Outstanding leadership will keep Singapore exceptional

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Singapore is respected on the global stage because of the outstanding quality of its pioneer leaders. The challenge is to continue having such leadership to keep Singapore relevant, said PM Lee.

It was outstanding leadership that brought Singapore to where it is today, and the country needs more exceptional people at the helm to stay relevant and special, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the annual May Day Rally.

PM Lee, the Secretary-General of the PAP, said at the May 1 event that his job is to build a strong leadership team that will lead Singapore into the future. Leadership renewal will be the most important issue at the upcoming general election (GE), said PM Lee, who is 63 this year and in his 11th year as Singapore's third prime minister.

"It is not doing more or spending more, as some would like you to think. It is who will lead Singapore into the future. It is our future at stake and our children's future. Because if this government fails, what is going to happen to you, to all of us, to Singapore?" he told his audience of nearly 5,000 people at The Star Performing Arts Centre in Buona Vista.

The next GE must be held by January 2017, and PM Lee said the nation needs a new team of leaders who are of "high ability, strong character, dedication and gumption".

He spoke of how the hard work of the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his team of ministers had transformed Singapore into the modern country it is today.

"One reason for the strong reaction when Mr Lee passed away was because everyone knew that, without him, what we see around us would not be here today," he pointed out. "Mr Lee's passing reminded people that exceptional leadership made a big difference for Singapore."

Why we punch above our size

Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the pioneer generation of ministers - the likes of Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Lim Kim San, Hon Sui Sen, E W Barker and Othman Wok - helped pave the way for Singapore to have institutions like the HDB, the Singapore Armed Forces and Changi Airport.

Singapore may be a small nation with just over five million people, but other countries regard it seriously and believe that it can make a contribution, PM Lee added.

The prime minister recalled how scores of foreign leaders came to Singapore to attend Mr Lee Kuan Yew's state funeral service, including the heads of state or government of Japan, South Korea, India, Israel and Canada. The United States sent former President Bill Clinton, while China was represented by Vice-President Li Yuanchao.

"Because we are exceptional, because we had an extraordinary leader, people have regard for us. Therefore, we have friends in other countries. We have a voice when events affect us, we can speak up and people listen to us. We have freedom of action to set our national directions to advance our interests," he said.

"To stay exceptional, we need a successful economy. We need hardworking and skilful workers, and we need outstanding leadership."

"A" team for Singapore

For now, PM Lee described his current Cabinet as a balanced one, with a good mix of experienced ministers with over 20 years of experience and fresh faces who came on board at the last GE in 2011.

"I think they have come under some fire, they have come through and they have gelled and worked together as a team, not so many soloists but a team. That is very important, but we all grow old and we all need successors."

PM Lee, who has been given a clean bill of health after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer in early 2015, stressed that no one was infallible and that it was important to find capable people who can step in during times of need.

"I need good men and women to come in, to form the next team to take Singapore forward - beyond me and my generation of ministers and leaders. It is very hard to do," he said. "I am still trying hard and I think I will get a few people to enter and join politics and stand for election in the next GE, but you can never have enough. We can never have an 'A' team for Singapore which is too strong."

This article was first published in the May 2015 issue of Petir magazine.

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