Comment: Every PM frontrunner has treated matters outside of their portfolio as if they were preparing for the top job. – Mothership SG


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The People’s Action Party (PAP) has a convention this Sunday (November 28th), but I’ll bet this is the first time you’ve heard of it.

After all, politics in Singapore doesn’t exactly have the high level of drama that you see in other countries. Barring a massive upheaval, it is a sure thing that the PAP will form the next government.

So it’s no wonder that a party conference ranks lower on the list of things to watch out for this weekend than a Netflix movie with The Rock, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, for example.

Even the biggest question in politics today – the identity of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s successor is somehow still in the air, with a resolution at this party congress unlikely.

No new developments apparent

The last concrete development was that Vice Prime Minister Heng Swee “stood by” as head of the 4G ministerial team and effectively took himself out of the race for the top job. That was in April of this year, almost eight months ago.

If it feels like it was a lifetime ago, it’s because time is relative and the events of a lifetime passed within eight months. How many phases and Covid-19 restrictions have we gone through since then?

Frustrating for politics Otakus, Those eight months have left no clear indication of who will take on the top job.

Manchester United Football Club has fired its manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and apparently made a decision on an official interim manager in less than a week. The PAP, who is faced with a somewhat more weighty decision, is taking its time. Still.

Examination of the speeches of the front runners

One look at what the top three have been up to lately could point to pole position.

Things like dealing with matters outside of their portfolio or interviews with foreign media could indicate which minister is gaining prominence on both the national and international arenas.

Because the next prime minister not only has to feel comfortable with international controls, he also has to make decisions on a wide variety of issues, not just in a narrow portfolio.

Treasury Secretary Lawrence Wong

Lawrence Wong is currently Treasury Secretary since Heng stepped down.

Wong, who was previously the second finance minister, was considered suitable for the job.

One would expect a finance minister to be primarily concerned with money matters. As vice chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Wong has raised concerns about money laundering, inflation monitoring, etc.

However, a finance minister would not normally be expected to deal with sensitive social issues such as race, religion, tribal and sexual orientation.

But that’s exactly what Wong did recently.

Lawrence Wong on Singapore Society and Identity Issues

During an IPS-RSIS conference on identity, Wong spoke about how tribal and identity issues could pose a threat to the social fabric of Singapore.

He urged people to avoid stereotypes, stressed the importance of Singaporean identity and reassured listeners that the government sees itself as a “fair and honest broker” between the different groups.

He also recognized the concerns of groups such as women, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community who feel they are not part of or accepted by Singapore society.

Well, that seems like a thorough elaboration of the government’s position, but from an outsider’s perspective, it seems more natural for a minister responsible for social affairs to make such a speech.

Additionally, Wong’s position as co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Task Force (MTF) on Covid-19 also gives him greater prominence as part of the team addressing the number one challenge Singapore faces today.

He has also earned himself in international publications such as this in full length CNBC Interview in June about taxes and supply chains, and that New York Times October report on the local Covid situation.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung

Wong’s MTF co-chair, Ong Ye Kung, received arguably one of the toughest jobs in the cabinet during the last reshuffle.

In an April interview, he openly stated that he was “wordless” when he learned of his new role, leading Singapore’s health policy and building capacity in the middle of a pandemic.

However, as a former Minister of Education, Ong was no stranger to the impact of Covid on public order, having made the decision to keep schools open in 2020 before our vaccination program was launched.

Since then, Ong has faced other challenges, particularly during the recent September and October surge in infections fueled by the Delta variant.

Particularly worrying was the bed capacity in the intensive care unit and in the hospital, which was almost overwhelmed.

But the local situation appears to be improving, with fewer than 1,500 new infections reported on November 25th. Some restrictions have been relaxed and Singapore is opening up to more countries overseas with more VTLs.

Ong also had the pleasure to announce the $ 4,000 award for 100,000 healthcare workers in recognition of their hard work.

You might be forgiven for assuming Ong focused on Covid and nothing else.

Ong Ye Kung speaks about foreign affairs and economics

However, he was also engaged in a number of initiatives related to foreign business and trade.

In July, Business hours reported that At the FutureChina Global Forum, Ong provided details of Singapore’s deepening collaboration with China’s Greater Bay Area.

In August, Ong gave a speech at the European Chamber of Commerce Dialog, reiterating Singapore’s commitment to free trade and an open economy.

And in November, Ong spoke about the differences in government systems in the US and China during a governance conference at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.

Not quite what you’d expect from a health minister.

Ong is also no stranger to international reporting, as in this recently published Bloomberg Interview in Hong Kong.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing

Chan, the party’s second deputy general secretary, took over the education portfolio in the recent reshuffle after giving up trade and industry.

But even though he has tackled tricky educational issues like teacher stresses, Chan remains involved in foreign affairs.

In October it was announced that Chan would succeed Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean as Singapore co-chair of the Singapore-China Forum for Leadership.

Its counterpart on the Chinese side is Jiang Xinzhi, a deputy executive minister and a fairly large wheel within the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Sure, Chan is the civil service minister in charge.

But since Teo is a senior minister and former deputy prime minister, does this appointment suggest a bigger role for Chan?

Finally, Heng, a DPM, leads major government initiatives with China, such as: Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC).

Chan on the competition between the US and China

His speech at the forum dealt among other things with income inequality and diversity in leadership.

And in November, Chan gave another major speech, this time to a more international audience, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia Fullerton Lecture.

This speech also discussed the great power competition between the US and China and how smaller countries can best respond to it.

Again, these are speeches that one would not expect from a typical education minister.

No signposts

Perhaps these are just examples of the Singaporean commitment to a well-rounded competence.

But it suggests that none of our top three can be excluded from the top job. At least not when portfolios are in the foreground.

This Sunday Congress could very well be a big party that uses streamers, fireworks and neon signs to announce the identity of Singapore’s next prime minister. But it seems unlikely.

Until we get clearer signals, your chances of guessing the right choice remain, as always, one in three.

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