Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) and the Second Minister for Defence, Ong Ye Kung, was the first of the three frontrunners widely tipped to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to agree with his comments that it could take longer than 6-9 months to select the new head of government.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed last Friday that he would like to hand over the prime ministership to his successor only after the next General Election.
He further said that it could take “a bit longer” for the nation’s fourth generation leaders to pick a leader among themselves and added that while the designation of his successor would not be “imminent,” political transition would be done in “good time.”
PM Lee’s predecessor, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had said last month that he hoped the next head of government would be identified in the next 6-9 months. His comments sparked fresh discussion on leadership transition and appeared to be the catalyst for 16 members of the 4G leadership to note the urgency and agree to “settle on a leader from amongst us in good time,” in a joint statement.
PM Lee responded to ESM Goh’s comments and said that the ESM is speaking “with the privilege of watching things, rather than being responsible to make it happen”.
Ong echoed the PM’s comments and rejected the “artificial deadline” of 6-9 months to choose the new leader:
“PM has said that it will need a while longer. I think it’s useful. As our younger-generation ministers have said, we would select somebody to be the leader among us in good time… So I think it’s good not to be constrained by six or nine months. We still need time to work together, know each other well and, among us, I’m sure a leader will emerge.
“I think the PM has made it quite clear. Don’t get constrained by an artificial deadline. We will work amongst ourselves and someone will emerge in good time.”
Earlier this month, Ong indicated that he is still mulling over who the reins of government should be handed to: “I am shaping up in my mind someone who can be the leader amongst us. I am sure my colleagues are thinking of the same issue too.”
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing are widely speculated to be in the running to succeed PM Lee, alongside Ong.