Parliament: Ask not who next PM will be, but whether 4G team is ready to take over, says Cheng Li Hui

Clockwise from top left: Chan Chun Sing, Grace Fu, Heng Swee Keat, S. Iswaran, Desmond Lee, Lawrence Wong, Josephine Teo, Ong Ye Kung, Ng Chee Meng and Masagos Zulkifli.
Clockwise from top left: Chan Chun Sing, Grace Fu, Heng Swee Keat, S. Iswaran, Desmond Lee, Lawrence Wong, Josephine Teo, Ong Ye Kung, Ng Chee Meng and Masagos Zulkifli. PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The issue of leadership succession has cropped up for the first time in this year's Budget debate, with Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) expressing confidence that Singapore has "a strong team to take us forward".

The question of who will be Singapore's next Prime Minister has been the subject of much talk, from board rooms to coffee shops, she said.

While Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, and all 16 members of the fourth generation (4G) team have all weighed in on the issue, this has not cleared the air but led people to "read the tea leaves and speculate even further", said Ms Cheng.

"I think they are all asking the wrong question," she said during her speech on the second day of the Budget debate on Wednesday (Feb 28).

"We should ask ourselves, is the team ready to take over?" she said, noting that succession plans - which have been in the works - are not just about one man or woman.

Taking the example of Budget 2018, delivered by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, one of the front runners to be the next prime minister, she said this was a team effort.

The Budget did not touch on leadership succession, said Ms Cheng.

"However, the Finance Minister has said in an interview with The Straits Times on Feb 20 that the Budget 2018 is a team effort involving the whole of the Government," she said. "He has consulted the 4G ministers, who have backed the Budget, including the GST (Goods and Services Tax) increase," she added.

And it is this team which will have to implement the difficult decision and follow through with other tough steps in the future, she said.

Ms Cheng said: "I believe we have a strong team to take us forward. It is a team that is prepared to take difficult decisions, and to take a long term view."

"Leadership succession is in place, and I'm confident that we are in good hands," she said.

Her remarks come a day after PM Lee said he will reshuffle the Cabinet after Parliament prorogues to give younger ministers more exposure and responsibility. It will also ensure that his successor will be supported by a stronger and more experienced team.

Mr Lee had previously said no new deputy prime ministers will be appointed in the reshuffle,suggesting that no clear front runners will be made known to the public after it.

The issue of leadership succession came to the fore last December, when ESM Goh said he hoped the younger ministers will choose their leader in the first six to nine months of this year, and that this person can be made prime minister-designate within 2018.

In response, Mr Lee said last month: "My assessment is, it probably will take a little bit longer."

ESM Goh's comments also prompted a team of 16 4G office-holders to issue a statement last month saying they would pick a leader among themselves "in good time".