Last year's election result not the reason why I stepped aside: DPM
He says decision down to his age and Covid crisis not ending soon
The results of last year's general election, and in East Coast GRC in particular, are not why Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat decided to step aside as leader of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) team, he said yesterday.
Responding to a question, he reiterated that his decision to do so was because of his age and the fact that the Covid-19 crisis would not be coming to an end soon.
Mr Heng, who is 60 this year, noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will stay on as prime minister to see Singapore through the crisis.
"By the time I take over, I will be in my mid-60s and the runway is really too short," he explained, adding that much will change in a post-Covid-19 world and Singapore will need to plan long term.
"We need someone who is younger, with a longer runway, to not think in just one or two election terms, but to think about the long-term future of Singapore and of Singaporeans, and the challenges that we have... So, it is better for someone younger with a longer runway... to take Singapore through this next phase of our nation building."
Mr Heng said he had been an MP for Tampines GRC since he joined politics in 2011 and built a rapport with residents there. He moved to East Coast GRC during last year's general election when it needed to be reinforced.
"It was completely new ground for me and I did my best... When I went out during the campaign, there were residents who told me they changed their minds to vote for the PAP since I was there."
His move to helm the PAP's team was a surprise that took place on Nomination Day. He replaced former minister and labour chief Lim Swee Say, who retired, in one of the most closely watched contests of the election.
The PAP retained the GRC in GE2020 with 53.41 per cent of the vote, down from 2015, when it clinched the constituency with 60.73 per cent.
Asked when he made his decision to step aside, Mr Heng said: "I do not want to take on any job which I cannot deliver. As those of you who have worked with me know, I am a workaholic. I put my heart and soul into what I do. And therefore, I've been thinking about... whether am I the right person?"
On whether he will contest the next election, he responded by thanking East Coast GRC residents for their support, and said he and his team remain committed to serve them.
"We value the support given to us as a party and will continually fight to retain it. The PAP has never taken the support of Singaporeans for granted. I will continue to serve Singaporeans, to the best of my ability, in ways which are useful and meaningful."
Mr Heng said in a letter to PM Lee yesterday that having worked with him, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Kuan Yew, he knows the top job imposes "exceptional demands" on the office holder.
"In a very different post-Covid-19 world, the demands will be even more exacting. While I am in good health today, it is in the best interests of the nation for someone younger to tackle the huge challenges ahead," he said.
"It will be for the 4G team to choose this person, and I stand ready to support the next leader."