4G leadership in Singapore
Commentary | Ayisha Sithika, Event Associate Editor
On 23 November 2017, the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) was determined. The CEC is the highest decision-making policy body and the Secretary-General wields de facto power in the party.
The recent CEC election has seen more 4G leaders appointed and senior leaders retiring to become advisors.
Only senior officers, PM Lee and Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam and Health Minister Gan Kim Young were voted in.
PM Lee has been leading the party since 2004 when he first entered the CEC as the Secretary-General of the party, a role which he still holds today.
Associate Professor Reuben Wong of the National University of Singapore once accredited PM Lee of making the Singaporean economy more sophisticated and making the city more attractive. He also notes that the decisions are still top down.
With PM Lee planning to retire in 2022, it is time for potential successors to take up the mantle.
The increase in new blood in the CEC certainly reflects this notion. Potential Prime Minister candidates are commonly identified to be Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat.
Both were elected as assistant secretary-general for the 35th CEC.
Before being appointed as the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Chan served as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office from 9 April 2015 to 30 April 2018, upon relinquishing his prior appointments as Minister for Social and Family Development (MSF) and Second Minister for Defence.
At MSF, he was responsible for improving social service delivery, enhancing social safety nets and strengthening support for families in Singapore.
Mr Heng served as Minister for Education before his appointment as Finance Minister. He drove programmes for a student-centric, values-driven education system, emphasising the holistic development of students and multiple educational pathways.
While at MOE, Mr Heng also led Our Singapore Conversation, a national consultation exercise that reached out to close to 50,000 Singaporeans to hear on their aspirations for Singapore's future.
The impending change in leadership has called for discussion on the potential stance of political leadership in Singapore.
PM Lee believes that PAP offers a “centrist” platform in which people with differences can coexist together peacefully. This can be seen through his political leadership that promotes tripartite partnership between employers, unions and the Government.
However, with the change in leadership, people hold different views on what style of leadership the next generation leaders should take.
Despite Singaporeans adopting a more liberal view, there are still policies affected by the conservative nature of the government.
Some feel that Singapore must continue to hold its older, more conservative views.
One of the more conservative decisions made by the current government would the issue of income tax. The issue of income inequality has come to the forefront.
Many believe that measures such as minimum wage should be implemented. These suggestions are not being favourably looked at by the current leadership.
Another camp believes that the new leadership should be more liberal and accept public opinion more. Despite Singaporeans adopting a more liberal view, there are still policies affected by the conservative nature of the government.
For example, there are no housing schemes for unmarried single parents. By having policies that only providing single parents who were once married, the government Is showing a distinction in its view on marriage and children.
With a more liberal leadership, policies such as the above may change.
Another issue in which the stance of the next batch of political leaders is critical is on foreign policy.
The current stance of our foreign policy is to first protect our independence and sovereignty and to expand opportunities to overcome our geographic limits.
These goals are considered the most important for Singapore currently by Minister of foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan.
Some ask the question if Singapore should act like a small country or continue to push above its weight.
Yet, others argue that Singapore should act like a small country and not involve itself in bigger issues such as gaining membership in the Arctic Council. Despite being an outsider and a relatively new player in the Arctic Council, Singapore continues to defend its position in the council and its activities. A change in Singapore’ s foreign policy would greatly affect its position on the Arctic Council.
However, critics of this view argue that Singapore must continue to push above its own weight.
China is currently flexing its military and political muscles in the South China Sea. Even though Singapore is not directly involved in the issue, the involvement of other ASEAN countries means that Singapore cannot ignore the issue altogether.
This is currently an issue that can greatly affect the bilateral relations between both countries. As such, the future stance of Singaporean foreign policy is critical to the future of both its bilateral relations with China and the region.
And with many issues present like the Rohingya- refugee crisis and Chinese domination on the rise, the Cabinet needs to decide which is the right way forward on the foreign front.
About the author: Ayisha Sithika is a first-year Political science major from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She now serves as the Associate Editor (Events) for The Convergence. Ayisha adores to read and watch Korean dramas. She currently hopes to gain a better understanding of exercise and develop a love for it.