16 'younger ministers' sign statement

The line-up of Singapore's fourth-generation leadership became clear yesterday when 16 "younger ministers" issued a joint statement saying they are working closely together as a team to pick a leader.

It is the first time this team has explicitly identified itself.

The 16 names represent the next generation of political leaders who will carry the baton for the ruling People's Action Party, a party insider familiar with Cabinet procedures told The Straits Times.

The statement is also meant to clearly indicate that the decision of selecting the next prime minister lies in the hands of these ministers, said the source who declined to be identified.

The 16 names are listed in alphabetical order in the statement, and all are ranked senior minister of state or above.

There were some noticeable names missing, such as Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min, 48, and Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, 52.

Some will wonder why, but their omission is unclear as yet. The source declined to comment on those who were not on the list.

Institute of Policy Studies' deputy director Gillian Koh said the statement sends the message that there is a "strong, attractive group of younger leaders with different talents, skills and qualities" in place, even if one were to remove the third-generation leaders from the Cabinet as a thought experiment.

The party source said that age is not a deciding factor for inclusion in this informal group of younger ministers.

Neither is the selection dependent on rank - ministers of state are also called to participate in the group's discussion on succession.

They do not meet regularly to discuss matters of succession as this younger caucus - as a subset of all Cabinet members - is not a formalised one.

When matters of the next prime minister are discussed, consensus can be easily reached because they function as a "cohesive group", the source said.

"The dynamic is not dissimilar to any other groups when it comes to picking a leader. Everyone roughly knows who among them will be the one," the source said.

He added that the statement was a clear response to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's earlier comment that the next prime minister needs to be identified by this year.

Political observer Mustafa Izzuddin said "the time is ripe" for the next leadership team led by a PM-designate to be made known to Singaporeans, adding that the selection of the next prime minister has traditionally been an internal matter that is seldom made public.

Setting out a timeline may be ESM Goh's way of putting pressure on the fourth-generation leaders, said former MP Inderjit Singh.

"As an elder statesman who was concerned about leadership transition in the past, he is the best person to raise the alarm if he feels things are not moving as desired," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2018, with the headline '16 'younger ministers' sign statement'. Print Edition | Subscribe