The Straits Times says

Challenges of leadership renewal

The latest elevation of fourth-generation leaders - two becoming full ministers and four senior ministers of state - is part of earnest steps being taken to fortify the core team that is to lead Singaporeans into the future. All six are double-hatting, like several others in the team. Leadership grooming, it is felt, cannot be left to chance, as seen elsewhere. Here, the process has been institutionalised to the extent that Mr Goh Chok Tong talked about leadership succession barely five months after he was appointed prime minister. The pace of renewal has evolved over the years: It used to take an average of about nine years in politics to reach the Cabinet but this was later reduced to three years, leaving aside the few who rose fast to the top.

The time frame is not just a function of the demand for and supply of political talent. Other factors, like public expectations, play a part too - as was seen when the Cabinet was reshuffled significantly after the 2011 General Election, a move that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong referred to as "epochal". With Singapore now being at an important economic juncture, a sense of urgency is palpable. After all, the stakes are high, there is little room for serious error, and the clock is ticking - as Mr Lee has signalled he will step down soon after the next general election, due by early 2021.

Just as the mettle of pioneer leaders was shown in the way they dealt with the existential and defining issues facing the nation then, the fourth generation of leaders will have to prove themselves by successfully steering Singapore's bold restructuring efforts. That point was underscored by Mr Lee when he saw the challenge of transformation as "an opportunity for the younger ministers to work closely together as a team, strengthen their bonds with employers and unions, and with each other, and show Singaporeans what they can do". Much will hinge on how the new Future Economy Council - headed by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and supported by several fourth-generation leaders - shapes a brave new world of ever-evolving skills and rolling innovation.

This complex terrain will call for governance of a higher order. It is not just a humming economy, jobs for workers of all ages and an ageing population that will demand attention. The next Cabinet team must also heed evolving geostrategic trends and political shifts elsewhere, like the rise of populism, under which "structures of representative democracy are starting to buckle", say some commentators. As competing or conflicting demands arise, political skill will be needed to win support for policy trade-offs and to ensure none ride roughshod over valid minority interests in a majoritarian system. Alongside their command of complex, interlocking issues, it is the empathy younger leaders build with voters that will distinguish their stewardship of the nation's fortunes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2017, with the headline 'Challenges of leadership renewal'. Print Edition | Subscribe