Must and should our next PM be that young, and will he be from PAP?

Our PM is searching for his replacement, someone in his 30’s. Said successor would be groomed over a couple of general elections and shown the ropes. I guess it’s good to be prepared. But will PAP still be the dominant party in 10 years time?

I don’t think the pool of candidates should be limited to those in their 30s either, and definitely should not be limited to the so-called ‘elites’. Some of the more successful men and women in history only became so later in their lives.

Col. Sanders – He started his KFC franchise only at the age of 65.

Stan Lee – He was in his early 40s when he created Spider-Man and most of his other legendary superheroes. His partner, artist Jack Kirby, started drawing The Fantastic Four when he was 44.

Laura Ingalls Wilder – Her first book, Little House in the Big Woods came out when she was 65. It was the first of her 8-volume Little House series.

Oscar Swah – Perhaps the oldest known athlete to win an Olympic medal was a Swedish shooter by the name of Oscar Swahn who had two medals won in the Summer Olympics by the time he was 72 years old.

Also, I really feel that there should be a term limit for the position of Prime Minister, just like in the US, where the President can only stay for a maximum 2 terms. The change of US presidents every 4 or 8 years can be rather drastic, especially when a Democrat takes over a Republican and vice-versa, but it brings in new blood, new ideas, and new promises to fulfill. More importantly, it brings hope to the people, and involvement.

Compare this to Singapore, most people have become apathetic. Who cares about the elections? Most are walk-overs, and the PAP will still win anyway. To them, there is no difference, their voice does not matter, and ‘Dad always has the last word‘ anyway.

I really look forward to new blood. If we’re lucky, he or she might serve as the catalyst towards a brand new Singapore!


We talk a lot about the shortage of talent in Singapore.

But have we allowed this worry to lull us into a sort of “group think” by always looking for leaders from the same places and with the same profile?

In recent years, there are those who have argued that while attitudes have shifted, Singaporeans are not yet ready for a non-Chinese prime minister, nor a woman prime minister.

Do we really need to add another restriction, that he must be in his early or late 30s?

Why can’t the next prime minister be any of the other Cabinet ministers, regardless of whether they are older than Mr Lee, or why not Mr Goh himself for that matter?

Someone, in his late 30s, reminded me that a young leader would share the same experiences as a young electorate in this new globalised world.

The assumption, to me, is that it would be more difficult for an older leader to relate to young Singaporeans. By the same logic, would a younger leader be less able to relate to older Singaporeans? Or would a well-educated scholar from a middle-class family be disconnected from the average Singaporean?

Mr Deng Xiaoping may have been 74 and a hardcore communist when he returned to power but he, too, understood the world had moved on, and he was prepared to listen and move with the times.

Another argument that I have heard in favour of younger leaders (and I’m not even going to debate the issue of them being healthier given all the sudden deaths around us) is that they would be able to offer a sense of stability and consistency of leadership over a longer period. Again, I do not believe that an older person cannot do the same given their more matured outlook and experience.

Time To Ditch The Old Template

I feel that what we need in a leader is someone who is able to mobilise his team and people, adapt to the changes around him or her to ensure progress for all.

We need someone who can think out of the box and when needed, tap on the expertise and experience of a good team around him.

It was just as well that former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan reminded us last week that what Singapore needs is new markets, new products and new ideas.

Perhaps it is time to ditch the old template for leadership succession. Sex, race, education – and now age – should not matter as much.

This issue of youth and succession reminds me of two memorable quotes from Mr Reagan.

In the 1960s, a group of protesters confronted Mr Reagan, then a Governor and accused him of failing to understand them.

One of them said: “Governor, it’s impossible for your generation to understand us … You didn’t grow up in a world of instant electronic communications, of cybernetics, of men computing in seconds what once took months, even years, or jet travel, nuclear power, and journeys into space …

When the young man finished, Mr Reagan replied: “You’re absolutely right. Our generation didn’t have those things when we were growing up. We invented them.

Some 20 years later, during the US presidential debate in 1984, then Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale highlighted Mr Reagan’s age as one of his potential shortcomings.

Mr Reagan’s reply: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”  

The writer, aged 45, recently completed his Masters in Public Administration at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

(via TodayOnlinetoday 10 Aug 2009)

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