ESM Goh Chok Tong says settling 4G leadership an urgent challenge, hopes next PM can be designated 'before 2018 ends'

Writing in a Facebook post on the last day of 2017, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said the issue of the fourth-generation leadership is "one urgent challenge I would like to see settled". PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong has sketched out what he hopes would be a timeline for the formal designation of the next prime minister - the first time a senior figure from the People's Action Party (PAP) has done so.

According to this timeline, Singaporeans could know who their next leader is before 2018 is over.

Writing in a Facebook post on the last day of 2017, he said the issue of the fourth-generation leadership is "one urgent challenge I would like to see settled".

He added: "Every succession is different, but one thing remains the same: each cohort will have to pick one amongst themselves to lead, and support him.

"I hope the current cohort will do so in 6 to 9 months' time. Then PM (Lee Hsien Loong) can formally designate their choice as his potential successor before 2018 ends."

Mr Lee has said he hopes to hand over the reins of government to the next leader by the time he is 70, in 2022.

Observers say there are just three Cabinet ministers left in the race to be the next PM - Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat, labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, and Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

The front runners to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong are (from left) Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat and Ong Ye Kung. PHOTOS: ST FILE

If one of the three is formally designated Mr Lee's successor, he could be appointed Deputy Prime Minister or First Deputy Prime Minister, as has happened in past successions.

This appointment could happen during the major Cabinet reshuffle that Mr Lee has said will take place in 2018.

There have only been two PM successions since Singapore's independence, and Mr Goh was involved in both. In 1990, he took over as PM from founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. In 2004, he handed over to current PM Lee Hsien Loong.

Writing about the task the fourth-generation leadership faces, Mr Goh added in his post: "Whoever is chosen, the team will have to work together, bring in others, and gel to form a cohesive fourth generation Cabinet. They must write a new inspiring chapter for Singapore, be courageous to make difficult decisions, stand tall with integrity, and earn the respect and trust of Singaporeans and the world at large.

"This is my wish for the new year - a Singapore in good hands, a Singapore that all of us build together."

Turning to his own plans for 2018, Mr Goh said he will be helping organisations that serve vulnerable Singaporeans, especially people with special needs.

"I am also focused on a few projects to make Marine Parade a complete home for all ages," he added.

Mr Goh posted the message along with a seaside photo of a sunset, and commented on the rainy end to the year.

He wrote: "2017 did not end with the glorious sunset I had hoped but 2018 offers a fresh start. Even though the weather is wet and gloomy, let us usher in the new year with optimism and sunshine smiles.

"We need to be in good spirits to tackle the pressing and longer term challenges for Singapore."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.