As Singapore undergoes a significant generational change, it needs a new leadership with fresh solutions to challenges ahead, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
And the fourth-generation ministers are ready for the task, he said, outlining key issues the country faces, which span geopolitical uncertainties and stalling social mobility. Within the team, there is more than one qualified candidate who can be the next prime minister, said PM Lee. This person will emerge before the general election due by 2021.
Yesterday, he acknowledged the widespread concern over the question of who the next leader will be.
“I know everyone is anxious to know who the next PM will be,” he said. But the person must command his team’s respect and enjoy the masses’ support, he noted.
“These things take time; they cannot be forced. I do not believe we are ready to settle on a choice yet.”
What is more crucial is for the younger ministers to win the trust of Singaporeans as a team, he said in Parliament, on the third day of debate on the President’s Address.
“Without trust, the Government can’t govern. It won’t dare to do painful but necessary things.”
PM Lee to meet Mahathir
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in Parliament yesterday that he plans to visit Malaysia on Saturday to meet his counterpart Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“I will tell him that I look forward to working with him again for mutual benefit,” he said, adding that Singapore and Malaysia had completed joint projects such as the Second Link in Tuas when Dr Mahathir was prime minister from 1981 to 2003.
Dr Mahathir now heads the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, which came into power after the May 9 general election.
He has said he will hand over power to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the PH coalition of political parties. Yesterday, Mr Anwar was given a pardon and freed from prison.
PM Lee said he knows Mr Anwar well, “because he was my counterpart when I was deputy prime minister”.
This is particularly so given looming challenges for the country.
In an hour-long speech, PM Lee set out the challenges that Singapore faces and what he saw as the 4G leaders’ responsibilities.
They will need to reinvent and grow the economy amid an uncertain external environment. For one thing, the relationship between the United States and China would affect Singapore, whether the two are in conflict or whether they decide to divide up the world between them and set their own rules.
At home, the task of sustaining social mobility has become more urgent as society matures. “We want Singapore society to maintain an informal and egalitarian tone, where people interact freely and comfortably as equals, and there are no rigid class distinctions or barriers that keep good people down,” PM Lee said, describing this as essential for meritocracy to work.
In a pointed message to the elite, he said they should never keep out from their networks those with talent or ability, but who lack the right background and connections.
This prompted opposition veteran Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) to ask if there is already a “political elite class” in Singapore. He observed that many from the 4G team – in particular, the three men viewed as front runners for prime minister – were from the Singapore Armed Forces or civil service.
Among the trio, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung were from the Administrative Service, while Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing was chief of army.
To this, PM Lee said Mr Low had just demonstrated how not to approach the issue, as he had focused on the candidates’ backgrounds instead of their contributions.
“Is it bad to come from the civil service or the SAF? No. Is it necessary to come from there? No.
“So, we are looking for people wherever we can find them, to bring in, to form a Singapore team. The stronger this team is, the harder I make Mr Low’s job. I cannot help it,” he said, to laughter.
Rounding off, PM Lee, 66, who has said he wants to step down by the time he is 70, said he was confident Singapore would be “in the hands of good stewards” when it comes time for him to hand over.
“Can the next generation of leaders build on our shared experiences of 50 years, and maintain the sense of collective mission? Can they work to improve the lives of all Singaporeans, and not the interests of narrow groups, so that they pass on an even stronger, more united Singapore?” he said.
“I think they can.”