SINGAPORE: Singapore's new generation of leaders will have to build a "stronger and more inclusive millennial generation team", said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Saturday (Aug 19).
Speaking at a National Day Dinner for his constituency, Marine Parade, Mr Goh said the robustness of the country's leadership pipeline is one of the determinants of how a "small boat like Singapore" will fare in a turbulent climate of internal and external challenges. Other factors, he said, include the resilience of its politics as well as the cohesiveness of its multi-racialism and social equity.
Mr Goh noted that 65-year-old Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said he will step down by the age of 70.
"The fourth generation (4G) leaders will have to quickly establish themselves as a cohesive team and identify the captain amongst them," he said in the speech.
"They must try their utmost to bring in potential office-holders from outside the Singapore Armed Forces and public sector to avoid group-think. Highly competent Singaporeans outside the Government must also be prepared to step up and serve," he said.
Beyond technical competence, Mr Goh also said Singaporeans will want to know what "the leaders stand for, what kind of Singapore they want to build and what they will pass on to the fifth generation later".
SINGAPORE POLITICS MUST BE "BOLD, RESILIENT"
At the dinner, Mr Goh also said Singapore politics must be "bold, forward looking and inclusive of all races and different political opinions". It also has to be resilient, he added.
Mr Goh credited the country’s stability to Singaporeans having successively elected a strong government. "This enables the government to plan for the long term and prepare for contingencies ... a strength which most other elected governments lack," he said.
Elaborating on how Singapore has adapted the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy to local conditions, he said that Singapore's provision of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) prevents a dominant party from shutting down opposition as at least one in five Members of Parliament (MPs) is not a member of the ruling People's Action Party.
Furthermore, the Group Representation Constituency system "guarantees" a fair number of minority MPs in Parliament, he said, adding that this “prevents the 'tyranny of the majority' in free elections and gives every community a stake in our shared destiny".
The Elected Presidency is likewise "a check against a populist and profligate government", Mr Goh said.
He called the recent decision to set aside reserved presidential elections for minorities a "stabiliser to ensure our multi-racial society stays afloat".
"If these stabilisers are not introduced to our political system, our democratic state risks being capsized when buffeted by internal differences and divisions, let alone external storms," he added.
MERITOCRACY PROTECTS AGAINST DANGERS OF NEPOTISM, CRONYISM
Mr Goh stressed that meritocracy must remain a key pillar of Singapore's "fair and equal society", as it protects the country from the "greater dangers of nepotism and cronyism".
Underlining the importance of maintaining social equity, Mr Goh said: "For a new country, the first round of meritocracy has produced the desired results. The brightest, ablest and most hard working have risen to the top. But for subsequent rounds, meritocracy entrenches the successful, widens the income gap and creates a sense of social inequity," he said.
The Emeritus Senior Minister said children of well-to-do families inherit the gift of good family backgrounds and networks from the day they are born. The state, however, must intervene to ensure the meritocratic process serves it purpose, he argued, so that every citizen has equal opportunities at the starting line and a fair chance to succeed throughout life.
"We must guard against social inequity as a new fault line in our society," he said.
Some Government policies that have gone some way to narrow the income divide are subsidies in housing, healthcare and education, as well as recent measures which soften the focus on academic grades and re-skill Singaporeans to take on higher value jobs, he said.
"The 4G leaders must find their own robust language, political values and programmes to lift the lives of lower-income Singaporeans," he added.
These new leaders will have their "work cut out for them" - they will have to build their own social compact with the people and must be able to grow the economy, create jobs, resolve everyday livelihood issues, check divisive trends in society, give hope and improve the lives of all Singaporeans, Mr Goh said.
"But they will inherit a political system in good working order. In time, they will have to bequeath a fair and multi-racial society to the generation after them."