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Singapore

Lawrence Wong was the 'first choice of an overwhelming majority' to be PAP's 4G leader: Khaw Boon Wan

SINGAPORE: Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was the first choice for the leader of the fourth-generation People’s Action Party (PAP) team by an “overwhelming majority”, said retired minister Khaw Boon Wan on Saturday (Apr 16). 

Fifteen of the 19 "stakeholders" – the Cabinet ministers, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng – chose Mr Wong as their preferred leader, said the party's former chairman, speaking at a press conference at the Istana alongside Mr Wong and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

With candidates unable to vote for themselves, this means three people did not cast their vote for Mr Wong as their choice to become the 4G leader. 

None of the other options named garnered more than two votes, Mr Khaw added, in response to a question about how the other ministers ranked in the discussions. 

“Now that we have a clear outcome, there is really no need for me to discuss who was the second or third choice. Suffice to say that Lawrence was the first choice of an overwhelming majority,” he said. 

The views of the Prime Minister and the two Senior Ministers were not sought in the discussions. 

Mr Lee said the choice of the new leader was reached in a way that fosters consensus. 

He was responding to a question about why Mr Khaw was asked to organise the process, instead of the tradition of the next generation choosing their leader among themselves. 

“I think that fundamentally we are looking to bring everybody together and reach a choice of a new leader in a way which fosters consensus and trust, and helps a new leader to consolidate his standing and build his team and build his ability to lead Singapore forward,” said Mr Lee. 

He also said that he reaction from the public over the last two days shows "many people are happy that we have taken this decision, and are happy with the decision".

The person to succeed Mr Lee, 70, had been up in the air since Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat stepped aside as the leader of the PAP's 4G team last April.

Mr Heng, 60, cited his age as the reason and said he would have "too short a runway" should he become prime minister after the pandemic.

Mr Lee had told the ministers “towards the end of 2021” that with the COVID-19 pandemic coming under control, they would have to “deal with this matter”, he shared. 

“We discussed with some of the ministers what would be a good way to do it, and to do it in a more systematic and thorough way which encourages candour and introspection and objectivity, yet without impairing mutual relations and trust amongst the team,” he added. 

“People must be able to speak honestly to express their view of the strengths and weaknesses of the different potential candidates, and speak frankly. What do they worry about? What do they feel comfortable about? Whom they would like to support?” 

This process would allow different views and concerns to be surfaced “without it being a personalised 'I like you, I don’t like you' matter”, said Mr Lee. 

“And then people can think it over again and maybe reconsider their conclusion, but we want you to be in a collected, dispassionate, almost zen state of mind when you say I think for Singapore, this is the best choice, putting aside personal preferences, ambitions and biases.” 

The “more systematic way” of doing this was to have a “process”, and it was concluded that Mr Khaw was the best person to lead it, said Mr Lee. 

The task was not only to ascertain who has the strongest support from the ministers, but to do so in a way to “foster consensus and bring the team together”, and “facilitate forthright and candid discussions” of each candidates’ strengths and weaknesses, said Mr Khaw. 

After Budget 2022 and the Committee of Supply debates, he interviewed the stakeholders individually about their preferred choice other than themselves, and asked them to rank the potential candidates in order of preference, he shared. 

The overriding objective was to “promote unity” and ensure a strong 4G team to bring Singapore forward. 

The party members interviewed were “candid” in their assessments, said Mr Khaw, who had assured the stakeholders of full confidentiality.

“They were emphatic in wanting to pick the candidate with unquestionable commitment to Singapore, who inspires trust” both from Singaporeans and among his team of officeholders and MPs, who has the backs of his colleagues and is most able to unite them to serve the nation,” he added. 

“These are character attributes which are hard to measure and yet crucial in ensuring the success of the team and thus of Singapore. Assessing them requires the stakeholders’ judgment and insights through years of working closely together.” 

Mr Khaw then reported his findings to the ministers and the PAP MPs on Thursday, and Mr Wong was collectively endorsed as the leader of the 4G team. 

Mr Lee highlighted how the process had been carried out previously.

When Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong was selected, a “small group” of five to six ministers met after the 1984 elections “very informally” and made the decision, he said.

In Mr Lee’s case, former coordinating minister Wong Kan Seng chaired a group of ministers and the decision was made over a lunch hosted by the former minister. 

When Mr Heng was previously chosen to lead the PAP’s 4G team, other political officeholders like the Senior Ministers of State and the Ministers of State were drawn into the process. 

This time, only the Cabinet, as well as Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng were involved. 

The Cabinet is the Prime Minister’s “key team”, said Mr Lee, in response to a question about why the process this time was different. 

After the ministers decided on Mr Heng, he had decided to go for “a more inclusive process” and wanted to talk to the other political officeholders to “get their support” before going to the caucus of MPs. 

In Mr Wong’s case, the MPs, including the other political officeholders, were approached after the ministers had made their decision. 

The MPs, as well as the Prime Minister and the two Senior Ministers, supported the choice, said Mr Lee. 

“I think it’s a variation in process. But the essential thing is that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet ministers must have absolute trust and confidence in one another and must support one another. Support the leader, support the team, work together, and they are one,” he added. 

In the previous 4G leadership selection exercise, Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing was also chosen as Mr Heng’s deputy. 

Responding to a question about whether there will be a deputy chosen for Mr Wong, the Prime Minister noted that in Mr Heng and Mr Chan’s case, the ministers involved in the process “thought they wanted to have a pairing” and that this would be the “best choice”. 

“In this case, the exercise was to choose the leader of the 4G team. It is not to choose his deputy, it is not to choose a 5G leader. Therefore, there is no decision made on the deputy,” said Mr Lee. 

Mr Wong will decide who will be his deputy and who will be in his core team “in due course”, the Prime Minister continued. 

“I hope he and his colleagues will work hard to identify and induct more promising leaders into the team to build up the 5G team for Singapore.” 

Source: CNA/hw

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