Last Feb, former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong posted a message on his Facebook page sniping at Malaysia’s Dr Mahathir saying it’s a privilege for Goh in his 70s, to “enjoy nature and the simple pleasures of life”, unlike Dr Mahathir who is in his 90s (‘ESM Goh snipes at Dr M saying he can enjoy “simple pleasures of life” unlike Dr M’).
“We got our politics right and our planned political succession is proceeding smoothly,” Goh added.
He was referring to the political turmoil swirling in Malaysia at the time, which saw Dr Mahathir, 94, resigned as prime minister after days of intense speculation that he would lead his political party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) to exit the ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) and form a new government with new coalition partners.
At that point of time in Singapore, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had already been chosen to lead People’s Action Party (PAP)’s 4G team and was expected to eventually take over as next PM of Singapore.
Then, last month, Heng suddenly announced that he will not be running for the PM position, and will also be relinquishing his role as the Finance Minister due to his age and fear that he cannot fulfil the exceptional demand of the job (‘Heng Swee Keat throws in the towel as touted successor to Singapore premiership‘, 8 Apr).
Heng 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. “But when I also consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then,” he said.
“We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-COVID-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building effort.”
Heng’s announcement took Singaporeans by surprise and also threw PAP’s succession plan to the wind.
Even with the latest cabinet reshuffle, it remains unclear who will be the successor to Lee Hsien Loong as Prime Minister who is 69 this year.
Goh: Hiccups are to be expected
Commenting on Heng’s decision at a book launch yesterday (7 May), Goh said that hiccups are to be expected in the political transition process.
He added that there were similar hiccups when the pioneer generation of PAP leaders handed over the reins, and commended Heng on his decision.
“It takes courage and selflessness to do this when one is only a step away from being Prime Minister,” said Goh. “He has put the interests of Singapore first, like a good leader should.”
“For democracy to work, ours anyway, we must offer the best candidates possible for the people to choose,” he added.
Contrary to what some believe, the PAP does not seek to perpetuate itself, he said. He also elaborated on the difficulty of persuading “good, capable Singaporeans” to enter politics for last year’s general election.
“In the case of the 4G leaders, some are more than prepared; they want to do it,” he said.