Reactions to Heng Swee Keat's decision

Singapore's leadership succession has been reset by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's decision to step aside as future prime minister, but the transition to the ruling party's fourth-generation (4G) leaders must continue, said Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday.

Mr Goh noted that Mr Heng had made "a selfless and courageous decision in the interest of Singapore".

His comments followed the announcement by Mr Heng that he would make way for a younger minister to take over as leader of the ruling party's 4G group of ministers.

The development stunned many people, including Leader of the Opposition and Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh, who told The Straits Times: "The news of DPM Heng's decision to step down as Singapore's next PM came as a surprise."

He added: "As the opposition in Parliament, my Workers' Party colleagues and I will work with whoever is selected by the 4G PAP, and the Government of the day, for the betterment of Singapore and Singaporeans."

Ms Nydia Ngiow, senior director of BowerGroupAsia Singapore, which advises companies on government affairs and polices, described Mr Heng as "a victim of the pandemic", which she noted had uprooted many best-laid plans.

But she, as well as other political watchers, believes the timing of the announcement also points to results of the general election (GE) last year at play, in which Mr Heng led a team that retained East Coast GRC, though by a lower margin than in the previous election.

Institute of Policy Studies deputy director for research Gillian Koh said: "Any political watcher in Singapore must admit that there were Singaporeans questioning the political future of Mr Heng after the general election in 2020.

"While Mr Heng dismissed any linkage whatsoever between today's announcement and the GE, in the minds of some Singaporeans, they will not be all that surprised by the announcement."

Some observers saw Mr Heng's move as a testament to the resilience of Singapore's system, adding that it was unlikely to affect political stability and trust in the Government.

Observers like Singapore Management University associate professor of law Eugene Tan and Dr Koh said having PM Lee Hsien Loong remain at the helm in the meantime maintains stability and assurance.

Prof Tan said: "It is a setback but it won't affect political stability, trust in the government. I would be worried if we proceeded with plans knowing they are not in the best interests of Singapore and her people."

National University of Singapore associate professor of sociology Tan Ern Ser, meanwhile, said while the change may look on the surface like a "serious disruption of the succession plan", the 4G team probably had a ranked order of succession in place all along and would be able to activate the next plan.

As the news settles in, all eyes will be on the 4G team that will now have to select a new leader.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.

Singapore Politics