PM Lee would like to hand over to his successor only after the next General Election

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed on Friday that he will only hand over the prime ministership to his successor after the next General elections. The head of government was speaking to reporters at the end of his 2-day visit to New Delhi, where he co-chaired the Asean-India Commemorative Summit.

The PM 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”.

He added:

“We know it’s a serious matter, a pressing issue, as the younger ministers have already said in their statement and they know my timetable, after next General Election – earlier rather than later – I would like to hand over to a successor.
“And I think the team is taking shape, the dynamics amongst them. They are working adults, they are learning to work together.”

The PM also said that the designation of his successor would depend on the dynamics between the 4G leaders and added:

“They need a bit of time for Singaporeans to get a feel of them, not just as public figures but (also as leaders) responsible for significant policies and taking significant policies through … making them work, and showing that they deserve to lead.
“I think (the transition) would be done in good time, as they say. I would not be able to say for certain that it will be settled in next six to nine months, but it would have to be done in good time. I’m confident it would be.”

The PM also pointed to the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle, which is to take place after Budget 2018 on 19 Feb, as an event that would symbolise a “significant step in exposing and building the new team.” 

Contrary to speculation by political pundits that the appointment of the new Deputy Prime Minister/s could signal who PM Lee’s successor would be, PM Lee announced that no new DPMs will be appointed in the Cabinet reshuffle.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing are widely tipped to be the front runners to succeed the head of government.

On whether he would publicly signal who his successor will be after the transition takes place, the PM said: “If it’s settled, everybody will know.”