Singapore minister says he is prepared to become next PM if called upon

Minister Chan Chun Sing meets with journalists at an event in Singapore October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su

By Jack Kim

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - One of the contenders to be Singapore's next leader on Monday said he had an obligation to be ready to take on the job.

In rare comments about succession by a public official, cabinet member Chan Chun Sing said whoever took over was unlikely to drastically change the government's policy direction.

"All of us have to be prepared to do the job when called upon," Chan, a former army chief, told journalists at a Foreign Correspondents Association of Singapore briefing, when asked if he would like the job of prime minister.

"In Singapore, leadership is a responsibility to be borne, not a position to be sought."

Chan, 47, who holds the title of minister in the prime minister's office, is one of a handful of men mentioned as potential successors to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has said he is ready to step down in a couple of years.

Singapore news media have cited Chan as one of a number of contenders to succeed Lee.

Lee, who is the eldest son of Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, has said the new leader is probably already in the cabinet, but a clear choice has yet to emerge.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, also mentioned as a potential successor, has repeatedly said he does not want the job. The Singapore media and political analysts say Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung are also in contention.

Questions about succession in the wealthy Southeast Asian city state - which has been governed by the People's Action Party since independence in 1965 - came into focus when Lee, who has twice survived cancer, took ill during a televised speech last year and stumbled at a podium.

Doctors subsequently said there were no serious concerns.

Lee Kuan Yew's successor, Goh Chok Tong, was identified at least five years in advance while the current leader, who first entered politics in 1984, was also groomed for the position long before he took office in 2004.

Chan entered politics in 2011 after serving more than two decades in the Singapore Army, retiring as a major-general.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Martin Howell)