Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke to reporters on Jan. 26, 2018 about Singapore's 4G leadership transition while in India to participate in the Asean-India Commemorative Summit.
PM Lee made clear two things: There will be no new deputy prime ministers in the upcoming Cabinet reshuffle and his successor will be known after the next General Election.
This is his interview in full, with important portions highlighted:
Reporter: He suggested a six- to nine-month timeline for the 16 4G ministers to come up with a leader of their own. What are your thoughts on this?
PM Lee: Well, ESM is speaking with the privilege of watching things rather than being responsible to make it happen. I think we know it is a very serious matter, it's a pressing issue, as the younger ministers have already said in their statement. They know my timetable. After the next election, earlier rather than later, I would like to hand over to a successor.
I think that the team is taking shape. The dynamics amongst them, they're working it out. They are learning to work together and also they need a bit of time for Singaporeans to get a feel of them, not just be known as public figures, but to be responsible for significant policies and making significant policies, to carrying them to justifying them, defending them, adapting them and making them work. And showing that they deserve to lead. And I think that will be done in good time, as they say, I would not be able to say for certain that it would be settled in the the next six to nine months but it will have to be done in good time. I'm confident it will be.
Reporter: PM Lee, if it is settled within the next six to nine months, are you prepared to designate this person as the next PM publicly by this year or would you...?
PM Lee: When we settle, everybody will know. But my assessment is that it will probably take a little longer. We're going to do a reshuffle after the Budget, which will be a significant step and exposing and building the new team. And putting them into different portfolios. Successor designation will depend on the dynamics. I would not say that is imminent.
Reporter: PM, do you have somebody in mind who is most suited for the job?
PM Lee: No, I think that there is a strong team. Each member of the team brings something to the table. They have different strengths. They have different experiences, and different personal styles and characters. But I think if you put their strengths together, we have a strong team.
Singaporeans become... maybe it's the way the media and public politics is displayed in many countries nowadays, it's personalised as one person. The face becomes familiar and you think everything is done by that person. Actually it's not. Actually there's a team, the team works together, and they have one, as Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, striker, now you have to strike from time to time, but you are really sometimes spokesman on behalf of the team, bringing together a collective wisdom and giving voice to that.
And I think in the next team, that aspect of it, would have to be even more important.
Reporter: PM, will you be making your views on the relative strengths and weaknesses of each candidate to the group of 16 before they make their decision?
PM Lee: If they ask me my views, I mean I'll try my best to be helpful. I know that Mr Lee from time to time used to give his public views what he thought possible what younger members of his team were, and what their strengths were. The then younger members of his team found it always a little bit awkward to be put under the spotlight. And I don't think I need to do that to my younger ministers.
Reporter: Are we expecting that we can at least see one or two new DPMs and do you agree that after you have mentioned three Cabinet ministers names in the last PAP convention, is it right to say that we are down to these three as the next potential?
PM Lee: First of all, I am not expecting new DPMs after the budget. Secondly, depending on what the content of the speech is, different ministers get mentioned. So, I would not read too much into who happens to be in one particular speech or not.
Reporter: But do you agree that these three are now the clear forerunners?
PM Lee: I think they're all good ministers.
Reporter:PM, after the group of 16 choose their leader...
PM Lee: Group of 16?
Reporter:The 16 young 4G ministers.
PM Lee: How do you count?
Reporter: They issued a press release and there were 16 names.
PM Lee: Oh well, okay, I think a lot was made of the fact that they left out two of the MOS names, I think they didn't intend to do that and I don't think you should put a lot of weight on that.
Reporter: Okay. After the 4G leaders choose one among them, what would be the role of this person in terms of the next fight in the next General Election?
PM Lee: He will have to pull his weight and he will have to show that he deserves to be what his peers and his colleagues in Cabinet think he can do. It is necessary. If you are unable to win the election, you are unable to be the leader. You can be a great thinker, you can be a great planner, but you have to be in politics.