K. Shanmugam: Stable leadership transition crucial for Singapore

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In a talk concerning corporate governance on Monday, September 24, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam emphasized the importance of a stable transition of political leadership. He stressed that in smaller countries such as Singapore, the impact of governance is more deeply felt. 

Mr. Shanmugan gave the opening address in front of an audience of 200 at the launch of the 9th Corporate Governance Week by the Securities Investors Association (Singapore) at Mandarin Orchard Hotel, emphasizing that stable leadership is also essential for businesses and the economy.

Robert Jackson, Jr., US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) commissioner was also one of the speakers at the event. Mr. Jackson encouraged members of the audience to urge stock exchanges to oversee dual-class shares in the right way. The United States, he said, has a liberal stand concerning the dual-class structure, but in South East Asia, exchanges are able to oversee this structure in a better way.

Mr. Shanmugam’s speech also involved inequality and populism.

He explained how the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) selects leaders of the future, encouraging people in their 30’s and 40’s to serve in different ministerial roles, as well as positions within the party. This generation of leaders, he said, are mandated to choose amongst themselves who would be the foremost among them all.

In talking about personal ambition for top positions, Mr. Shanmugam said, “How do we try and reduce that (likelihood) and make them work as a team? You bring in four, five, six people who form the core. You give them different portfolios, you give them different party assignments, then you put them together and say you go and choose. If they have chosen, then it’s less likely, not impossible, but less likely that they will go against whoever is in power.”

Mr. Shanmugan also said that every minister anchors a group representation constituency (GRC) that has its own MPs.

“The cadre members are usually based on branches so… if you don’t like the prime minister, within Cabinet if you can get about seven to eight ministers on your side, it’s a fair bet that they will be able to swing their cadre members from their branches and their GRCs.

So then you form a team either quietly, as happened in the early 60s, or openly, and then you stand for elections at the CEC.

And if you get the majority, and then you tell the prime minster you are no longer secretary-general of the party, please step down. That’s how a coup takes place.”

He also stressed that under Singapore’s constitution, it is the individual who wins the confidence of the highest number of MPs who becomes Prime Minister.

He said that Singapore’s next Prime Minister is still underway, as the 4G team is smoothing out “all the rough edges” and eliminating unnecessary challenges.

“They still need a little bit more time with Singaporeans, so that Singaporeans can see them and assess them for themselves.”

The ruling party will be electing a new CEC later this year at a party conference.

2019 is expected to be very important, according to Mr. Shanmugam, since the Prime Minister is expected to step down in 2022, when he turns 70.  “There’s got to be a general election before that, and there’s got to be some sort of indication to the public as to what the slate looks like in terms of the top leadership well before the GE.”