A strong, united people can overcome challenges

The appointment of the new Cabinet after the 2015 General Election is an important first step to prepare a new generation of leaders, including the one taking over the crucial post of prime minister ("'Steady hands and fresh perspectives' in new Cabinet"; last Friday).

However, Singaporeans should bear in mind that the leadership transition process is never an easy task, particularly for this round, with a considerably shorter timeframe.

Although the potential new leaders are people with distinguished credentials, they have not been tested yet in real crisis situations, such as the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak or the 1998 Asian financial crisis.

Leadership in crisis situations is very different from leadership under normal conditions.

This batch of new leaders has a shorter time for transition, so the chances they have of facing and managing a real crisis prior to having power handed over to them are much lower.

To mitigate this, it is probably safer to emphasise collective leadership for the new generation when facing a pressing situation. Thus, building a cohesive team with the right mix of chemistry is essential.

Most importantly, to prepare for a crisis, Singaporeans need to instil in themselves social discipline, resilience and unity.

An inspiring recent example can be seen in how the Japanese people rode through the grim Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 ("MM Lee praises Japanese response to nuclear crisis"; May 17, 2011).

Besides competent political leadership, the most effective asset for a nation to overcome unprecedented challenges is the quality of its population.

Edmund Lam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'A strong, united people can overcome challenges'. Print Edition | Subscribe