Singapore's 4G team to pick leader 'in good time'

Ong Ye Kung says he has someone in mind but observers say he is still one of 3 front runners

(From left) Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing and Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung are widely regarded as those who are in contention for the job of Singapore's next prime minister. PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, PMO, LIM YAOHUI

In their first joint comment on the issue of succession, the ruling People's Action Party's fourth-generation leadership team members said they would pick a leader among themselves "in good time".

The 16 office-holders were responding yesterday to Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's call on Sunday for the team to do so in six to nine months.

One of those in the running to become Singapore's fourth prime minister, Mr Ong Ye Kung, told The Straits Times that he has already made his choice of whom he thought should lead, but added that it would be inappropriate to put oneself forward.

In an interview earlier this week, the Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) said: "I am shaping up in my mind someone who can be the leader among us.''

The 48-year-old declined to name the person he has in mind, but when asked if ministers can nominate themselves, replied: "That doesn't sound like it is in the right spirit."

As to how he decided on the person he intends to support, Mr Ong said he considered the person's conviction and ability to drive long-term, important policy, as well as public and party support for the person.

Observers said that Mr Ong is still in the race despite his comments, as the others in his cohort could pick him. It is too early to rule out any of the three front runners, they added.

Apart from Mr Ong, the two other ministers tipped to be in contention for the job are Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 56, and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, 48.

Both declined to comment when contacted earlier this week.

Yesterday, the 4G team issued a statement saying they are aware that the question is an urgent one.

"Political stability has been the hallmark of Singapore and smooth leadership succession has instilled confidence amongst Singaporeans and our friends around the world.

"The younger ministers are keenly aware leadership succession is a pressing issue and that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong intends to step down after the next general election. We are conscious of our responsibility, are working closely together as a team and will settle on a leader from amongst us in good time."

The statement was signed in alphabetical order by the group, including the three front runners. It gives for the first time an indication of those in the cohort that will decide the next prime minister.

The statement came as interest in Singapore's political leadership succession was piqued by ESM Goh's Facebook post on New Year's Eve. Mr Goh said he hopes PM Lee can formally designate his potential successor before the year's end.

It is the first time a senior figure from the PAP has publicly stated a timeline. Some party insiders believe Mr Goh's timeframe is partly a bid to pressure the younger leaders to come to a consensus. PM Lee has said he intends to hand over the reins of government to a successor by the time he turns 70, in 2022.

This means the next prime minister will have the shortest run-up phase. PM Lee was deputy prime minister for 14 years, while Mr Goh spent five years as first deputy prime minister.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo told The Straits Times earlier this week that there is "nothing unexpected" about Mr Goh's comment.

She said the process of choosing a new PM has not changed, with the fourth-generation ministers choosing one among them to lead.

"It is a tested process, it has worked well for us. It ensures there is a strong team in place, so I think that is indeed what will happen."

She added that Singaporeans have to wait until after Parliament opens in May with a President's Address, for further developments on the leadership succession front.

Mr Lee has said he will prorogue Parliament this year.

"The President is making her inaugural address, we have to give due respect to the importance of the occasion," said Mrs Teo.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2018, with the headline Singapore's 4G team to pick leader 'in good time'. Subscribe