Wanna be PM? Here’s the criteria

Straits Times reported Wednesday that PM Lee said that the search for his successor is still ongoing. He is seeking political talent in their 30s and early 40s, one of whom he hopes will emerge as his successor. The ST reported:

He looked at recent data on the 600-odd students who score four As in their A levels each year. About two-thirds pursue university degrees here, and one-third go overseas.

Of those who go overseas, at least 100 are not on scholarships. About half of these non-scholarship holders do not return but work abroad after they graduate.

In addition, another 100 of those who get their degrees here go overseas to work. They may come back one day but there is no guarantee.

‘This flow is going to continue,’ Mr Lee said. ‘So it’s a big challenge to find successors, particularly for politics.’

Now I see the No 1 criteria for Prime Ministership: You must get 4As in your A Levels! Everything else is secondary, I guess.


Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

12 thoughts on “Wanna be PM? Here’s the criteria”

  1. I’m wondering how hand picking a Prime Ministerial successor fits into a democracy? (Besides the Russian and sub-Saharan African examples)

  2. A-level performance and performance as PM may not be well-correlated statistically. PM Lee should know this. After all, he studied mathematics. How did he do on his A-levels anyway?

  3. If I recall correctly, he was a president’s scholar…so 4 As should not be too far off…

    hope my memory serves me well..that bit of info above was gleaned from LKY’s memoirs…


  4. Well, definitely good A-level performance does not necessarily equate to good performance as PM, but it is practically a pre-requisite. The overwhelming demands of a nation’s leader mean that you’ll have to be able to handle and cope well with those 4 subjects in college, which are, on hindsight, still a far cry from the work required of a PM.

    After all, most leaders come from top-class universities, so they’re evidently the creme de la creme of their nations. It’s about standing out from the sea of people who also score 4As.
    Cambridge – MM Lee, PM Lee, Manmohan Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru
    Oxford – Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Margaret Thatcher
    Harvard – Barack Obama, George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy, Theodore Roosevelt.

    So the argument goes that being book-smart isn’t everything. Certainly. Still, it’s something.

  5. What he is implying is that the current batch is not yet PM material.

    Anyway, the new PM have to wait after another 3~4 terms of his further rule or at the earliest his demise, whichever occurs earlier.

    The question is why is it that the choice of the next Singapore PM is left at the discretion or one man, or to be exact at his father’s discretion.

  6. Li Hongyi who’s born in 1987 will be in his mid 30s when his dad steps down from the PM position. Isn’t that the “ripe” and “right” time for the successor to take over? Man, mark my words and let me know if I’m a good fortune teller.

  7. I think he wants to take the obvious route becoming a SM or MM, where you retain all the glory and power but are not directly answerable to any boo-boos. You get to travel and make comments which no one welcomes and yet get paid obsene amount of money. But then we will have to come up with a new title for the MM. Perhaps we will have the King Minister, Mentor Minister, Senior Minister.

  8. I doubt the choice of the PM is centred in one man alone.

    No doubt it will be good for a PM to have 4As but I believe there is more than 4As to make a good PM.

    One key ingredient that is needed is empathy for the people. No point having a smart guy at the top who can converse with world leaders, handle complex issues and converse well with world leaders but he does not give a damn to his own people.

    Not saying PM Lee, MM Lee and SM Goh do not care for the people. I personally feel that the 3 of them genuinely do care about Singapore. I can’t say the same for the other ministers though.


  9. I guess when you look at the range of leaders worldwide who have lead their countries – even those with high IQ and good grades are not necessarily the ones who make good leaders. Going to the best school and university can also mean that you have the right connections, are in the right position and have the money to progress. This gives an advantage to those people over those who possibly have more leadership talent but whose background is less favourbable to their progression through the ranks.

  10. Byles – HOw was Kevin Rudd chosen? Btw, in Oz, must all Cabinet ministers (incl the PM) be elected MPs? Apparently in Singapore, they don’t have to be. Some newspapers are proposing they get some technocrat who doesnt want to go through elections to be a Cabinet minister. In Malaysia, they’ve already done that after the embarrassing result which saw so many ministers losing their seats.

    Anon- King Minister? Hahahaha! How about we cut the crap and just call him Emperor or Caesar?

  11. You do not need 4As to go to a top university in America. What you need is right connection and pedigree. Bush Jnr went to Harvard not based on his grades but his dad was Bush! About Cambridge and Oxford. Until recently, probably even now (no outsider knows),expensive private secondary education in Eton College or Harrow School was passport to Oxford and Cambridge.

    Talking about 4As, clever students and famous universities, many large American investment banks hire clever MBAs and PhDs in finance from business schools like Harvard, Sloan and Wharton, and yet these clever cookies were able
    swallow mortgages sold to those penniless who had no chance of paying back the loans. These called sub-prime mortgages are creating tsunami hitting the investment banks like Citi, UBS.. and shaking their foundations. They lost tens of billions of dollars and are shedding thousands of these clever cookies. When Albert Einstein was offered the presidentship of the newly created state of Israel, he declined saying that he wanted to confine himself tothings he knew in Physics.

  12. Some Cambridge grad wrote a much more erudite exposition of this issue here. He made some good points, like:

    1. The biggest variable in how well someone does at A level is how hard they are prepared to work. It is just as likely that selecting someone for their A grades will end up choosing the hardest worker in the group, rather than the brightest.

    2. how were the perfect A grades achieved? If, as is most common in Singapore, they are achieved by the total exclusion of the rest of life and an absolute focus on studies, then that person would be among the WORST possible candidates for political office.

    3. The Government expressed regret that so many of the 600 leave Singapore every year to work elsewhere. It seems to me that they would not leave, had they suitable opportunities here, for personal growth and career development. Provide those opportunities and many of them would stay.

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