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13 Apr 2021  (922 Views) 

Leadership succession in Singapore - TKL's perspective
Singapore is now in a leadership succession crisis.

Heng Swee Kiat, who was in line to be the next prime minister, resigned abruptly from leadership of the team that is preparing to take over from the current prime minister. However, it seems that he will continue as a senior minister for the time being.

The other contenders in the leadership succession are Chan Chun Sing, Ong Ye Kung, Lawrence Wong and Desmond Lee.

The most obvious is Chan Chun Sing, but he is quite unpopular.  He is described by the Economist as "pugnacious" and "whippersnapper". I saw a social media posting organizing a petition against his assumption of  leadership.  

A more popular choice is Ong Ye Kung. Many people have respect for his leadership and confidence in addressing important issues. However, he carries the stigma of being in the PAP team that lost the Aljunied GRC election in 2011.

I do not blame him for the loss and also do not consider it to be a significant event. I hope that Ong will have the chance to lead as the next prime minister.

Another possible choice is Lawrence Wong. Many people saw him lead the pandemic task force and admired the calm manner in which he addressed the issues in the regular media briefings. 

I hold a different opinion about Lawrence Wong. I considered that the task force had handled the pandemic badly. They have extended the circuit breaker restrictions way beyond what was necessary and, in the process, had caused a lot of damage to the economy and the livelihoods of several hundred thousand people. However, most people do not agree with my view on this matter. 

I also remembered an earlier period when Lawrence Wong was the chief executive of the Energy Market Authority. I blame him for certain decisions taken by the authority that caused a crippling financial loss to Hyflux, an iconic company and pioneer in water desalination. Hyflux had tendered for electricity generation as part of their integrated water desalination plant and had suffered fatally from the turmoil in the electricity market. The financial distress of Hyflux caused the loss of savings of over 30,000 small investors who bought the Hyflux preferential shares and perpetual notes. 

I might have maligned Lawrence Wong unfairly, but he kept silent during the Hyflux episode, rather than step forward to explain the operation of the energy market authority at that time.

Desmond Lee had been rather quiet for the period that he had been a full minister. It is unlikely that he is ready to take leadership in this challenging time.

Apart from these four contenders, we should not overlook two senior ministers and former deputy prime ministers. They are the popular Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Teo Chee Hean. 

Perhaps one of them can step forward to take leadership, especially if prime minister Lee Hsien Loong has to step down for health or personal reasons.

Both of them are in the sixties. Considering the ages of leaders in other large countries, I consider them to be relatively young and have sufficient runway to steer Singapore during the challenging times ahead.

More importantly, they have the experience, track record and credibility.

Tan Kin Lian

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