What Singapore teaches us about succession planning.

THREE years ago, while delivering a live televised National Day speech, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shocked audiences when he started to keel over.

Lee, then 64 years old, was quickly rushed backstage where a team of doctors attended to him.

He returned to the rostrum almost 90 minutes later, to a standing ovation, and the cancer survivor attributed the episode to fatigue and heat.

He continued his speech and highlighted that what the audience witnessed was a stark reality of everyone’s mortality and the need to be prepared.

“What just happened makes it even more important to talk about succession,” he said.

Lee and the People’s Action Party (PAP), the ruling party in Singapore, quickly put in place a succession plan where it was decided at the party level to anoint Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat as successor.

Heng was elected deputy president of PAP and Lee appointed him the country’s sole deputy prime minister – the prime minister designate – doing away with the traditional two deputy premier posts.

This sent the message to party members, Singaporeans and investors that should there be a sudden vacancy at the top, there will be someone – a specific person – to step in and take over the reins.

These calmed investors and the Singapore Stock Exchange saw improvements.

Heng, a stroke victim himself, was also assured of a capable team to assist him during and after the transition. This was seen in the Cabinet reshuffles and party endorsements.

Lee also demonstrated that he was empowering Heng for the top job by stepping out of the spotlight at national and international meetings and events to allow his successor to shine.

This includes giving way to Heng to co-chair the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) between Singapore and China, an annual forum that maps the direction of Singapore-China relations.

This not only would help Heng to ease into his role as prime minister but also allow the public, businesses, investors and foreign leaders to be familiar with Heng and his style.

“I think it is very important to try to plan ahead and to arrange for orderly political succession,” Lee had told a global forum recently, adding that he plans to hand over the reins within 18 months after the next election.

This timeline, he said, was to give his successor the time to build his team as well as the confidence of the people.

Lee’s neighbours in the north are having their own muddled version of a succession plan.

The man set to take over as the eighth prime minister is not yet in Cabinet.

The current Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, continues to give mixed messages over his commitment to hand over the reins to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Dr Mahathir, who is six years shy of a century in age, has said on many occasions that Anwar will take over, although this commitment has been peppered with caveats.

And most recently in an interview with The Financial Times on Nov 8, he said he will not step down until he has resolved the problems facing the country.

This is extremely vague. Which country has no problems?

And he repeats the mantra: there is no actual date or time mentioned for him to step down.

Despite constant reassurances that “Anwar will succeed me” (a similar statement he made 20 years ago), Dr Mahathir went6 on to tell the Times that: “I have made many mistakes in appointing my successors, so I don’t want to make another mistake this time”.

By Terence Fernandez

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/the-bitter-truth/2019/11/12/what-singapore-teaches-us-about-succession-planning#yLVz7ckGydVvXTJl.99

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