Foreign Correspondents Association dialogue with Chan Chun Sing

'Business continuity' no matter who's next PM

No matter who becomes the next prime minister from the team of fourth-generation leaders, there will be "business continuity" in Singapore, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

This is because the overall set of policies would have been "thought through by the team, carried by the team, owned by the team", said Mr Chan, one of the leading prospects for the post.

Factors such as personality and style make a difference "at the margins", but they do not affect the country's overall policy direction, he added.

"You are not going to expect that if Person A becomes the prime minister (instead of) Person B, the direction is going to be so diametrically opposite as to cause a huge discontinuity or disruption."

He also said the members of the current fourth-generation team can cover each other as their strengths and weaknesses overlap, "as in playing football".

Mr Chan was speaking at a dialogue with members of the Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA), during which he was asked for his views on the next prime minister.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said recently that the next PM is likely to be in the current Cabinet.

Those seen as front runners for the top job include Mr Chan, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

When FCA president Sharanjit Leyl of BBC asked him point blank: "Would you like the job?", Mr Chan said: "All of us have to be prepared to do the job when called upon."

Repeating a quote by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, he said: "'In Singapore, leadership is a responsibility to be borne, not a position to be sought.' You might think that we sound very cliche but I think I can speak for my fellow colleagues that we all believe in this."

He added: "We all are where we are because of what the Singapore system has given us... But all of us know that when called upon, we must not shirk from our responsibility."

The "bigger challenge" Singapore should focus on, he added, is not the fourth generation of leaders, but whether younger people beyond the fourth generation will step into politics.

He said: "If the country is at war, there's an epidemic, there's a famine, there's a recession, the whole place is upside down, maybe you will have people who are very passionate who will come forth, sacrifice their personal aspirations, family and so forth, to govern the country, very much like the 1965 generation.

"But it is a fact that in every successful country, the more successful you are, the more difficult it is to find people... to come forth to serve, over and beyond what they want to do for themselves."

Last night, the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said the Reuters wire agency "ran a fabricated headline alleging Minister Chan Chun Sing had said he is prepared to serve as PM".

Reuters claimed Mr Chan said "he is prepared to become next PM if called upon".

Mr Chan had in fact said: "All of us have to be prepared to do the job when called upon." He was referring to the entire fourth-generation leadership, and not to himself, said MCI.

The ministry statement added: "It is irresponsible of a wire agency like Reuters to fabricate quotes like this".

Elgin Toh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline ''Business continuity' no matter who's next PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe