Succession planning for S'pore leadership under way: PM

PM Lee (second from left) meeting editors of the Asia News Network at the Istana on Tuesday for an hour-long dialogue which was moderated by Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez (third from left). -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI 
PM Lee (second from left) meeting editors of the Asia News Network at the Istana on Tuesday for an hour-long dialogue which was moderated by Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez (third from left). -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI 

Succession planning for Singapore's top political leadership is well under way, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr Lee, who is 62 this year, said he is making sure a new team, with new leaders capable of taking charge of the country, is ready.

His goal is to ensure the country continues to thrive after he is no longer the prime minister, he said at a dialogue with regional media editors at the Istana.

"In Singapore, we pay a lot of attention to succession planning and making sure we have a new team ready and new leaders who are capable of taking charge, so that the country can move ahead and the leaders can be in sync with the country," he said.

Mr Lee noted that he had brought in more than 20 new Members of Parliament in the 2011 General Election, several of whom are Cabinet members and are "doing well and moving into more responsible positions".

The four Cabinet members who entered politics in 2011 are Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and Acting Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong.

"I hope they continue to do well and mature and grow in their responsibilities and in their understanding of Singapore," he said.

He also hopes Singaporeans will grow to accept their leadership.

Mr Lee had been asked by a Malaysian editor how long he planned to stay as Singapore's leader, as the era of long tenureship of prime ministers seemed to be over in South-east Asia.

"I think leaders stay as long as they are able to make a contribution. If they stay beyond that, then they have overstayed their welcome," he replied.

"I can't say exactly how long I'm staying but I'm 62 years old and that's not young," he added.

In 2012, he said in an interview that he hoped not to continue as prime minister beyond the age of 70.

When asked what key qualities he would look for in Singapore's leaders, Mr Lee said: "You must be quite clear what Singapore's interests are, and you must be able to persuade people that this is what we need to do together. People have to be willing to go with you and to say yes, I trust him, I (will) work with him."

Asked if he thought Singapore would still be all right if he were to retire as PM tomorrow, he replied: "That is the objective."

Responding to a question on how Singapore had rapidly developed into a global city, Mr Lee said it was very important for Singaporeans to have roots and a sense of belonging in the country.

"That's something we are working at because we are a country... you need to make sure that Singaporeans feel like that and are confident of their position in this society, which they have every reason to be."

charyong@sph.com.sg

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