Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s announcement on Thursday (8 Apr) that he will not be running for the Prime Minister position shocked the country and has raised concerns not only among members of the public, but on the part of various alternative political parties in the city-state.
In a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, said that he would have “too short of a runway” to become the next Prime Minister, as he would be in his mid-60s when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Mr Heng noted that he will also be relinquishing his role as the Finance Minister due to his age and fear that he cannot fulfil the exceptional demands of the job.
“We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-COVID-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building effort,” he wrote.
In his reply to Mr Heng, PM Lee who is currently 69, said he understood and respected Mr Heng’s decision, and was glad that he has agreed to stay in the Cabinet.
Separately, the next generation of leaders — the fourth-generation (4G) leadership — said in a statement that they would “need more time to select another leader from among us” given their priority to handle the country’s pressing immediate challenges and ensure that Singapore emerges stronger from the COVID-19 crisis.
“We have therefore requested PM Lee Hsien Loong to stay on as Prime Minister until such time when a new successor is chosen by the team and is ready to take over. We are grateful that PM has agreed to our request,” it noted.
The following outlines each alternative political party’s views on Mr Heng’s announcement and the PAP’s failed succession plan for the Prime Minister post.
The Workers’ Party
Party chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh told The Straits Times that the news “came as a surprise”.
“As the Opposition in Parliament, my Workers’ Party colleagues and I will work with whoever is selected by the 4G PAP, and the Government of the day, for the betterment of Singapore and Singaporeans,” he said.
Mr Singh added: “Like many Singaporeans, we await the forthcoming Cabinet changes and the 4G PAP leadership’s next choice for PM.”
Progress Singapore Party
PSP’s new chief, Francis Yuen said on Thursday on behalf of the party that Mr Heng’s decision to withdraw as the designated successor to the PM post “in a time of major economic challenges to our country does not augur well for Singapore”.
“We are concerned that it will shake the confidence of Singaporeans and foreign investors,” the statement read.
The Independent quoted PSP member and PM Lee’s younger brother Lee Hsien Yang as saying that he is “not at all surprised that Heng Swee Keat is no longer in the running, though his stepping back now is shocking”.
Singapore Democratic Party
Party chief Chee Soon Juan said in a Facebook post on Monday (12 Apr) that the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s planned power transfers is “antithetical to democratic systems”.
Commenting on the ruling party’s change in succession plans following Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s announcement on Thursday (8 Apr) that he will not be running for the Prime Minister position, Dr Chee said that the PAP’s “highly engineered method of finding a new leader reminds one of the clunky political systems that are better suited to old-world politics where the staid and uninspired take centre stage”.
“Systems like the erstwhile Soviet Union which saw the political baton pass from Khrushchev to Brezhnev to Andropov to Chernenko to Gorbachev produced leaders whose political thought were as different as shades of grey.
“Such planned power transfers are, however, antithetical to democratic systems. This is because leaders emerge – through suasion – from the rightness and imperativeness of their cause. They are not anointed by their predecessors which often means that fealty to party overrides commitment to the country,” he said.
In truly democratic systems where “power resides in the people”, however, “vision and capability trump gender, race and age”, said Dr Chee.
“This is why New Zealand elected a female prime minister whose compassionate, competent and visionary leadership has endeared her to beyond Kiwi land; why London voted for a Muslim of Pakistani descent as its mayor who, by all counts, remains popular with the electorate; why Taiwan plumbed for a female president whose progressive and compassionate policies are embraced by the people; and why the US elected a septuagenarian as a president who, despite his age, is performing competently and whose approval-ratings remain high,” he elaborated.
In Singapore, however, the path of leadership renewal is guided by “a narrative framed by the PAP so that previous leaders can protect their own legacy and interests by gripping status quo”, said Dr Chee.
The country, he said, has to “contend with a group of self-proclaimed “exceptionals” whose vision for the country is wrung from decades of withering groupthink”.
“Their topmost concern seems to be how to prolong their own grip on power regardless of how times and circumstances change. To expect them to evolve with the people and imagine a free, inclusive and democratic Singapore is to indulge in flights of fancy,” said Dr Chee.
Singaporeans, he opined, “are reduced to hoping for an administrator who is a little more personable here or a wee bit more articulate there”.
“In the meantime, policies that continue to endanger our country’s progress are still intractably in place.
“The faster and clearer we can see through this PAP-speak and -thought, the quicker Singapore can find a leader worthy and capable of forging a bigger and brighter future for this nation,” said Dr Chee.
People’s Voice Party
Party chief Lim Tean said on Sunday (11 Apr) that Mr Heng’s statement on stepping aside from the role of a potential successor “implied that it is necessary for a Prime Minister to serve a fairly long time in order to be effective”.
Such a view, said Mr Lim, is fallacious, particularly in the context of democratic societies, as it is “rare for a leader to serve more than 11-12 years” in democracies in the Western world.
“(Chancellor) Angela Merkel of Germany is the notable exception in recent times. American Presidents are limited to 2 terms or 8 years at most,” he said, noting that past United States presidents such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton “achieved much during their time in office”.
“Margaret Thatcher won 3 General Elections and served 11 years. Tony Blair also won 3 General Elections and served 10 years. Both had consequential premierships. In Australia, John Howard won 4 terms as Australian Prime Minister and served 11 years (although the Parliamentary term in Australia is only 3 years and not 5). He was regarded as a very successful Prime Minister,” Mr Lim added.
In contrast, he questioned if the PAP’s 4G leaders have produced even “one outstanding piece of legislation” during their time in office, especially when most of them have been in government for nearly a decade.
“Instead, it would be fair to say that the last decade has been a miserable one for many Singaporeans when these so-called 4G leaders have been in power. Singaporeans have lost jobs to foreigners and seen their incomes depressed by imported cheap labour.”
“As of last year, the Advanced Labour Release showed that unemployment for those 30 and below stood at 10.5%, although I am informed that the Government now states that this figure has been reduced to 7.5%. It is still a remarkably high figure,” said Mr Lim.
Citing the example of the Labour Government of Britain after the Second World War, which lasted for only six years from 1945 to 1951 but “laid the foundation for the modern British State”, Mr Lim said that the “short-lived but productive” government had seven ministers who “started their working life as coal-miners, with little formal education”.
“Not Oxbridge scholars! These men had seen and experienced poverty and disease in their hometowns and cities,” said Mr Lim.
One of the ministers was Aneurin Bevan, the Minister for Health and Housing.
“He was Welsh, had left school at 13 and worked as a coal-miner. He was unemployed for quite a number of years when he could not get a job,” said Mr Lim.
Yet, Bevan was considered to be “the architect of what Britons consider to be the most civilised thing any country has ever done for humanity – the creation of the National Health Service or NHS”, he said.
From the passing of the National Health Service Act of 1946 by the Attlee government, the NHS is able to provide free medical care at point-of-need to all Britons regardless of wealth. Over 2,500 hospitals in Britain were nationalised after the Act was passed, said Mr Lim.
The particular government was led by Clement Attlee, who was Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s deputy and ally in the coalition government that saw Britain through the war from 1940 to 1945.
“To the great surprise of many, the British rejected the Conservatives led by Churchill, who had brought them victory in the war, and returned Labour to government with a landslide victory in the General Elections of 1945,” he said.
Mr Lim noted that all of Labour’s manifesto pledges were implemented under Attlee’s leadership.
“Despite the Second World War leaving Britain effectively bankrupt, his government revived the devastated economy, carried out a massive housing program and brought unemployment largely under control,” he noted.
“More than one survey of academics has voted Attlee the most successful British Prime Minister of all time,” said Mr Lim.
Red Dot United
Red Dot United on Friday (9 Apr) said that the PAP, in failing to properly plan the path of succession to the Prime Minister post, risks confidence in Singapore in the midst of a global pandemic and financial uncertainties.
Noting that former PM Goh Chok Tong had said prior to the 2011 General Election that “we must produce Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister and a core team of younger Ministers who will take over from the present team”, RDU said: “After more than 10 years, we are none the wiser as to who Singapore’s 4th Prime Minister might be.”
RDU criticised the lack of a “Plan B”, as seen in the current turn of events.
“We are in a strange predicament. At 60, Mr Heng Swee Keat is too old to lead, and yet at 69, Mr Lee Hsien Loong is not too old to continue to be our Prime Minister.
“For us citizens, it is a lesson as to why we cannot put all our eggs in one basket, and why a strong opposition is not only good but necessary for Singapore,” said RDU.
A look into alternative parties’ positions on PAP’s failed Prime Minister succession plan Source link A look into alternative parties’ positions on PAP’s failed Prime Minister succession plan