The PAP seems to be obsessed with finding a fresh face to succeed Lee Hsien Loong. I believe this is unhealthy. What about the current batch of ministers? Are none of them reasonably capable of taking the reins of government? Many of them I do not like, but I can name a few who seem to have potential: George Yeo, Teo Chee Hean or even Vivian Balakrishnan (to whom I've not yet forgiven for his statement about giving money to the poor).
Why do I think this is unhealthy?
If we take Goh's words on face value, politicians (from the PAP) are effectively discriminated against based loosely on their age. If I shared the same "political generation" as the current Prime Minister in the PAP, I am effectively disqualified from becoming Prime Minister. What if circumstances put in place a younger person far less capable than I am? How do you think this would make people feel? It makes joining the PAP turn into some kind of race to gain recognition from party bosses. Only one (within each generation) will make it to become Prime Minister. Once that decision is made, no one else will.
I find it ironic that Goh says the following:
Mr Goh noted the next prime minister will have to be in his 30s today. That is because it will take another five to 10 years for the potential candidate to fully understand how to deal with people, policies and international partners.
"It's not an easy task," Mr Goh said. "He's (Mr Lee Hsien Loong is) having a more difficult time now. He's looking for a fourth prime minister."
Mr Goh added that during his time, he could get ministers at the age of 37 or 38. Now, ministers are in their early 40s.
To him (if he even bothers listening), I say the reason is staring right at him in the face. Not only has the PAP created a hostile environment for participating in opposition politics or civil society, they are creating a hostile environment within their own ranks. Surely, he realizes that at one stroke, he had just disqualified every newcomer to the PAP team, including the so-called P65-ers? What effect do you think this has on their morale?
Let me now try to dissect the problem into various components:
1. Managed Succession: The PAP believes in a managed (staged, I say) political succession, for stability reasons. I do not believe this is what a democracy is all about. Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, once said (I do not remember the exact quote, nor can I find that article which once carried that quote) he did not worry about who succeeded him as President because the people would choose based on their needs as was required in a democracy. I believe he said if he interfered, he would effectively break that democratic process.
Contrast this with what Goh Chok Tong said was Singapore's "unique approach":
Mr Goh said Singapore has a unique system of political succession. He said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, who stepped down as prime minister in 1990, marked his own contribution to Singapore not by what he has achieved but whether the country can continue to sustain its development.
"If Singapore can, then he (Minister Mentor Lee) will say, 'I've succeeded in building Singapore.' If Singapore falters, 4, 5 years after he is gone, then he would say he's not succeeded in his ambition of building Singapore," said Mr Goh.
By staying on in politics, Lee is basically unwilling to allow his legacy (by Goh's accounting of Lee's criteria of "success") to be judged after he stepped down. Imho, that is because his ultimate legacy is less-than-sterling. If he had truly succeeded, he would have left behind a self-sustaining political system that would serve Singaporeans well by being robust regardless of who was in charge. The US political system, for all its known flaws, is one such system where succession is usually smooth, even between rival political parties. The British system, changes political ideology in government without much of a fuss.
2. Leadership Longevity: The PAP believes that once a Prime Minister is chosen by the party, for stability and to be effective, he/she needs to stay 15-20 years. I wonder how much of this resulted from the sting Goh Chok Tong took when Catherine Lim suggested he was a "seat warmer" for Lee Hsien Loong. Anyway, I believe this is the primary reason why, in Goh's view, no one else in Lee's political generation can ever become Prime Minister. [Edit: (Reason: Because there simply isn't enough time to fit 2 Prime Ministers over 30-40 years in one generaion.)] While it sounds "reasonable", again it is not what a democracy is all about. The population of informed citizens is the key test for the longevity of a Prime Minister. That is why we have elections, to judge the effectiveness of our current politicians and choose others if necessary.
3. Political Assumptions: The PAP assumes it will always be in government and that it is a monolithic entity where the Prime Minister is always chosen whenever the party wins government. Well, I hate to burst their bubble, but the latter assumption works if Singapore used the Israeli political system where the electorate votes nationally for parties and parties list their political candidates for proportional selection. It is not guaranteed to work in Singapore's own current political system. It doesn't take a genius to observe that the PAP government has already started to lose touch with the electorate and will continue to do so if it does not take stock. I would take joy in a silent giggle the day the electorate elects well-established ministers but throws the Prime Minister out of office. Let's see how the PAP will react when their succession plans are thrown into the resulting chaos.
Finally, on an off-note, I read with distaste what Goh Chok Tong said about Burma in the article:
Separately, Mr Goh also touched on the situation in Myanmar. He said while pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is seen by the West as the solution, she is also "part of the problem" because she believes she is the government.
Mr Goh noted that Ms Suu Kyi's political party needs to seek a fresh mandate in the 2010 general election.
Seek a fresh mandate? They won an overwhelming mandate in the last elections and had it taken away from them by the force of arms. It is the current Burmese government that has ZERO mandate to run the government! Aung San Suu Kyi has EVERY right to consider herself and her party the legitimate government of the country.