP Low Thia Khiang's question of whether there is a political elite class in Singapore, Mr Lee said that, when evaluating a political leader, people should look at his contributions, strengths and flaws.

"They should not be asking about where he comes from or who his parents are," he added.

Mr Low (Aljunied GRC) had observed that many in the 4G leadership team - especially the three men widely viewed as front runners to be the next prime minister - were from the civil service or the armed forces.

Singapore Politics