MM Lee views on Political Leadership

Political leaders cannot be trained, but must be found, says MM Lee
By Asha Popatlal, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 02 September 2009 2217 hrs

SINGAPORE: Political leaders cannot be trained, but must be found and be people with passion, says Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

And that’s one reason why, unlike corporate leaders, they are so much harder to get. Mr Lee was speaking on leadership transition and other issues in a wide-ranging dialogue session at the fifth anniversary of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

It was a mixed 800-strong crowd of corporate heads, policy analysts, international students and half the Cabinet.

They were all present to celebrate a school that has grown from just 40 students from a handful of countries, to over 300 students from 52 countries and territories.

At the dialogue session, when asked what he would do if there was a freak election result locally, Mr Lee said he had ensured safeguards were in place.

“Many voters now tell us openly – “my family, three of us vote for you but two of us voted against you”. Just to let you know we want an opposition voice and we don’t want you to be so overwhelming. So in that case you may have a freak result and that worries me. So we have a president with blocking powers,” said Mr Lee.

Which means a new party cannot raid the reserves or change top officials, such as the police commander, without the president’s consent.

Mr Lee said: “I spent 15 years thinking out these safeguards and finally persuaded my younger colleagues that we needed this because they can’t guarantee that they’ll each time provide a better team than the opposition, just because it has been done in the past. No problem in next election, but maybe after that – if we don’t find a good team in elections after that – we are at risk.”

But concerns about the global economy were also very much on people’s minds and questions were asked as to Mr Lee’s views on what could have led to the fallout.

Mr Lee believes the excesses of the liberal system and the belief that a completely free market will allow great benefits, were contributing factors.

“However we learn, whatever lesson we learnt, I believe that the free market system from time to time you must expect a glitch and a failure in the market. It happens regularly … you will learn the lesson from this ever after, no more crisis and I think certainly it will happen again. That’s the way of the free market economies,” he said.

Mr Lee also fielded questions on his views on developments in India and China. But it wasn’t all serious as he refused to take one question.

One man asked: “I believe that Indonesia currently faces a situation you have often warned against. Which is when there are too many voices in the marketplace, it is too easily swayed by public opinion. How do you think a country like Indonesia should deal with this type of situation?”

“You expect me to endorse your statement? My business is to maintain friendly relations. I think I’ll pass that question,” he replied.

The school, also gave mementoes to donors. It had successfully raised $16.5 million, which with the government’s matching grant, would make it $33 million, far higher than the initial aim of $5 million. – CNA/de


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