Singapore

Heng: Move to East Coast GRC is to avoid a "succession gap"

Surprise switch not a 'manhood thing' but about where DPM can make the most contribution, says PM Lee

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's decision to leave his Tampines stronghold to lead the PAP's five-man team in East Coast GRC was to avoid a "succession gap" in uncertain times.

In East Coast GRC, Mr Heng will replace former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who is retiring from politics.

Mr Heng said the decision was one that was made after discussions with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr Heng, in a Facebook post, set out the reasons for springing one of the biggest surprises on the morning of Nomination Day yesterday.

He said: "The question was: Should I move to East Coast? I thought long and hard about it. After serving for almost a decade, I am very attached to Tampines and the people there."

Mr Heng, the PAP's first assistant secretary-general, added: "If I move, I can do my part in East Coast. We cannot afford a gap in East Coast in these uncertain times. We need a full team that can take care of the residents and position them to come out of this crisis stronger than before."

This is the second general election in a row where every seat will be contested. A total of 192 candidates will vie for 93 seats in 17 group representation constituencies and 14 single-member constituencies.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called it a crisis election because of what is at stake amid Covid-19 - "our lives, our jobs and our future".

In East Coast GRC, Mr Heng and his team - Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman, Ms Cheryl Chan, Ms Jessica Tan and new face Mr Tan Kiat How, former chief executive of the Infocomm Media Development Authority - will face a straight fight against the Workers' Party, in a potential repeat of one of the keenest battles in the 2015 General Election.

The WP team comprises wealth advisory firm director Dylan Ng, Singapore Cancer Society deputy director Kenneth Foo, lawyer Terence Tan, former researcher Sharif Kassim and former National Solidarity Party candidate Nicole Seah.

Mr Heng said that Tampines GRC, where Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli will replace him as anchor minister, has a "very good team".

He said he and Mr Masagos have been working closely on many projects and each time, Mr Masagos has delivered.

"I'm confident that Masagos and his team will be able to deliver if our Tampines residents continue to give their support to our team," he added.

At a People's Action Party press conference yesterday after the slates were finalised, PM Lee was asked if he had dispatched Mr Heng to a constituency with fiercer competition to give him a chance to prove himself as a leader.

PM Lee said: "I don't think this is a manhood thing. He doesn't have to go there and prove that he is in the fiercest battle. It helps to have won a good fight, but he goes where it makes the most contribution to the overall campaign."

Asked if fielding Mr Heng in East Coast was a risky move, PM Lee said: "I think in an election you fight to win, but you are never absolutely certain that you will win. We send somebody where we think he has a good chance of winning, and I'm quite sure Swee Keat will put his all to make sure he gets a good outcome in East Coast."

In his Facebook post, Mr Heng said his new team is looking forward to working with residents to build on their spirit of mutual care and support, and emerging stronger from the crisis. "There is so much to learn, and I will work hard to learn it."

In his post, Mr Heng paid tribute to Mr Lim for his contributions to Singapore and his work in his old constituency.

Mr Lim was best known for championing workers during his time as labour chief and Manpower Minister, and brought a "very balanced tripartite perspective to any discussion", he wrote.

Mr Heng recalled a dinner with Mr Lim 18 months ago, where the former minister, "in his usual way... spoke at length about everything he was passionate about".

This included Mr Lim's concerns and hopes for East Coast residents. The discussion, Mr Heng said, helped him to better understand the people in the constituency.

He said: "I look forward to meeting the residents of East Coast that our team speaks so fondly of. I hope to learn about your worries as well as your hopes. I hope to earn your confidence. If you entrust us with your vote, my team and I will do our best for you and for Singapore, to work with everyone to navigate Singapore out of this unprecedented crisis." - THE STRAITS TIMES

FOR MORE ON THE ELECTION, READ THE STRAITS TIMES

GENERAL ELECTION 2020