Forty-five years and counting: The political careers of Singapore’s outgoing deputy prime ministers

Both outgoing deputy prime ministers, Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who are seen as core leaders of Singapore’s third-generation political leaders, hope to continue as MPs of their constituencies in the coming years. — TODAY file pic
Both outgoing deputy prime ministers, Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who are seen as core leaders of Singapore’s third-generation political leaders, hope to continue as MPs of their constituencies in the coming years. — TODAY file pic

SINGAPORE — After a combined 18 years as Singapore deputy prime ministers (DPMs), Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam will make way for Heng Swee Keat, 57, on May 1 and be appointed senior ministers in the Cabinet.

Commenting after the official announcement yesterday, both men characterised the changes as an important step in leadership renewal, Singapore-style.

Both outgoing DPMs, who are seen as core leaders of Singapore’s third-generation political leaders, also hope to continue as MPs of Pasir Ris-Punggol (for Teo) and Jurong (for Tharman) in the coming years.

TODAY takes a look at their political careers spanning 45 years in total, and counting.

Teo Chee Hean

Teo, 64, was a rear-admiral in the navy before entering politics in December 1992 in a by-election at Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

Then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong — who had succeeded Lee Kuan Yew in November 1990 — called the by-election in his own GRC to seek a stronger mandate, following the People’s Action Party’s unconvincing showing in the August 1991 general election. He also wanted to get more people of “ministerial calibre” to join the government.

Since then, Teo has been re-elected to Parliament five times in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

He has helmed the home affairs and defence ministries and other portfolios, and was also at one point the Minister-in-charge of the Civil Service.

He was appointed DPM on April 1, 2009.

Besides his senior minister appointment from May 1, Teo will continue serving as Coordinating Minister for National Security, a post he has held since 2011.

He will also continue to oversee the Prime Minister’s Office Strategy Group, the Smart Nation and Digital Government Group, National Security Coordination Secretariat, National Population and Talent Division, and the National Climate Change Secretariat.

The former President’s and Singapore Armed Forces scholar studied electrical engineering and management science, and did post-graduate studies in computing science and public administration.

In a press statement yesterday after the Cabinet changes were announced, Teo hailed the “Singapore way of ensuring smooth leadership transition, continuity and stability”.

“Senior leaders make way in good time for the next generation, share their experience and help the next generation of leaders to succeed,” he said.

And he has no plans yet to walk away into the sunset. Teo indicated that he will continue his decades-long involvement in politics by standing in the coming general election, which must be held by early 2021.

“I also hope to continue to have the support of our Pasir Ris-Punggol residents to continue as their MP at the next General Election,” he said.

Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Tharman, 62, joined politics in 2001 as one of the “Super Seven” candidates alongside Khaw Boon Wan, Dr Ng Eng Hen, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the late Balaji Sadasivan, Raymond Lim and Cedric Foo.

He has served as education minister and finance minister, and was appointed DPM in 2011. He was made Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies in 2015.

From May 1, he will be designated senior minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, but will continue to advise the prime minister on economic policies.

He will be appointed deputy chairman of the country’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, and continue to be chairman of Singapore’s central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Tharman — who is economics-trained and was an avid sportsman and published poet in his younger days — has often spoken about the role of Singapore’s education system in increasing social mobility, but needing to evolve to spur innovation and create a sense of individuality among Singaporeans.

He led the SkillsFuture lifelong 4learning movement, which was launched in 2014.

Known for his grassroots work, he has been re-elected thrice since 2001 and led Jurong GRC in garnering the highest vote share for the ruling People’s Action Party in the 2015 general election.

Posting on Facebook about the Cabinet changes yesterday, Tharman noted Singaporeans’ changing views and aspirations, and a less predictable world. Climate change will also demand bolder actions everywhere, he said.

He reiterated the need for the fourth-generation leadership to “keep their ears close to the ground, stay open to new ideas and initiatives, and keep evolving our strategies to keep our society inclusive and vibrant”.

“I am sure they will, and will help them in every way I can in government,” he said. — TODAY

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