Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has indicated that the next Prime Minister of Singapore is likely already in Cabinet, in an interview with business news agency CNBC on Thursday.
When asked how close he is to finding his successor, the head of government said:
“I think it is very likely that he is in the cabinet already. But which one? That will take a while to work out.”
Describing the selection process for the next PM, PM Lee said that the younger Ministers will decide who will fill his seat:
“I have explained this quite often, and quite publicly that I have assembled a team, a strong team of younger ministers. They have to establish themselves, among themselves, they have to work out their relationships and assess one another. Publicly, they have to gain the confidence of the public and show the public what they are able to do. In time, they will have to come to a consensus as to who should be leading the team into the next stage. Beyond me. The process has taken some time. We have been bringing in people in every election – 2006, 2011, 2015. So it has advanced, we will continue to bring people in to reinforce the team, but who is to emerge? Well, time will tell. It cannot be a very long time, because the clock ticks and waits for no man.”
He added that the next election could be held “anytime” in the next two years.
PM Lee has repeatedly announced in recent years that he would step down some time after the next general election, which must be held by 15 Jan 2021.
While Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam are prime candidates for the position, it is unlikely that they will assume the role since they are only about 5 years younger than the PM.
Many have also touted that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will make a fine PM. Former Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh said “No obvious PM candidate other than Heng Swee Keat has emerged.”
However, the possibility that Heng Swee Keat will become the next PM grew dimmer when he suffered a stroke last May.
Younger ministers Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung have been tipped as top choices for the role by political pundits, as well. Both ministers are in their 40s.
The online sphere was especially rife with speculation that Chan Chun Sing would succeed PM Lee’s seat when he posted this photo on Facebook last month:
The photo capturing the Singapore delegation during the first day of their three-day visit to China features Minister Chan smack dab in the middle of the group. In People’s Action Party (PAP) group shots, this position is typically assumed by the Prime Minister:
In this instance, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was occupied with a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing when the remaining members of the delegation decided to pose for a photo.
Chan Chun Sing’s conspicuously central position gave rise to such rumours especially because he is not exactly known to be subtle since he addressed Halimah Yacob as Madam President while she was still Speaker of Parliament – a whopping 8 months before the current head of state revealed her intention to contest and eventually won the reserved election by means of a walkover.