There will be continuity regardless of who becomes next PM, says Chan Chun Sing

The front runners to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong include (from left) Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.
The front runners to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong include (from left) Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - 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 on Monday (Oct 30).

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 PM.

PM Lee Hsien Loong had said recently 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 the 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" that 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."

In a statement sent to the media past midnight on Tuesday (Oct 31), the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) took issue with a news report by Reuters about the dialogue, saying that the wire news agency had run "a fabricated headline alleging Minister Chan Chun Sing had said he is prepared to serve as PM".

Reuters had written that Mr Chan said "he is prepared to become next PM if called upon", the MCI said.

Refuting this, MCI said Mr Chan had been referring to the entire fourth generation leadership, and not to himself, when he said "all of us have to be prepared to do the job when called upon".

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

On Tuesday (Oct 31), the day after the MCI statement, Reuters amended its headline to read: "Singapore minister says he, and his colleagues, all prepared to become next PM if called upon".