DPM Heng steps aside as 4G leader for younger successor

He will stay on as DPM, as 4G leaders ask for more time to select another leader from among them

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat is stepping aside as leader of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) team to let a younger person with a longer runway lead the country when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong retires.

Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, cited the long-term and profound challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, his age and the demands of the top job as reasons for his decision.

"As the crisis will be prolonged, I would be close to the mid-60s when the crisis is over. The 60s are still a very productive time of life," he said.

"But when I also consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then. We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-Covid-19 but also lead the next phase of our nation-building effort."

Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was 35 when he took on the job, his successor Goh Chok Tong was 49 and PM Lee was 52.

Mr Heng, who said his decision was taken after careful deliberation and discussion with his family, added that he had made the decision with the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart.

PM Lee said he understood and respected the decision by Mr Heng, who will stay on as DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.

As had been earlier planned between the two men, he will relinquish his finance portfolio when a Cabinet reshuffle takes place in two weeks. Mr Heng will also remain the PAP's first assistant secretary-general.

Noting that Mr Heng has done exceptional work as Minister for Finance, especially in the past year, PM Lee said: "I thank you for your selfless decision to stand aside. Your actions now are fully in keeping with the spirit of public service and sense of duty that motivated you to step forward when I asked you to stand for election in 2011."

In a statement, the 4G leadership said it respected and accepted Mr Heng's decision.

The spotlight is now on who is likely to succeed Mr Heng.

During a press conference at the Istana yesterday, the 4G leaders said they would need more time to select another leader from among them.

Political analysts consider these four core members of the 4G team as likely candidates to be the new leader and succeed Mr Lee as prime minister: Mr Chan Chun Sing, 51, Mr Ong Ye Kung, 51, Mr Lawrence Wong, 48, and Mr Desmond Lee, 44.

All four sit on the PAP's central executive committee.Mr Chan ranks highest among the four as second assistant secretary-general.

He retired as chief of army to enter politics in 2011. Elected MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, Mr Chan was made Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports and Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts.

He was promoted to Minister of Social and Family Development in 2013, and is now Minister for Trade and Industry and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service.

Mr Ong, whose previous positions included chief executive of the Workforce Development Agency, contested the 2011 General Election as part of the PAP team in Aljunied GRC that lost to the Workers' Party.

In 2015, he was elected for Sembawang GRC and appointed Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills). He was made full minister the next year and also became Second Defence Minister.

Mr Ong later helmed the full education portfolio. Now Transport Minister, he also sits on the board of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Mr Wong headed the Energy Market Authority before entering politics in 2011.

Now Education Minister and Second Minister for Finance, he was made full minister in 2014 and has held positions in the ministries of defence; communications and information; national development; and culture, community and youth.


Mr Wong's profile has risen from his role in leading the Government's pandemic response as co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, alongside Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

The youngest of the four is Mr Lee, who is Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration.

He was elected MP for Jurong GRC in 2011, and in 2017 was appointed Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Minister for Social and Family Development, and Second Minister for National Development.

Mr Lee, who moved to West Coast GRC for the 2020 General Election, co-chairs the Singapore Together movement that encourages people to partner the Government, as well as the Emerging Stronger task force charting the post-pandemic economic recovery.

Before politics, Mr Lee, the son of former Cabinet minister Lee Yock Suan, served as a deputy public prosecutor and state counsel in the Attorney-General's Chambers. 

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.


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