The reality is that we have little to no idea who will be the next prime minister of Singapore.
During the 2016 national day rally, PM Lee put across to Singaporeans that by the next election, he would be passing the baton to his successor.
The problem here is that there is no clear front-runner as to who would be the next PM.
Before PM Lee became PM in 2004, he was DPM for 14 long years. Meaning he had a very long “warm up” period before he took the hot seat.
In 1988, way before Goh Chok Tong became prime minister in 1991, he was already in charge of the day-to-day operations of the government.
Today, in 2016, there is no clear front runner to the PM hot seat.
Initially, with his heavy responsibilities in government, Heng Swee Keat seemed to be the most likely candidate. But when he was struck with stroke early this year, it seemed that his chances diminished drastically.
Which brings us to Chan Chun Sing, who this author thinks will most likely become PM. One reasoning is that he often represents the government on televised forums for events like the National Day Rally, a task normally left for senior members of the cabinet. This year, Chan also delivered the chinese version of the PM’s National Day Message, instead of the usual Lim Swee Say.
Also, Chan is often referred to as “Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office,” much more than NTUC secretary-general, which is his full time day job. This author believes that the reason why he is often referred to in this manner is to get the electorate accustomed to hearing Chan Chun Sing and “Prime Minister’s Office” in the same sentence.
One more key element of one being PM also is a strong experience with the defence portfolio. Chan previously served the majority of his career as a professional soldier and ended his stint as Chief of Army, and prior to NTUC served also as second minister of defence. (Both PM Lee and ESM Goh also had much experience with the defence portfolio, with PM Lee also an ex-career soldier and ESM Goh an ex-minister of defence.)
In addition, in PM Lee’s recent major overseas trips (like to China or USA), Chan Chun Sing is an unmissable part of the PM’s ministerial entourage. Perhaps the government is subtly using these overseas trips as a means to introduce to the world our next leader.
Chan is no slouch at elections either, with his Tanjong Pagar GRC team taking the baton from Mr Lee Kuan Yew and winning with a resounding 77.71% during the 2015 elections, higher than the national average of 69.9%.
As Heng Swee Keat took ill early this year, Chan also took over the co-chairmanship of the Committee on the Future Economy – Singapore, a task only for the brightest in government.
It seems like the government has very high hopes for Chan.
Some commentators have observed that when Chan was posted at the NTUC, it was seen as a sign that the government had little faith in him. This author disagrees with this sentiment. Rather than seen as a step down to Chan, this author believes that the government slotted Chan in the challenging role of NTUC Sec-Gen to test his political mettle and give him a more rounded and elaborate CV. With his helming of the NTUC, Chan is now a man who has Chief Of Army, Labour Chief, Minister MSF, Future Economy Committee Co-Chair, and PAP HQ Exco Chairman on his CV.
Does this sound like a résumé of a potential Prime Minister? This author believes so.
Although he does not have a luxury of a long “runway” to power like PM Lee or ESM Goh, Chan does have the privilege of a very well-rounded and successful career, which puts him in good slate to take over as PM during the next election.
On the contrary, Heng, who was education minister and currently finance minister and has much lesser experience with the defence portfolio, seems more slated to become a DPM. (Think Teo Chee Hean and Tharman’s ex-portfolios).
Ministers Lawrence Wong, Vivian Balakrishnan, and Tan Chuan Jin would not be discussed in this article.
The author of this article is not affiliated with the PAP and all published opinions are his own. He hopes no one from the establishment will shoot him an arrow if this is reproduced elsewhere.