New Naratif invited people to tell us who they thought the next Prime Minister of Singapore should be, and why. On this episode, PJ Thum speaks to the four finalists. Listen to the interview, read their written arguments, and vote for who you think made the best argument below!
In alphabetical order by contestant:
Roderick Foo, for Louis Ng
I am sure many Singaporeans can agree that in recent times, many doubts have been cast over the character and capabilities of Singaporean political leadership in both main parties. I am not here to determine whether those doubts are founded, but it is perhaps then appropriate, if we are asking the question of who should, and not could, become the next Prime Minister, to look to the parliamentary backbenches. Among these, one name stands out as a somewhat special and unorthodox member of the PAP, who might be in a different party given a different political landscape. He was an activist and understands the struggle of fighting against the system, but also works within it. Some people might take that to be a sacrifice of morals, but I take it to mean Louis Ng should be the next Prime Minister of Singapore.
Mr Ng started out as the founder of ACRES, an animal protection NGO, and led it for nearly 14 years up until his election as a MP for Nee Soon GRC. In line with his beliefs, he is a practicing vegetarian, and he does not consume shark fin soup or stingray. He does what he preaches, a value which would be valuable for any Prime Minister to have.
He is currently the chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee on Sustainability and the Environment, which, although no ministerial role, is certainly nothing to scoff at. Despite being a backbencher, he has helped to push many environmental and animal protection based laws, and even government policies. You can argue about whether the things he pushes are good or not, but there is no doubt he is fighting for what he believes is right.
In addition, he also actively connects with his constituents online, and is consistently one of the MPs that speaks up in Parliament the most. This indicates that he has at least some form of understanding of ground sentiment. In addition, he is also a relatable figure, as a parent of young kids in a society that is seeing more and more of them becoming more politically aware.
Does Ng have a voting record that indicates he is any sort of progressive? Not necessarily. For example, he has voted with the party on issues such as POFMA, which certainly does not bode well for his potential views on civil liberties. However, it is entirely possible that he is not a particularly strong supporter of the government policy on these fronts, and if he should become Prime Minister, he may change tack to a degree. More importantly, the main reason I’m arguing for Ng to be the next PM is not necessarily because of his politics, but what he represents: An activist who walks the walk and connects with the ground. Hence, the conclusion: Louis Ng, in an ideal world, should be the next Prime Minister of Singapore.
Joel Wong, For Prof Teo You Yenn
Some time ago, I came across a news article, covering the apology of the Finnish PM Sanna Marin, who had been caught partying after she had been identified as close contact of a COVID positive patient. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-59577371)
I was actually rather affected by the article, but I did not know immediately why. My initial thoughts were “oh, another leader not following the rules, something that does not happen here.” As I further reflected on the article however, it struck me how weird it was to be reading about a young female PM making an apology, which feels impossible here in Singapore. Our imaginations seemed so tightly controlled that we can not imagine a PM who is not a Chinese male, younger than 50 (and who is willing to apologise).
These thoughts returned to me when I came across your call for submissions. My instinctive response was someone like Tharman, given his technocratic brilliance, and kind manner. Giving it greater thought, I believe that it was important to suggest someone outside the mold of a technocrat as espoused by the government. Thus I made the conscious choice to search for a female candidate.
Professor Teo is someone I hold in the highest regard. I believe that she would make a good PM for Singapore because she represents the kind of society I believe Singapore should move towards: one that is not just kinder, but that stands for justice (in its myriad forms), and real equity (whether gender, class, race/ethnicity)
Of course, some might contend that she herself, rather like members of the PAP, is a member of the academic elite. This critique, perhaps valid, obscures how her research into the lived experiences also demonstrates her willingness to not just listen intently to the ordinary man on the street, but more deeply seeks structural change from an embodied position, and not from above.
It further demonstrates a reflexiveness that I believe is sorely missing not just in our political discourse, but more deeply in our politics and approach to history. This I believe is her strongest quality, for it reflects an implicit trust in the people of this country. Trust in the people, it seems, is something that is in dangerously short supply, as performativity has become the cornerstone of policy-making in this country. This is what makes Professor Teo a candidate that I believe will herald a qualitative change in the approach not just to policy-making, but also the politics, and the social discourses happening that we desperately need today.
It is high time that we move towards a more progressive society that many younger people (myself included) really want to see. She stands for the common man, and also for unlocking our imaginations for a more equitable future. Professor Teo in my opinion, represents our best hope towards realising the future as envisioned by our forebears as they chanted ‘Merdeka’!
Yeo Kian Hwee, for Lawrence Wong
1. Handling of COVID situation
– Took a more careful and calibrated approach when handling the situation.
– No negative news on his reputation, commonly accepted by the people.
2. Long term PAP member
– Probably know how to move the country forward or at least don’t rock the boat too much.
– Should be able to unite the PAP to negotiate with other parties.
– Experienced in the Ministry of Trade, Monetary Authority of Singapore and Industry and Ministry of Finance.
– Currently Minister of Finance, has the opportunity to expose himself to national finance matters.
– High chance to know how business works between countries and how to develop an economy.
Seats in parliament
- SDP 10% (9 seats)
- WP 30% (28 seats)
- PV 5% (4 seats)
- PAP 40% (38 seats)
- PSP 15% (14 seats)
– No one party can pass the law without negotiation with other parties who represent the interests of different voter groups.
– PAP & WP still represents the most voters from the latest election, so with 2 parties combined seats, amendment to constitution is possible.
Steven Yeong, for Teo Chee Hean
Let me preface by saying that the person whom I think will be the next PM is not my personal choice. Rather, its an exercise in crystal-ball gazing. My heart wishes it would be a non-PAP person. God knows they have run out of ideas to run this country let alone inspire us.
Before I answer the question, I believe that LHL will continue to be PM until he passes. In the last decade, clearly, LHL does not think anyone else is worthy to take over.
So who will take over when he passes?
I think we cannot rule out Teo Chee Hean, currently the Senior Minister (I did not know he holds this title now until I checked on Wikipedia!). Though Teo is 67 years old now, he still seems fit and full of vigour unlike LHL. The PAP cadres may see in Teo a safe pair of hands. A caretaker PM if you will and to buy time for other to take over. The PAP can argue that other countries have leaders who are older but still physically fit for office. Teo, being Chinese Singaporean, would check this box off. I think Teo would provide to the PAP the bridge to the previous generation of leaders and offer a stop-gap measure rather than throw in their hat with a so-called 4G or 5G leader.
- Yeo Kian Hwee (Lawrence Wong) – 57 votes
- Joel Wong (Prof Teo You Yenn) – 52 votes
- (tie) Steven Yeong (Teo Chee Hean) – 29 votes; Roderick Foo (Lous Ng) – 29 votes.
Watch PJ’s interview with Yeo here. Our congratulations to Yeo Kian Hwee, and our thanks to everyone who voted!