Friday 30 September 2016

DPM Tharman rules himself out as next prime minister: 'I am not the man for PM'

Tharman quashes talk of being next PM
He's not the man for the job, he says, stressing that each minister contributes in a way that matches his strengths
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday ruled out the possibility that he might be prime minister, saying Singapore has a distinctive political culture where each minister contributes to the team in a way that matches his strengths.

This culture has been built up over time and the next prime minister - who will be "first among equals" - will be decided from among the fourth generation of leaders, he added. "There's no urgency to see succession in this term of government. That's why we're focused on the fourth generation of leaders, building them up and enabling them to take over during the next term of government," he said.

Mr Tharman was responding to questions from reporters on recent speculation, including a poll that Yahoo Singapore ran on Monday, that showed him as the respondents' top choice to be Singapore's fourth prime minister.

"Just to be absolutely clear, because I know of this talk that's going around, I'm not the man for PM. I say that categorically. It's not me. I know myself, I know what I can do, and it's not me," he said.

"I'm good at policymaking, I'm good at advising my younger colleagues, and at supporting the PM - not at being the PM. That's not me."

Asked if his age was a concern to his being considered for next prime minister, the 59-year-old said: "I'm quite clear about this. I know who I am and I know what I'm capable of doing, and I know how I am best able to serve Singapore."

Mr Tharman cited as examples Old Guard stalwarts Goh Keng Swee and S. Rajaratnam, saying: "Their contributions to Singapore were immense, and till today they are in a league of their own, but even they would not have been ideal as a PM."

He said Dr Goh was a remarkable person without whom Singapore would be much poorer and much less secure, but "did not have the temperament to be PM and did not want to be". As for Mr Rajaratnam, an "extremely good foreign minister", "he wasn't cut out to be PM, he knew it, and no one regards him the lesser because he wasn't PM".

"I mention them as illustration. I myself and no one in future is going to come close to Dr Goh and Rajaratnam's contributions to Singapore, but even they would not have been ideal as PM," he added.

"We each find a way to contribute to Singapore, that matches our strengths, and we each contribute to a strong team."

As for Singapore's political culture, he said: "No one is out to outdo someone else in Cabinet, or worse still to undermine someone else in Cabinet because he or she could be a competitor to them. Everyone is in this as a member of the team. It's a culture that we've built up over time that we must absolutely keep."

Mr Tharman added that he sees this in the fourth generation of leaders, some of whom entered politics in the 2011 elections, others in 2015.

"I've seen how they work together, I've seen them building up trust with each other," he said.

He also made clear that Singapore does not face an "immediate problem" when it comes to succession, because Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is healthy despite a recent scare at last month's National Day Rally. PM Lee is "still on top of the challenges that Singapore faces", and is highly regarded by the international community, Mr Tharman said.

PM Lee had previously said he plans to step down some time after the next general election, which must be held by April 2021.

Mr Tharman said there are a few fourth-generation leaders who could be "first amongst equals during the next term of government".

Asked whether the list of potential prime ministers has narrowed for him, he said: "We all have our sense as to who has the potential to be the first amongst equals and it doesn't lessen the contributions of the others."

"The whole idea is build a strong team to take Singapore forward, and I'm confident of that in the fourth generation. I've watched them; I know them well," he said.

"Some I've known for a long time like (Finance Minister Heng) Swee Keat; some others over the last six years. I've confidence in them and some of us in the third generation would be around to support them."

Up to younger ministers to decide on next leader: PM Lee
By Walter Sim, Japan Correspondent In Tokyo and Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 30 Sep 2016

It is for the younger members of the Cabinet to decide among themselves who the next prime minister will be, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

"They have to decide because they have to support him, and help to make the system, make the team work," he said at a special session of the 22nd Nikkei International Conference on The Future of Asia in Tokyo.

Mr Lee was responding to a question on Singapore's leadership succession from moderator Sonoko Watanabe, editor-in-chief of business publication Nikkei Asian Review. His remarks came a day after Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 59, categorically ruled himself out of the running to succeed Mr Lee, 64, who has been Prime Minister since 2004.

The question of Singapore's political leadership succession took on added significance after Mr Lee took ill during his National Day Rally speech last month. He returned after an hour to speak, and has been given a clean bill of health.

Mr Lee himself has repeatedly said that he plans to step down some time after the next general election, which must be held by April 2021.

At the forum yesterday, he said Singapore wants its leaders to be "able people, good people, committed people - people who can connect with the population, who can lead Singapore, who are prepared to fight for what they believe in and fight for what they can do together".

Based on these qualities, he has assembled "to the best of my ability" a team in the Cabinet, he said.

As for who will eventually assume his mantle, PM Lee said: "I've said (before that) very likely the next PM will come from amongst the younger members of my Cabinet. Who, (that) is up to them to work out among themselves and I hope in good time - I'm sure in good time - a consensus will develop among them as to who the next leader will be."

Mr Tharman had told reporters on Wednesday that the next prime minister would come from the fourth-generation leaders, one of whom would emerge as "first amongst equals during the next term of government".

But he said there was no urgency to see succession take place in this term of government as PM Lee is healthy, and "on top of the challenges that Singapore faces".

Still, observers noted yesterday that no clear successor had yet been identified, unlike in the two previous leadership transitions.

Mr Goh Chok Tong was deputy prime minister for five years before taking on the top job, while Mr Lee held the deputy post for 14 years.

"We are definitely behind schedule," said former People's Action Party MP Inderjit Singh. "Today, Singaporeans have not yet seen a clear leader emerging and this worries many," he added.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad also said residents are concerned, and ask him "all the time" who the next prime minister will be. "My guess is that it's a case of two to three potential leaders, and PM is still giving everyone chances to show what he or she can achieve," he said.

Observers have tipped Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and labour chief Chan Chun Sing as being among those with the potential to become the next prime minister.

As for the timing of Mr Tharman's remarks, Singapore Management University law don and former Nominated MP Eugene Tan believes it is to "manage public expectations and ensure that the focus is on the fourth-generation leadership rather than him".

He added: "It's a prudent measure to not let the public lack clarity as to the leadership succession plans."

Expect period of lower growth, warns DPM Tharman
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2016

Times are tough and they will stay that way for a while, warned Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

"This year we had some growth in the first half of the year. I think the second half of the year will be weaker, so we will probably end up somewhere at the lower end of the 1 to 2 per cent range," he added.

Mr Tharman was responding to a question from The Straits Times on whether a survey of professional forecasters that tipped the Singapore economy to grow 1.8 per cent this year and next might be too pessimistic.

He said "no", adding: "Structurally, we are now in the new mode of growth. We can't keep growing by increasing manpower. We have to get productivity up."

Some stimulus will come from government infrastructure pro- jects, noted Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies. But Singaporeans must be prepared for a "new normal" of 2 per cent to 3 per cent annual growth hereon, and below 2 per cent growth for a couple of years, he said. Unemployment will likely increase, he added.

Mr Tharman was speaking on the sidelines of the official opening of an expanded research and production facility at transport engineering firm Wong Fong Industries in Joo Koon Circle.

Mr Tharman cited Wong Fong as an example of investing in new capabilities in the midst of a tough climate.

Apart from companies retooling in tough times to build competitiveness for the upturn, Mr Tharman said: "We have to do the utmost to make sure that the increased unemployment doesn't become structural... That means we've got to help everyone who's displaced from a job to get back in as soon as possible."

The task is to match people to jobs and reduce the mismatches in skills between what people have and what the jobs require, Mr Tharman added.

He noted that when the economy is weak, there tends to be more job seekers than vacancies. But in Singapore, the numbers are about the same, with job vacancies at 49,400 in June and around 50,000 job seekers.

This presents an opportunity for recruitment firms to borrow from working models in Australia and Britain and focus on more active matching. "We're going to expand our use of private placement providers, and give them the incentive to actively match people to jobs," Mr Tharman said.

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