Friday 9 April 2021

DPM Heng Swee Keat steps aside as leader of 4G team on 8 April 2021

PM Lee Hsien Loong to stay on until new 4G leader is chosen to replace DPM Heng

Cabinet reshuffle to be announced in two weeks; Heng to give up finance portfolio, remain in Cabinet as DPM and also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies

Same leadership team remains in place to deal with foreign countries, investors

4G ministers to pick new leader as Heng Swee Keat steps aside, setting back Singapore's succession plan for next Prime Minister
By Sumiko Tan, Executive Editor, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has decided to step aside as leader of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) team, and pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong retires.

Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, cited the long-term and profound challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, his age and the demands of the top job as reasons for his decision.

"This year, I am 60. As the crisis will be prolonged, I would be close to the mid-60s when the crisis is over. The 60s are still a very productive time of life," he said.

"But when I also consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then. We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-Covid-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building effort."

Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was 35 when he took on the job, his successor Goh Chok Tong was 49 and PM Lee was 52.

Mr Heng, who said his decision was taken after careful deliberation and discussion with his family, said: "I have decided to step aside as leader of the 4G team so that a younger leader who will have a longer runway can take over." He added that he had made the decision with the best interests of Singapore and Singaporeans at heart.

PM Lee said he understood and respected Mr Heng's decision. Mr Heng will stay on in the Cabinet as DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies. As had been earlier planned between the two men, he will relinquish his finance portfolio when a Cabinet reshuffle takes place in two weeks. Mr Heng will also remain the PAP's first assistant secretary-general.

Noting that Mr Heng has done exceptional work as Minister for Finance, especially in the past year, PM Lee said: "I thank you for your selfless decision to stand aside. Your actions now are fully in keeping with the spirit of public service and sense of duty that motivated you to step forward when I asked you to stand for election in 2011."

The 4G leadership issued a statement saying it respected and accepted Mr Heng's decision, and that it must have been a difficult one to make. "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 statement, which bore the names of 30 office-holders, the Speaker of Parliament and the secretary-general of the NTUC, noted the critical role Mr Heng played in leading key initiatives, including delivering five Budgets last year.

It also said that tackling Singapore's pressing immediate challenges and ensuring that the country emerges stronger from this crisis remain the foremost priority.

"Under these circumstances, the 4G team will need more time to select another leader from amongst us. We have therefore requested PM Lee Hsien Loong to stay on as Prime Minister until such time when a new successor is chosen by the team and is ready to take over. We are grateful that PM has agreed to our request."

The statement added that this "unexpected turn of events is a setback for our succession planning", and sought Singaporeans' support and understanding.

The shocking news was announced at a 4.30pm news conference at the Istana yesterday. Facing the media were PM Lee, Mr Heng and seven other ministers who are in the PAP central executive committee. They included 4G ministers Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung, both 51, who had in earlier years been touted as contenders for the role of 4G leader, as well as younger ministers Lawrence Wong, 48, and Desmond Lee, 44.

Mr Heng, a former top civil servant, had been chosen by his PAP peers as "first among equals" in 2018, and was on track to be Singapore's fourth prime minister when PM Lee retired. While there was a question mark about his health after he had a brain aneurysm during a Cabinet meeting in May 2016, he fully recovered.

PM Lee, 69, had said he aimed to hand over the reins of power by the age of 70 in February next year. But the pandemic appeared to have affected the succession timeline. In July last year, when Singapore held its general election, PM Lee said he would see Singapore through the crisis and hand the country over "intact and in working order" to his successor.

Speaking at the news conference, Mr Heng - who was his usual relaxed and smiling self - said that when he joined politics, it was not with an ambition to become the prime minister.

Asked if the 2020 General Election results had a part to play in his decision, Mr Heng said it had not. In a surprise move, he had moved from his Tampines GRC ward to East Coast GRC. The PAP won East Coast GRC, considered a shakier ward for the party, with 53.41 per cent of the votes.

On when the 4G might decide on a new leader, PM Lee said: "I think they will take longer than a few months, but I hope that they will reach a consensus and identify a new leader before the next general election. I have no intention of staying on longer than necessary."

PM Lee to stay on until 4G team chooses new leader
He calls DPM Heng's decision to stand aside 'selfless', made with Singapore's interests in mind
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

With Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat stepping down as the fourth-generation (4G) leader, Mr Lee Hsien Loong will stay on as prime minister until the 4G team chooses a new chief.

At the media conference announcing the move yesterday, PM Lee called Mr Heng's decision to stand aside a "selfless" one.

"Nevertheless, as the 4G statement acknowledges, this is a significant setback to our succession plans."

In a statement issued yesterday, the 4G team called the unexpected turn of events "a setback for our succession planning".

Mr Heng was managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 2005 until 2011, when he stepped down to contest the general election that year. PM Lee appointed him to the Cabinet as the Education Minister in May 2011.

Noting that the 4G team want to give themselves more time to work out new succession arrangements, PM Lee said he had therefore agreed to stay on "until such time as the new 4G leader is chosen and ready to take over".

He added that while the Government's immediate focus is on the health and economic crisis, succession remains an urgent task and cannot be put off indefinitely.

"I think (the 4G team will) take longer than a few months, but I hope that they will reach a consensus and identify a new leader before the next general election. I have no intention of staying on longer than necessary."

PM Lee previously said that he hoped to step down before his 70th birthday, which would be in February next year.

But after the pandemic hit, he pledged to see Singapore through the Covid-19 crisis before handing over the reins of the country to the next generation of leaders.

"You have my word: Together with my older colleagues like Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, as well as our younger fourth-generation ministers, I will see this through. I am determined to hand over Singapore, intact and in good working order, to the next team," he said in an online rally in July last year.

Yesterday, he stressed that choosing a leader is not just about ranking people and saying who is going to be the best choice.

"It is really about team building and developing the team, and developing the relationships amongst the team members - so that over time, from that balance and that chemistry, you are able to identify who amongst the people can most maximise the performance of the team, make all the pieces fit together and end up with more than the sum of its parts."

PM Lee stressed that the Cabinet will continue to work as one united team to overcome the challenges and lead the country forward.

"That is what Singaporeans expect of us, and rightly so. It is also the only way to maintain confidence in Singapore and to keep our country succeeding year after year."

DPM Heng steps aside as 4G leader
Give 4G leaders chance to relook succession plan holistically: Chan Chun Sing
Process not just about picking a leader but forming strongest team possible, he says
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

The People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) team should be given an opportunity to relook the question of succession holistically, now that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has stepped aside as their leader, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

This is because the process goes beyond a ranking of the available candidates to choosing a leader best able to ensure the team can be greater than the sum of its parts, PAP leaders emphasised.

Mr Chan was responding at a media conference on whether he was next in line for succession, given that Mr Heng had chosen him as his deputy and his role in the party as second assistant secretary-general.

After the 4G team picked Mr Heng, he asked Mr Chan to be his deputy, saying the former army chief has many strengths and would complement him very well.

Yesterday, Mr Heng, who turns 60 next week, said his decision to step aside would pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong retires.

Mr Chan said a collective decision on the next 4G leader would be made in due course, and added: "Our leadership succession plans go beyond just choosing a leader… It is always about finding and forming the strongest team possible... so that Singapore has the best chance to defy the odds of history, to not only survive, but to thrive."

Asked if there were any candidates and front runners for the 4G leadership, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said it was not a race to choose a single winner.

The PAP way, said Mr Ong, is to fundamentally look at how the leadership team can work together and support one another.

"There is always a tendency to look at succession planning in terms of a race; who is in front, who is behind, who overtook who, what is the relative competitive position of each individual," he said.

"When it is a race, you only have one winner at the end, standing on the podium with a medal around his or her neck.

"If (it is) a team, we fight heart and soul on the field, and if we win, we have a trophy for the nation. And in that winning team, you will have a captain that can bring out the best of everybody.

"So, that process of developing a strong team and rallying around the first-among-equals leader takes some time. What we have just learnt is a big change, a big reconfiguration. So, we seek your understanding and support to give us some time to regroup."

Mr Ong added that the 4G team is "very aware, very conscious of the urgency and seriousness" of picking their new leader.

Mr Chan said they understood that it was a difficult decision for DPM Heng, but done in the best interests of Singapore. The 4G team will remain focused on making sure Singapore emerges stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic, while establishing the foundations for future success, he added.

"In making any decision, all of us in the team will continue to put the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans foremost," he said. "Just as how we have been taught, how it has been shown to us and how previous generations of leaders have all exemplified this."

Cabinet reshuffle to be announced in two weeks; Heng Swee Keat to give up finance portfolio
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

A Cabinet reshuffle will be announced in about two weeks, which will see Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat relinquish his portfolio as Finance Minister.

There will also be "consequential moves" in other ministries, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said during a media conference yesterday.

Mr Heng will continue to serve as Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, as well as chairman of the National Research Foundation (NRF) under the Prime Minister's Office.

PM Lee said he had discussed Mr Heng's future role in the Cabinet with him following the Deputy Prime Minister's decision to step aside as leader of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) leadership.

The decision to have Mr Heng give up the Ministry of Finance (MOF) portfolio was discussed last year, when PM Lee and Mr Heng decided on Cabinet appointments after the July 10 General Election.

"We agreed that Budget 2021 would be an important budget, not an emergency budget like the five in 2020, but a budget to take Singapore beyond Covid-19," said PM Lee.

"I told him it would be good for him to see through Budget 2021, and then he could give up the MOF portfolio to concent-rate on the broader coordinating responsibilities."

PM Lee added that he looked forward to Mr Heng continuing to make broader contributions to government policy and to party work.

The Prime Minister was also asked if he would be appointing other 4G ministers to the role of deputy prime minister.

PM Lee said he would give a response in due course, during his next media conference.

Even as Mr Heng gives up his MOF portfolio, he will "have his hands full" as Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, PM Lee said.

He said Mr Heng's work as coordinating minister will encompass not only budgets, but also economic, educational and social policies.

Mr Heng will remain chairman of the NRF, the Future Economy Council under the Trade and Industry Ministry and the Joint Council on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) with China. The annual JCBC is the highest-level forum for practical cooperation between Singapore and China.

He will also continue to oversee the Singapore Together movement to ensure that the public participates in national deliberations and helps to formulate government policies.

"When younger ministers are ready to be elevated to be DPM, at that point, we can think about further changes. This is a continuing evolution," said PM Lee.

Who will be Singapore's next PM with Heng Swee Keat stepping aside?
Possible picks for next 4G leader
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

With Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announcing that he would step aside as the People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) leader, the spotlight is now on who is likely to succeed him.

At a media conference yesterday, the party's 4G leaders said they would need more time to select another leader from among them.

Here are four core members of the 4G team who political analysts consider the likely candidates to replace Mr Heng as the team's leader, and succeed Mr Lee Hsien Loong as Singapore's prime minister: Mr Chan Chun Sing, 51; Mr Ong Ye Kung, 51; Mr Lawrence Wong, 48; and Mr Desmond Lee, 44.

All four sit on the PAP's central executive committee, and were among the 4G leaders who attended the media conference at the Istana yesterday.

Mr Wong and Mr Desmond Lee were newly elected to the ruling party's top decision-making body in November last year.

Within the party, Mr Chan ranks highest among the four as second assistant secretary-general. Mr Heng, who is first assistant secretary-general, had chosen Mr Chan as his deputy.

Currently Minister for Trade and Industry and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, Mr Chan joined politics in 2011 after 24 years in the Singapore Armed Forces, where he rose to become chief of army.

He was elected MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC and appointed acting minister for community development, youth and sports; and minister of state for information, communications and the arts.

Mr Chan was promoted to full minister in 2013, and helmed the social and family development portfolio. He was also second minister for defence then.

He has been deputy chairman of the People's Association since 2015.

Mr Ong contested the 2011 General Election as part of the PAP team in Aljunied that lost to the Workers' Party.

He successfully ran for election in Sembawang GRC in 2015, and was appointed acting minister for education (higher education and skills). He was promoted to full minister the next year and made second defence minister.

Mr Ong later helmed the full education portfolio. Now Transport Minister, he is concurrently a board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Prior to joining politics, he worked at Keppel Corporation and the National Trades Union Congress, and was chief executive of the Workforce Development Agency. He was also principal private secretary to PM Lee from 2003 to 2005.

Mr Wong, 48, was also a former principal private secretary to PM Lee. He headed the Energy Market Authority before entering politics in 2011.

Now Minister for Education and Second Minister for Finance, he was made full minister in 2014 and has held positions in the defence; communications and information; national development; and culture, community and youth ministries.

Mr Wong's profile has risen due to his role in leading the Government's pandemic response as co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, alongside Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

He chairs the PAP Community Foundation and Singapore Labour Foundation, and sits on the boards of several organisations, including GIC and the Future Economy Council.

The youngest of the four is Mr Desmond Lee, who is Minister for National Development and Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration.

He was elected MP for Jurong GRC in 2011, and in 2017 was appointed minister in the Prime Minister's Office, minister for social and family development, and second minister for national development.

He moved to West Coast GRC for the 2020 General Election.

Mr Lee co-chairs the Singapore Together movement that encourages people to partner the Government, as well as the Emerging Stronger Taskforce charting the Republic's post-pandemic economic recovery.

Before politics, Mr Lee, who is the son of former Cabinet minister Lee Yock Suan, served as a deputy public prosecutor and state counsel in the Attorney-General's Chambers. He also previously headed the Ministry of Health's legal department and was Temasek's in-house counsel.

Next GE reasonable timeframe to decide next leader: PM Lee
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called the next general election - which must be held by November 2025 - a "reasonable timeframe" to work towards deciding who will helm the country's top post.

This timeframe, he said, was also the reason why the team decided to come out with this issue now rather than wait until a new leader is identified - "because the neatest thing to do would be one person steps aside while another person immediately steps into place, and it is seamless".

"And if it was something which you could do within a few days or weeks, or even a couple of months, I think it is something which we would have seriously considered - in that case, let's finish a process, line up everything neatly and then go out with one announcement," he added.

"But if we are talking about a process which is likely to take a few years, then once the first development has taken place - that you know that the minister is stepping aside - I think that is important material information which is our responsibility to tell our stakeholders. They have to know, the ministers have to know, the public has to know.

"And amongst the ministers, amongst the team, knowing this, you will have to re-shape and reconfigure the relationships and responsibilities in order that a new balance will be struck, and a new person can emerge and not be frozen into an old position which is no longer reflective of what is actually going to happen."

The public also has to know what the real status is, the Prime Minister said, in order to know what progress is being made and where they stand.

He likened this to a listed company which has clear obligations to make such information public within a quick time, which is what the Government has done.

Acknowledging that there are different models for different countries, he said that in Singapore, it is not just about wanting a younger minister with energy and a long enough runway, but also a system "where we are able to carry this from PM to PM, from government to government, and have a system which will provide high-quality government for the long term for Singapore".

"And that is what I would like to be able to do."

GE2020 East Coast GRC result not why I stepped aside: DPM Heng
He says decision is because of his age, and Covid-19 crisis not ending any time soon
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

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 will not come 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.

He said 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 up a certain rapport with residents there.

But he moved to East Coast GRC at last year's general election when it needed to be reinforced.

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.

"And therefore, I have 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," he said.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee also responded to questions, and said the 4G team chose Mr Heng as their leader in 2018 because he was the most experienced among them. Mr Heng's collaborative and consultative approach best represented the approach to governance that the 4G team was working towards.

"I say this for myself and, I think, I say this for the whole of the 4G: We know DPM's decision was a painful and difficult one. We accept it regrettably. We understand it.

"Not just over the last two years, but over the last 10 years, my colleagues and I have looked up to him and continue to do so for guidance, for advice and for partnership."

Next Singapore PM should have ‘sufficiently long runway’ to master job: Heng Swee Keat
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

Singapore's next prime minister should have a "sufficiently long runway" to master the demands of the job, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday in a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Noting that he will be close to his mid-60s when the Covid-19 pandemic is past, he said this is why he is stepping aside as leader of the People's Action Party's (PAP's) fourth-generation (4G) team.

"The 60s are still a very productive time of life. But when I also consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then."

What Singapore needs is a leader who will rebuild the country post-pandemic, as well as lead the next phase of the nation-building effort, he said.

Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, will stay on in his current roles as Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies. He will be giving up his finance portfolio at the next Cabinet reshuffle in about two weeks.

In his reply, PM Lee said he looked forward to Mr Heng carrying on his work as coordinating minister, and setting Singapore on the path to emerging stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The cerebral, soft-spoken Mr Heng was chosen by consensus to head the PAP's 4G leadership team in late 2018.

He had asked Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing to be his deputy, with both men subsequently appointed the ruling party's first and second assistant secretary-general, respectively.

At the time, observers noted that Mr Heng's new position in the party hierarchy - just below that of PM Lee - set the stage for him to become Singapore's next prime minister.

The writing on the wall became even clearer six months later, when Mr Heng was formally appointed DPM. At the time, Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam relinquished their appointments as DPMs and became Senior Ministers.

PM Lee said then that the changes were part of ongoing leadership renewal. He had originally intended to step down by the time he turned 70 next year, but said during last year's general election campaign that he intends to see the Covid-19 pandemic through.

Mr Heng joined politics in 2011 and stood in Tampines GRC, after stepping down as managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). His candidacy was publicly endorsed by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who spoke of how his former principal private secretary had seen Singapore through the 2008 global financial crisis.

After being elected, Mr Heng was appointed Education Minister, a post he held until he became Finance Minister in 2015.

But less than a year after taking up the new post, Mr Heng suffered a debilitating stroke during a Cabinet meeting and underwent surgery before being hospitalised in Tan Tock Seng Hospital's intensive care unit.

He remained in a coma for six days. Among the first words he scribbled when he woke up were: "Is there a Cabinet meeting today? Where are the papers?"

Mr Heng was discharged on June 25, 2016 - six weeks after his stroke. Although he did not return to his office at The Treasury immediately, he still kept abreast of current events in what proved to be a challenging year for Singapore.

That conscientiousness has been a defining trait of his career, even before he entered politics. He grew up in a kampung, studied at Raffles Institution and subsequently obtained a police scholarship to read economics at Cambridge.

After his return to Singapore, Mr Heng spent 15 years in the Singapore Police Force before leaving the service as assistant commissioner. He moved to the elite Administrative Service in 1997, where he spent time in the Education and Trade and Industry ministries. He then moved to MAS, after which he began his political career.

In a surprise move ahead of last year's general election, Mr Heng moved to lead the hotly contested East Coast GRC, retaining the constituency with 53.41 per cent of the votes there.

He has delivered his share of Budget statements as Finance Minister, including a landmark five Budgets last year as Singapore rolled out emergency measures to help keep the country afloat during the economic crisis.

He was also the man, in 2018, to broach the unpopular topic of raising the goods and services tax.

Outside his finance portfolio, Mr Heng took the lead on the Singapore Together Movement, a national exercise to tap ground-up ideas and perspectives, as well as get Singaporeans involved in policymaking. He also chairs the Future Economy Council, which oversees Singapore's economic transformation, and the National Research Foundation.

In his letter to PM Lee, Mr Heng said that having worked with him, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Kuan Yew, he knows that 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 who is 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."

PM Lee, Chan Chun Sing address impact on foreign countries, investors
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat may have stepped aside as the leader of the fourth-generation (4G) team, but foreign countries will still be dealing with the same team and that is what matters to them, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"The same ministers are still there. I am still the PM, Swee Keat is still the DPM, and they will be dealing with the same people. And that is what matters to them if you take the two-, three-, four-year point of view, which in diplomacy is quite a long time," he said.

PM Lee was responding to a question at a media conference at the Istana on how foreign countries and investors will navigate this period of uncertainty, with the 4G team saying that they need time to select a new leader.

DPM Heng yesterday announced that he will step aside as leader of the People's Action Party's 4G team to pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when PM Lee retires.

Echoing the Prime Minister's point, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that notwithstanding the latest development, the team, system, plans, processes and policies are all still in place to provide continuity and stability for foreign investors.

"And we will continue to work hard to distinguish ourselves as a safe harbour for investors to mobilise the capital, aggregate their talent, protect their intellectual property amidst the global uncertainties," he said.

PM Lee said politics in Singapore works very differently than politics in nearly every foreign country. "It is a fact. And it is, I think, the reason why Singapore politics works well for Singapore.

"As a result, when we interact with leaders and ministers from other countries, they assess us, they make their assessments, and I think, by and large, they have a respect for us and we are able to work with them. So, I think they will assess us based on the quality of leadership which our political system and political process produces," said PM Lee.

In the longer term, what other countries will notice is the quality of Singapore's prime minister, deputy prime ministers and ministers, he said.

"If out of this process we are able to sustain high-quality ministers and leaders for the country, then I think that it would have been the right path forward for Singapore.

"If at the end of this, the standards go down and they look at us and say 'ah, it is no different from so many other places', we are no longer of value to them, and Singapore will be the worse off for it.

"So, I think that is how they will see it - not so much whether there is what we would call a 'relief-in-place', in progress - one person standing aside, another person getting prepared to come in - but what are the outcomes in terms of persons in charge, quality and the direction for the country. And that is what we must make sure we can maintain and keep stable while working through the succession process," added PM Lee.

Mr Chan added that clear succession planning, policy coherence and consistency have been the hallmarks of Singapore's system, and have also put the country in good stead to attract long-term investments.

"This is also the reason why we have chosen to be upfront with our people, with our investors, our foreign counterparts on our circumstances, so that we can minimise any unwarranted speculation."

DPM Heng Swee Keat's decision to step aside catches many by surprise
Some say Covid-19 crisis, result of general election might have prompted rethink
By Tham Yuen-C and Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

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, Emeritus Senior Minister and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong said 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 fourth-generation (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."

At a media conference yesterday at the Istana, Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, cited his age and the fact that the Covid-19 crisis will not come to an end soon as reasons for his decision.

Flanked by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and others, he said that with succession plans delayed by the pandemic, he would be older by the time he takes over as prime minister and will have a shorter runway. He said a younger leader would be better able to rebuild Singapore after the pandemic and lead the next phase of the nation-building effort.

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 believe the timing of the announcement also points to results of the general election 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."

This was echoed by former PAP MP Inderjit Singh, who said the overall result of the GE, in which the PAP clinched 61.24 per cent of the votes, did not indicate widespread support for Mr Heng's leadership. "He must have felt the 4G needs more time to gain greater support, and time is not on his side," he added.

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.

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin and former PAP MP Hong Hai, MP for Kampong Chai Chee from 1989 to 1991, saw it as demonstrating the PAP's ability to adapt to the dynamic nature of the political landscape.

Mr Zulkifli said: "The party is strong enough to say that if it is time to make a change, it is time to make a change. Whether at an individual or party level, they know at the end of the day that it is the best man and best team that should run the country. It demonstrates the strength of our system."

Observers like Singapore Management University associate professor of Law Eugene Tan and Dr Koh said having PM Lee 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 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.

But Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior analyst at management consultancy firm Solaris Strategies Singapore, said Singaporeans will understandably be concerned about the development.

He added: "It is incumbent for the Government to provide clarity and certainty on its leadership succession plans."

Meanwhile, Progress Singapore Party secretary-general Francis Yuen said: "DPM Heng stepping down as the designated successor to the PM in a time of major economic challenges to our country does not augur well for Singapore. We are concerned that it will shake the confidence of Singaporeans and foreign investors."

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

ESM Goh said of the developments: "I prefer to study the implications of DPM's decision, observe how the 4G ministers will step up to the plate before making further considered comments."

Additional reporting by Grace Ho and Lim Min Zhang

A look back at political transitions in Singapore
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Apr 2021

In Singapore politics, precedents matter. Which is why yesterday's announcement - in the form of designated 4G leader Heng Swee Keat bowing out as successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and throwing the field wide open - was the political equivalent of a massive unexpected earthquake.

From the 1G to the 4G - the "G" indicating each generational change in leadership - Singapore has managed to institutionalise political succession into a rational and relatively smooth process.

While the timeline for each transition has varied, they were all executed to plan, easing in successors while the incumbent stayed in place for a period so as not to rattle investors and the public.

Once a leader-in-waiting was endorsed by his peers, seldom were horses changed mid-stream. Nor were there hints of the kind of jockeying for position, let alone political bloodletting, that has sometimes beset power transitions in other countries. The Straits Times looks at each of the past transitions:


At his National Day Rally speech in 1988, two years before he handed over the reins of leadership, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew rated key second generation leaders publicly, providing frank character assessments of Mr Goh Chok Tong, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, Dr Tony Tan and Mr S. Dhanabalan.

Mr Lee even divulged that Mr Goh was not his own first choice. He went on to describe Mr Goh as being "wooden" when speaking in public or on television. His preference was for Dr Tan who, however, did not want the job.

Mr Goh later said in his biography, Tall Order, that he never doubted that Mr Lee wanted him to succeed: "If anything, he was exasperated with my lack of public communicative skills."

He added: "It was not personal. He was not out to humiliate me for personal reasons, even though I felt humiliated."

Singapore's first political handover got off to an early start, when Mr Goh, then the Defence Minister, was made chairman of the People's Action Party's (PAP) election committee for the 1984 General Election. The party saw its sharpest dip in votes - 12.7 percentage points - that year.

But Mr Lee decided to press on with the task of renewal.

On Dec 31, 1984, Mr Goh helmed a media conference at the Istana to announce a new Cabinet line-up.

He was to be First Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Ong would be Second DPM. Mr Ong said that barring any unforeseen circumstances, Mr Goh would be the next PM. Mr Ong and Dr Tan made clear that the decision had the full support of the other ministers and PAP MPs.

Mr Lee was not present at that media conference, but Mr Goh said that Mr Lee remained in charge of the country.

"He has planned for this," Mr Goh added. "My colleagues and I will play a prominent role. The Prime Minister will take a back seat, but he will not play the role of a back-seat driver. He will play the role of goalkeeper," Mr Goh said.

It later emerged that earlier, in December, Dr Tan had organised a gathering at his home, attended by Mr Ong, Mr Dhanabalan, Professor S. Jayakumar, Dr Yeo Ning Hong, Dr Ahmad Mattar and Mr Lee Hsien Loong. Several ministers of state were also present. Mr Goh himself joined the meeting later.

Those gathered decided - unanimously - on Mr Goh as their pick to be the next PM.

Dr Tan later told journalists that Mr Goh would be "the focal point we can rally around and which can act as a focus for public support".

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had initially wanted to hand over in 1988, when he turned 65.

But he told Mr Goh that he did not think he was ready yet, and asked if it would be all right if he carried on for two more years, Mr Goh revealed in his biography.

Mr Goh came to be known for his consultative approach, which stood out from the older Mr Lee's more paternalistic style.

2G TO 3G

This transition, from the 2G to 3G leadership, was the most predictable.

In his National Day Rally speech in 2003, a full 10 months before handing over in August 2004, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong made it clear to a national audience that his deputy Lee Hsien Loong was his successor.

"As for the new team leader, I have taken quiet soundings from ministers and MPs on whom they would choose. The clear consensus is Hsien Loong. He is also my choice," he said.

Mr Lee, who entered politics in 1984 and was made second assistant secretary-general of the PAP in 1989 and DPM in 1990, had a long runway to prepare for the top post. He was also widely regarded among his peers as having performed well as DPM.

"His performance as DPM had been outstanding," former deputy prime minister S. Jayakumar wrote in his book Governing: A Singapore Perspective. "None of us in PM Goh Chok Tong's Cabinet had any doubts that he should succeed Goh Chok Tong as Prime Minister."

But Mr Lee's path to the premiership was not always a smooth one.

Health issues cropped up, with Mr Lee and Mr Ong - then both DPMs - diagnosed with lymphoma at around the same time, in 1992.

Mr Ong did not require immediate treatment then, and Mr Lee had to undergo chemotherapy, which saw him cleared of cancer cells in April 1993.

He remained DPM. But Mr Goh persuaded former minister S. Dhanabalan to return to helm Mr Lee's trade and industry portfolio briefly.

The process of selecting Mr Lee was also more inclusive. Unlike in the case of Mr Goh, who was selected by a small group of ministers and members of the PAP Central Executive Committee - the party's highest decision-making body - the endorsement of PAP MPs was also sought for Mr Lee.

The idea of involving MPs in the selection and endorsement was mooted by Mr Goh. He explained that he was putting in place a new process as the new leader "must command the confidence of his fellow MPs".

This was a significant step forward for the political system here and set a precedent for the process of leadership succession in the future.

Mr Goh and Mr Lee continued to build the 3G team.

Mr Teo Chee Hean, for instance, was elected in 1992, and has held key roles since, including as DPM, and now as Senior Minister.

The 2001 General Election also saw what became known as the "Super Seven" junior ministers joining the team. Among them were Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Mr Khaw Boon Wan, both key members of the 3G leadership.

3G TO 4G

Some observers say the process of selecting the 4G leaders, while similar, appeared more protracted.

In December 2017, Mr Goh, who was Emeritus Senior Minister, nudged the 4G team to settle the question of leadership early so that PM Lee could settle on his successor by the end of 2018.

However, the 4G team did not want to be rushed into a decision. On Jan 4, 2018, 16 ministers from the 4G issued a joint statement saying that they were "conscious of their responsibility, are working closely together as a team and will settle on a leader from among us in good time".

On Nov 23, 2018, almost 11 months later, 32 ministers and MPs issued a joint statement: "Now we have a consensus that the team will be led by Swee Keat."

They also noted that Mr Heng had asked Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing to be his deputy, and Mr Chan had agreed to this.

In their joint statement, the ministers and MPs said: "We endorse and support Swee Keat and Chun Sing as our leaders."

This ended months of speculation at that time over what some observers had speculated could otherwise have been possible infighting over who the next prime minister might be.

The selection of Mr Heng by his peers did not come as a surprise. His career experience and exposure since he entered politics in 2011 put him well ahead of the other 4G leaders.

In September 2015, when he was named Finance Minister, PM Lee noted Mr Heng had proven himself in the demanding education portfolio, which he was appointed to in May 2011, just two weeks after being elected.

PM Lee had said previously that he hoped to step down before his 70th birthday, which will be in February next year.

Now that Mr Heng has withdrawn himself as the successor - an unprecedented move barely three years after ministers and MPs issued their joint statement of support - the succession question has been blown wide open again.


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