PAP's Christopher de Souza to 4G leaders: Please apply your minds to succession planning

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SINGAPORE - The People's Action Party needs to quickly decide on who Singapore's next prime minister will be, to give him and his team "the longest runway possible before taking over the controls in the cockpit", said Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on Monday (Feb 28).

Addressing the country's fourth-generation (4G) leaders directly in Parliament, the backbench MP added: "Please apply your minds to succession planning, and articulate swiftly your thinking and choice, as regards leadership, to Singaporeans. They deserve nothing less."

It has been nearly a year since Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, PAP's first assistant secretary-general, stepped down as leader of the party's 4G team and designated successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

PM Lee had initially hoped to relinquish his current post before he turned 70 on Feb 10 this year, but later said he would stay on to see Singapore through the Covid-19 pandemic.

While he has not yet named his successor, front runners for the post are widely understood to be Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who is currently the party's second assistant secretary-general.

It is up to the entire 4G team to decide who their leader will be.

In his speech, Mr de Souza noted that Singapore has done well to plan ahead in many policy areas.

But it has not managed to sort out political succession, he told Parliament during the debate on the national Budget.

"We must ensure that we have successive generations of leaders to see these policies to fruition."

Mr de Souza said Singapore's next prime minister does not need to be the smartest person. But it is essential that he is someone who can bring the team together, he added, illustrating his point with an example of how he and his teammates chose their captain for the national hockey team.

While there were four or five players who were better players, Mr de Souza said the captain was chosen "because he could read the game better than any of us, he could gel a team together better than any of us and he understood his opponents and their tactics well".

"The point I am making is that you, the 4G, can choose someone who is not necessarily the smartest. But you need to choose someone who is the best fit to bring together the team," he added.

Another thing to consider is that political succession impacts Singapore's standing among foreign investors, said Mr de Souza, who is a lawyer.

He cited how political predictability is taken into consideration by many clients he works with, including multinational corporations.

"Time and again, my clients have shared that Singapore's predictable political environment gives them confidence to invest their business, human capital and infrastructure (for the) long term in Singapore," he said.

"Germane to that is their understanding of Singapore's political succession planning - and here I am talking about political succession planning within the PAP."

And it is also a topic on the minds of backbench MPs, he added, recounting a conversation he had with Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) on a trip to Morocco in 2019. They had spoken of succession among the 4G leaders.

"Why, because we like to play political chess games? No," Mr de Souza said.

"The backbenchers discuss these things between themselves because we want to see Singapore succeed."

Would the topic have been more appropriate for a political party conference, rather than Parliament? No, because the PAP and its succession planning have been organic to Singapore's success story, he observed.

"We have solid leadership now but we must, with utmost imperative, line up the future PM and his or her deputies so that they get the longest runway possible before taking over the controls in the cockpit," Mr de Souza said.

Getting succession right will demonstrate Singapore's far-sightedness despite the pandemic, he added.

"We don't need to think variant to variant, day by day, month by month - rather, Singapore plans decade by decade."

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Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan outlines Singapore's response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while Deputy Speaker of Parliament Christoper de Souza said there is a need to quickly decide on who Singapore's next prime minister will be.

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