More than one person among the fourth-generation leaders is qualified to be the next prime minister, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.
He also disclosed that he expects the one who is eventually picked for the top job to be made known before the next general election, due by 2021.
Now, it is incumbent on the team of 4G leaders to come to a consensus on who they want to lead, he said on the third day of debate on the President's Address.
Once they have decided, there is "no other option" but for the team to work together, complement one another's strengths and weaknesses, and take collective responsibility for decisions.
"To me, this working together is just as important, if not more important, than the question of who should be the next PM," he said. "Whoever becomes the next PM, the team has to work closely together for him to succeed. If they cannot or do not do so, the next PM will fail, whoever he is."
All of Singapore's prime ministers, from Mr Lee Kuan Yew to Mr Goh Chok Tong, and even himself, have worked with a talented core team of ministers whose views and advice they take seriously, he added. "All three of us were not sole leaders, but primus inter pares - that means first among equals - but the emphasis is equals, but just that we are the first among equals with our colleagues," he said, adding the ministers were not just there to "carry on orders".
"We have fierce arguments as to what to do, but we are on a team together, with strong enough bonds that we can deal with issues together, and there is leadership but it is unforced, it has to be unforced leadership that the team accepts, respects and knows that it has an important role to play."
The 4G leaders will similarly form such a team of stalwarts, added Mr Lee, and the recent Cabinet reshuffle has kick-started the process by putting them at the helm of two-thirds of all ministries.
But with the Prime Minister having indicated his wish to hand over the reins some time after the next general election, speculation has been rife about who will succeed him. Acknowledging people are anxious to know, he said: "These things take time. They cannot be forced."
He also said it would not be helpful to "treat this either as a horse race, or a campaign to lobby support for one or the other candidate".
Besides setting out their responsibilities, Mr Lee also had advice for the 4G ministers.
They should act as stewards of the country, rather than its manager, and certainly not its owner. He said he was happy to hear Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat describe this year's Budget as one that not only meets the needs of today's generation, but also accounts for the needs of future generations.
"It showed that the 4G ministers understood that their deepest responsibility is to be a steward of Singapore," said Mr Lee.
They should also keep faith with the past generations while being responsible to the present generation, and building the country for the future generations.
"We need new leaders for each generation, from each generation. Because each generation has its own challenges to tackle, and tough choices to make," he said.
Political analysts, commenting on the fact that there were still multiple contenders for prime minister now, said this is not a surprise, given that no new deputy prime minister was appointed in the recent Cabinet reshuffle.
Political observer Derek da Cunha wrote on Facebook that the general perception is that "no one among the identified members of the 4G team actually comes across as naturally prime ministerial". Given this, the team might have decided to give its chosen leader the time to build up his profile, he added.
However, Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan cautioned that "if they draw it out too long, it could raise doubts on whether this person has the support of his peers".