Swimming at the deep end

Swimming at the deep end

SINGAPORE - For a country used to seeing its top politicians groomed over years or even decades, former chief of army Chan Chun Sing's ascendancy from political newbie to full minister has been meteoric.

Even the highest of the high-fliers of 2001's "Super Seven" batch of politicians - Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan - had about four years between entering politics and reaching the same milestone.

Of the current ministers, Mr Chan's rise is outpaced only by Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who managed the rare feat of catapulting straight into full ministership in 2011. This was last accomplished by former finance minister Richard Hu in 1984.

But Mr Heng entered politics at age 50 - a decade older than Mr Chan and the other fourth-generation leaders.

What the accelerated pace of the careers of Mr Chan and his two peers - Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin and Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong - reflects is an urgency created by uncertainty.

Mr Chan became Acting Minister immediately after the 2011 General Election while Mr Tan and Mr Wong were made Ministers of State, before moving up to their current acting roles a year later.

Even with these moves, Singapore politics has never before had so little clarity on the ruling party's succession planning.

In 2011, as he inducted the fourth-generation leaders into his Cabinet, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (in photo above) said that the faster pace of political appointment was due to the urgency of leadership succession.

He has since said that he hopes not to be PM beyond 70 years old - he is currently 61 - and has set himself a deadline of 2020 to hand over to Singapore's fourth-generation leadership. That is just seven years away. At the corresponding moment in Mr Goh Chok Tong's premiership, it was quite clear who his successor would be.

This is why the young ministers have had to endure the political equivalent of being dropped into the deep end of the pool.

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