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SINGAPORE, April 8 — The fourth generation (4G) of Singapore’s political leaders have asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to stay on in his role, saying that the unexpected news of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat stepping aside as their head is a “setback for our succession planning”.
In a statement issued to the media today, the 4G team said that it will need more time to select another leader from among themselves and have therefore asked Mr Lee to stay on as prime minister until they have chosen a new successor and the successor is ready to take over.
“We are grateful that PM has agreed to our request,” they wrote.
The 4G team issued the statement after a meeting attended by all the ministers, senior ministers of state and ministers of state, the Speaker of Parliament and the secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress. Lee, Heng and the two senior ministers — Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shamugaratnam — were not at the meeting.
Noting that Singapore faces immediate pressures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 4G team said that its foremost priority is to tackle these challenges and ensure that the country emerges stronger from this crisis.
“This unexpected turn of events is a setback for our succession planning,” the statement read.
“We recognise that Singaporeans will be concerned. We seek your support and understanding, as we choose another leader for the team. We will continue working as a team to serve our people, and to earn the confidence and trust of all Singaporeans.”
The team added that it respects and accepts Heng’s decision.
“We appreciate what a difficult decision it must have been,” they wrote. “But no one could have foreseen the disruption of Covid-19, the great uncertainty it has created, and its long-lasting impact. We know that he has made the decision with Singapore’s long-term interests at heart.”
The 4G team noted that in the two years since he was named deputy prime minister, Heng has played a critical role in leading the key initiatives of the Government, such as championing the Singapore Together movement, guiding the national research and development and economic restructuring efforts, and delivering five budgets in 12 months during the pandemic.
“Believing in the collective strength of our people, he has engaged individuals, communities and groups widely, and enabled their active participation in improving our economy and society,” they wrote.
“We are glad that DPM Heng will remain a member of our team, and will continue in his roles as DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies. We have all benefited from his experience and expertise, and we look forward to his continued advice and contributions as we navigate our recovery and chart Singapore’s path forward.”
During a press conference today, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who is also the second assistant secretary-general of the People’s Action Party (PAP), was asked whether he is now the next in line to take on Heng’s role.
Heng is the first assistant secretary-general of PAP.
Chan said that Heng’s latest move was an opportunity for the 4G to relook its succession plan.
“We were all working on the basis that the issue of succession had been settled. We were all entirely focused on making sure that Singapore can get through the Covid situation and emerge stronger. Now that DPM has decided to step aside, we will need to relook the issue of succession,” he said.
“DPM Heng chose me as his deputy in 2018 and the team supported it. Now that DPM has decided to step aside as the leader of the 4G, the 4G team should be given the opportunity to relook the question of succession holistically and we will make a collective decision on who will be the next leader of the 4G in due course.”
Some of the 4G leaders were also asked during the press conference whether anyone among them was a frontrunner to replace Heng.
Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, who in 2018 was considered by political analysts as one of the three top potential candidates for the role of Singapore’s next prime minister apart from Heng and Chan, responded by saying that the 4G team takes succession planning very seriously.
“Our way is, fundamentally, we look at the team, how the team works together, how we complement each other’s strengths and, where we have shortcomings, how we support each other. Over time, the individual members rally around someone and (the person) would emerge as the leader — the first among equals.” — TODAY