Later entry into politics has advantages

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking to the media during the press conference on the early morning of Sept 12, 2015.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking to the media during the press conference on the early morning of Sept 12, 2015. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Last Sunday's commentary implied that the relatively late entry of the fourth-generation leaders into politics may be disadvantageous for Singapore's leadership renewal ("Faster succession 'likely the new norm' ").

References were made to the long experience both Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had in political office before rising to the premiership.

On the contrary, there are advantages to our ministers entering the political arena later in life.

In Singapore's political technocracy, the difference between political office-holders and the administrators who support them is much narrower than in most other countries.

Here, office-holders are largely drawn from the military and the civil service, and have, for years, worked closely with government ministers in critical posts.

The third-generation leaders have had a long time to assess the six office-holders widely considered as the core of the next team and from among whom our next prime minister is likely to be drawn: Mr Heng Swee Keat, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Mr Lawrence Wong, Mr Ng Chee Meng and Mr Ong Ye Kung.

They have been assessed on their intelligence, efficiency, leadership ability, success in operational and staff postings, and people skills for years, and even decades, before they were invited to run for Parliament.

For the individuals themselves, a later entry into politics is also an advantage. They have made their decisions at a more mature stage of life, when they are more likely to be sure of their choice and can give it full commitment.

Is it not better to assess potential ministers before they take on the actual jobs and, possibly, make poor decisions that can have long-term consequences?

If faster succession of government leaders is indeed the new norm because of their entry into politics at a more mature age, I hope it becomes the preferred model.

Tan Soon Meng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 11, 2015, with the headline 'Later entry into politics has advantages'. Print Edition | Subscribe