Who will be the next PM after 2020? I hope by then, it won't matter so much

The past week has been rife with speculation as people waited to see who would be appointed to the new Cabinet, and to what portfolios.

When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the new Cabinet line-up on Monday (Sept 28), the news spread quickly through social media. Swift on its heels came analyses aplenty.

I followed the reports from a haze - literally, as the Pollutant Standards Index rose. I coughed - not only from the haze - when I read the startling analysis that said PM Lee was sidelining his two deputy PMs by stripping them of their portfolios (he elevated them to coordinating roles and handed over their Home Affairs and Finance portfolios to younger ministers).

I took part in many pleasant, speculative sessions with friends and work associates, discussing this minister, that minister; who said what, when; as we marinaded ourselves in that mix of information, insight, and gossip that makes for political conversation over dinner.

One friend said the key issue was who would be the next PM after Mr Lee. Would it be Mr Heng Swee Keat, who is the most experienced of the newer lot of ministers?

Or one from the 2011 batch like Mr Chan Chun Sing, with his razor-sharp brain and his instincts for the common man?

Or maybe one of the new candidates of ministerial calibre from the 2015 batch might prove himself to have the X-factor.

Mr Ong Ye Kung, who impressed many in the election campaign with his visionary, passionate rally speeches?

Or former chief of defence force Ng Chee Meng, with his equable demeanour belying the considerable organisational skills and stamina of the man who oversaw the massive state funeral arrangements and logistics in the mourning period after Mr Lee Kuan Yew died?

A left-field theory has it that Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be the next PM after Mr Lee, holding the fort till one of the fourth-generation candidates musters sufficient political support.

But perhaps who becomes the next PM is less important than the question of whether the new group leaders can all "shake down as a team", in the vivid words of PM Lee, who has said he hopes to have a new team in place to hand over the reins of leadership after the next election, which is due by 2020.

 

PM Lee said of the new Cabinet: "They have to be tested, learn the ropes, prove themselves, and shake down as a team. Increasingly they will carry the government's programme - initiating, explaining and executing policies, and persuading people to support these policies, which will increasingly be their policies."

I've been asked by various people who I think the next PM will be, and who I think would make a good future PM for Singapore.

Who will be the next PM? It all depends. No one can predict politics, or the mood of the people, or group dynamics. Your guess is as good as mine.

Who would make a good PM?

That depends so much on the kind of Singapore we become.

In this respect, it is my hope that we will become the kind of society that depends less and less on one man, and more and more on a group, and on institutions, and on its citizens.

PM Lee Kuan Yew was a tough leader not averse to "knocking heads" - in his own words - which was probably necessary for the founding era.

His successor PM Goh Chok Tong was more genial, although he played hardball in electoral politics.

PM Lee Hsien Loong is collegial, and appears to give his ministers quite free rein.

The next PM should be someone with vision to lead; who has the emotional energy and charisma to communicate and reach out incessantly to people; and, I would argue, with a nurturing, positive personality capable of getting the best from his colleagues in government. For, increasingly, it will not just be the PM who leads Singapore, but a team.

I hope, too, that our institutions evolve: that the executive, the legislature, judiciary, academia, media, are all strengthened to play a more robust role in Singapore's evolution.

Then, the question of who will be the next PM of Singapore will still matter, but will not be the arbiter of the nation's future - because there are many other people, and systems, keeping the country going.