Will He Stay or Will He Go?
I for one have always been sceptical of the assumption that Lee Hsien Loong would step down as PM when he reaches 70. This seems to have originated in a 2012 interview when LHL was asked if he saw himself as PM beyond the age of 70 and he replied “I hope not.” and then went on to add:
“Seventy is already a long time more. And Singapore needs a prime minister who is younger, who’s got that energy, and who is in tune with that very much younger and very much different generation.”
Of course when our state media lackeys interview LHL, all questions are agreed in advance with his own media advisers writing the questions so there was nothing spontaneous or unscripted about the question. By floating the idea that he would be stepping down at 70 LHL wanted to give the idea that he had a carefully thought out plan for leadership succession.
Like everything else the PAP do, the intention was to leave the impression of long-term planning whereas the reality is that policy is mostly reactive with no long term plan at all other than one or two out-of-date economic policies from the 1960s and 1970s. As with any autocracy or totalitarian government policy is decided by the Supreme Leeder and ministers and civil servants, chosen for their sycophancy rather than ability, hasten to fall into line. Then when the policy has abjectly failed or is deeply unpopular, there is talk of “recalibration” while Singaporeans are blamed for having a low threshold of pain. Examples that spring to mind are the stop-at-two policy from the 1970s, the graduate mothers policy in the 1980s or the huge expansion of the workforce that took place through importing cheap immigrant labour after 2000. After policy is reversed or moderated somewhat PAP-linked pundits are usually deployed to warn of the dangers to growth of adopting populist policies and of the threat to the “Singapore model” itself.
In a similar manner LHL seems to be softening the ground to stay on past 70 as evidenced by an article that appeared in the State Times on 2 February by Elgin Toh, entitled “Should PM Lee Hsien Loong lead beyond 70?“. This was a merely rhetorical question since after running through the reasons why the so-called fourth-generation leaders might need more time and why it would not be advisable to have an interim PM like Tharman (whom we already know is ruled out because of his skin colour) Toh concludes that it might not be a bad thing for LHL to stay on beyond 70. World leaders like Ronald Reagan who did not finish his second term as US President till he was 78 and Winston Churchill, who stepped down as PM at 80. He does not suggest a time limit for LHL to step down but by saying the latter’s health is still good the implication is that LHL could be leader for another two terms.
Surely if the fourth generation leaders, who are of variable quality anyway, are not ready by 2022 then they will never be ready. Heng Swee Keat, second class degree holder and my Economics classmate from Cambridge, has health issues. Chan Chun Sing is a charisma-free zone and Ong Ye Kung may not be able to escape suspicions of involvement in the Brazilian bribery scandal after he was given a top position at Keppel Corp following his defeat in 2011. Despite the outrageously high salaries
But then it has never been about grooming a successor but about finding a seat warmer to fill in until the throne can be passed to the next generation of Lees. Li Hongyi was probably going to enter politics in 2020 but after last year’s family squabbles over the money for Oxley Rise those plans have been set back by a few years. His cousin, Li Shengwu, warned then that a third generation of Lees would be bad for Singapore and has ended up facing prosecution (for what I say frequently on my blog and social media) if he sets foot in Singapore again.
Goh Chok Tong, or Holy Goh (a reference to the Eternal Singaporean Trinity whose other members are the Lee Father and Son), has even joined the fray on social media leading Singaporeans to hope that there could be more light entertainment of the sort provided by the Lee family drama. He said that he hoped a successor would be named before the end of 2018 prompting LHL to tell him off for getting above his place and reminding everyone that LHL alone would make the decision.
LHL must envy his dad who was able to give the appearance of retiring at 67 while continuing to wield the real power behind the throne for another two decades. In those days the succession was already mapped out and LHL was guaranteed the throne after a respectable interregnum. Now things are a little more complicated and international opprobrium to family dynasties has increased. Having Li Hongyi take over would probably be unpopular with Singaporeans and piss off LHL’s ambitious underlings in the PAP, though no doubt Singaporeans would accept it if offered a few dollars in extra CPF contributions. LHL has always taken care to surround himself with sycophants who can be bought off or who can be blackmailed or have vulnerabilities (like Tharman whom LHL prosecuted and had convicted before he became a Minister) so probably they can be made to find having Li Hongyi parachuted in above them bearable. So I expect LHL will continue beyond 2020 till the succession is secure. If his health deteriorates no doubt his wife can be brought to safeguard the Familee interests. And having a woman PM would earn Singapore extra kudos internationally.