Photo of Tharman by straitstimes Desmond Wee

In a public forum about what lies ahead of Singapore at the SG50+ Conference held by the Institute of Policy Studies, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shamugaratnam unreservedly said that he will not be the next Prime Minister unless the ruling PAP Government forced him to. DPM Tharman said that he is neither interested in the PM role nor believe he is suitable for it:

“Let me put it this way, we all have our preferences. And I was always, in sports, a centre half rather than centre forward. I enjoy playing half back and making the long passes, but I am not the striker.

Unless I am forced to be, and I don’t think I will be forced to it, because I think we have got choices. It is not bad that we think so hard about succession, and we don’t always get it the way we expect it to be, but we think very hard about succession in Singapore.”

Photo of Tharman by straitstimes Desmond Wee
Photo of Tharman by straitstimes Desmond Wee

The forum host, CNN journalist Dr Fareed Zakaria, also asked DPM Tharman if Singapore will get to see a non-Chinese Prime Minister one day, of which DPM Tharman became politically-correct and ambiguously said “it is just a matter of time”.

The issue on a non-Chinese Prime Minister has previously surfaced to the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong where he said it will not happen any time soon and that Singaporeans are not yet “totally race-blind and religion-blind”:

“Will it happen soon? I don’t think so, because you have to win votes. And these sentiments – who votes for whom,and what makes him identify with that person – these are sentiments which will not disappear completely for a long time, even if people do not talk about it, even if people wish they did not feel it.

…attitudes towards race had shifted in the last two to three decades as English provided more of a common ground, but said to get to “a position where everyone is totally race-blind and religion-blind, I think that is very difficult. You will not find it in any country in the world.”

The Singapore Government has sparked heavy criticisms over the positions of the family and friends of the first PM Lee Kuan Yew. His eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, became Singapore’s PM in 2004 and even until today, most people remains unconvinced Lee Hsien Loong attained his PM role without the help of his father. Lee Hsien Loong’s leadership has faced much criticisms as the PM leadership inherited the controversial aspect of his father’s (i.e. restriction of free speech), but none of the economic and social progress Singaporeans enjoyed during his father’s days. Lee Hsien Loong has been PM for the past 11 years, but unlike a real democracy, there is no legislated limit on the number of years he can be Prime Minister.