SINGAPORE — The latest Cabinet reshuffle is yet another clear indication that Singapore’s chest-thumping boast of its proud record of smooth political succession is slowly but steadily beginning to falter. For the first time in the country’s history, there is no clear politician in sight to take over from the Prime Minister, even if Deputy PM Heng Swee Keat remains the official front runner.
Unpredictability was never a feature of previous handovers. Singaporeans knew Goh Chok Tong would succeed Lee Kuan Yew way before the country’s founding Prime Minister stepped aside, while Lee Hsien Loong was anointed long before Goh stepped down. But this time round, that predictability is missing.
There was an opportunity to erase the doubts about succession when the PM announced his new Cabinet line-up on Saturday (25 July). But when Lee was asked about Heng’s position as his designated successor, the Prime Minister deflected the question to Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, the man said to be third in line.
Chan seemed a little taken aback, but managed to regain his composure somewhat and said that the 4G team’s focus is on helping the country overcome economic challenges and save jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We have no plans to do otherwise, and we have no plans, no discussion, on any change in plan.”
What an opportunity lost. He could have easily said that the 4G leadership was fully behind Heng but he didn’t and the gossip mill went into overdrive. It had to be left to a 3G leader, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, to do damage control the next day when he said at a doorstop that the new leaders were in “complete unity” behind the leadership of the DPM.
Both Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong took the long route to the premiership, with the former spending 14 years as an understudy and the latter 20 years. In that sense, Heng (nine years) and Chan (also nine) are newbies. And leaders entering the new Cabinet do not have the nous that politicians like Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Ng Eng Hen, Khaw Boon Wan and Balakrishan had when they went into politics in 2001. A shorter trial period means their push into high office is too rushed with inexperience being a central feature of their rise to political power.
The ruling People’s Action Party is finding it harder and harder to find good candidates. For one, fewer and fewer find PAP politics enticing, even if the pay is very good. And sacrificing their privacy and appearing in the public eye, especially in front of the prying eyes of social media, is something they can do without. The late Goh Keng Swee once likened joining the PAP to joining the priesthood - such a prospect will not appeal to many now.
Some are also not convinced that dissent in both government and party is something that will be tolerated. The search for political talent has been too focused on people in the civil service and the military. This has created a kind of groupthink which many don’t want to be part of.
Let me ask the newly minted PAP Members of Parliament: would any of them have questioned the government’s constitutional amendments to the law on the presidential election and POFMA if they had been in Parliament when these proposals were debated? And how many would say the PAP statement on the Workers’ Party’s Raeesah Khan and her alleged racially divisive posts was unnecessary? And would any of them be ready to walk away from voting when a controversial Bill is tabled in Parliament, like former PAP MP Inderjit Singh did over the population White Paper debate?
GE2020 also exposed PAP politicians who had a hard time trying to carry the ground with them. The themes, the words and phrases they used, and even their body language, were so similar that it made one wonder whether these people were just political robots. Hardly any PAP candidate was prepared to go off the beaten track and speak their mind. On the other hand, we saw opposition politicians like Pritam Singh, Sylvia Lim, Jamus Lim and He Ting Ru appearing as people with their own voices and adding a freshness to the political discourse.
It is a systemic issue. Unless the PM and his senior team are prepared to loosen the strings and recruit more dissenters like Inderjit Singh, Shanmugaratnam and Louis Ng into the fold, PAP will continue to face succession hurdles and election setbacks.
With the PM having another couple of years left before he hands over power, the time is now for him to think about his legacy. One important aspect of that legacy must be his desire and ability to move away from the tried and tested way of selecting politicians, and bringing in people who are prepared to test the political borders.
P N Balji is a veteran Singaporean journalist who was formerly chief editor of Today, as well as an editor at The New Paper. He is currently a media consultant. The views expressed are his own.
Both Stroke Heng and Cotton Comes From Sheep are cut from different sections of the same piece of cloth called CLUELESS.
Singapore – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon said on Saturday (July 25) that Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo will remain in her current role. Members of the public responded by searching for accountability regarding how the Covid-19 outbreak among foreign worker dormitories was handled.
PM Lee said during the announcement of the new cabinet lineup that Ms Teo had made “significant changes” to improve the income security and job opportunities of Singaporeans despite only having joined the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) two years ago.
Ms Teo also took to Facebook on the same day to outline her “topmost priority” which was to “help displaced Singaporeans get back to work.” Whether middle-aged job seekers, fresh graduates or freelancers, she noted that “everyone deserves a fair chance to move into new roles or take up meaningful company-attachments until the economy recovers.”
Another priority highlighted by Ms Teo was the uplifting of essential workers wherein they deserve fair opportunities to progress. “Ever since I was in the NTUC, the tripartite partners have been doing much more than the bare minimum to support these brothers and sisters. We will not let up,” she said.
Ms Teo mentioned the work of MOM in foreign worker dormitories, promising to raise standards and help migrant workers stay healthy as the Covid-19 outbreak began. “This is happening as we speak, but it is still early days,” said Ms Teo. “Just as important is how we help the industry and employers manage the transition.” She noted how the crisis had not been easy on employers with workers living in the dormitories and confirmed that she would “seriously consider their request” to extend levy waivers for a few more months before phasing out gradually. “This is so that they can meet their obligations to their employees and implement safe management measures as they restart,” explained Ms Teo.
At the latter part of her post, she introduced and welcomed the additional help at MOM. Tan See Leng will be joining the cabinet as Second Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Trade and Industry. “I have asked him to champion the health and wellness of our migrant workers while ensuring improvements are sustainable,” she added. Gan Siow Huang will focus on SkillsFuture SG in the Ministry of Education. At the same time, Zaqy Mohamad will continue “to steward our workplace safety and health initiatives, with an added focus on inclusive growth and care for our essential workers,” said Ms Teo. She also extended their appreciation to Low Yen Ling who is transitioning to the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
Meanwhile, netizens responded to the news of Ms Teo remaining at MOM by asking for accountability. “This is a ministry that has failed,” said Facebook user Bridget Dorai, referring to MOM. “Failed to secure jobs for Singaporeans, job welfare for both Singaporean and migrant workers. Where is any accountability?” asked the concerned citizen. Others expressed they weren’t “a fan” of how the outbreak was handled within foreign worker dormitories. “Only in Singapore can a minister retain his or her post even after mishandling an epidemic in the foreign worker dormitories,” added Facebook user Lee Jason.
Obedience supersedes mediocrity in Pinky's cabinet; she is always at his every beck and call since kingdom come, hence her wrinkled ugly ass being duly rewarded.
Looks like Ah Loong won't be stepping down anytime soon; he quietly knows no one from the current 4G lee-der-ship is anywhere near competent to take the helm.