The People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) team should be given an opportunity to relook the question of succession holistically, now that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has stepped aside as their leader, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.
This is because the process goes beyond a ranking of the available candidates to choosing a leader best able to ensure the team can be greater than the sum of its parts, PAP leaders emphasised.
Mr Chan was responding at a media conference on whether he was next in line for succession, given that Mr Heng had chosen him as his deputy and his role in the party as second assistant secretary-general.
After the 4G team picked Mr Heng, he asked Mr Chan to be his deputy, saying the former army chief has many strengths and would complement him very well.
Yesterday, Mr Heng, who turns 60 next week, said his decision to step aside would pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong retires.
Mr Chan said a collective decision on the next 4G leader would be made in due course, and added: "Our leadership succession plans go beyond just choosing a leader… It is always about finding and forming the strongest team possible... so that Singapore has the best chance to defy the odds of history, to not only survive, but to thrive."
Asked if there were any candidates and front runners for the 4G leadership, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said it was not a race to choose a single winner.
The PAP way, said Mr Ong, is to fundamentally look at how the leadership team can work together and support one another.
"There is always a tendency to look at succession planning in terms of a race; who is in front, who is behind, who overtook who, what is the relative competitive position of each individual," he said.
"When it is a race, you only have one winner at the end, standing on the podium with a medal around his or her neck.
"If (it is) a team, we fight heart and soul on the field, and if we win, we have a trophy for the nation. And in that winning team, you will have a captain that can bring out the best of everybody.
"So, that process of developing a strong team and rallying around the first-among-equals leader takes some time. What we have just learnt is a big change, a big reconfiguration. So, we seek your understanding and support to give us some time to regroup."
Mr Ong added that the 4G team is "very aware, very conscious of the urgency and seriousness" of picking their new leader.
Mr Chan said they understood that it was a difficult decision for DPM Heng, but done in the best interests of Singapore. The 4G team will remain focused on making sure Singapore emerges stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic, while establishing the foundations for future success, he added.
"In making any decision, all of us in the team will continue to put the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans foremost," he said. "Just as how we have been taught, how it has been shown to us and how previous generations of leaders have all exemplified this."