Is Ong Ye Kung out of the running for the next PM?

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Photo: YouTube screengrab

It appears as though the field for the next PAP nominee for Prime Minister has just narrowed from 3 to 2, with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung no longer in the running as a possible successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for the next general elections.

Ong, as well as Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, had been widely considered as potential successors to PM Lee.

Individuals close to the inner circle of the People’s Action Party (PAP) told TODAY Online that since Ong was not chosen to be part of the party’s core that makes the most important decisions prior to the internal elections for their Central Executive Committee (CEC) on November 11, it’s highly unlikely that he’s being considered for the most significant leadership post.

The outgoing members of the CEC usually give party cadres their list of recommendees so that core leaders end up getting in. This ensures broad representation and is also a sign of the recomendees’ standing, according to PAP cadres who spoke to TODAY. These four individuals include two former Members of Parliament (MPs), who spoke to news provider under the condition of anonymity.

As the internal elections draw near, different individuals like branch chairmen, secretaries, and the outgoing CEC members put forth up to 20 names. Last weekend’s voting had 19 people recommended for the CEC.

The four sources also said that the outgoing CEC members give a list of 6 or 7 names for incursion in PAP’s most important decision-making body. These names will compose of 50 percent of the 12 individuals voted into the CEC.

“This is to ensure key leaders are in the highest decision-making body and also to facilitate leadership transition in a controlled manner,” according to one of the sources, who used to be an MP. “If they open up the process, then cadres might not elect a certain key leader into the CEC.”

The names put forward by the outgoing CEC are regarded as “an exclusive” inner core group.

Another source told TODAY that these individuals signify those who are the “most important to them.”

“Cadres will get the message — who are the important fellows to vote for. And it is an unwritten rule to vote those nominated by the CEC. By that virtue, Mr. Ong is not part of the inner core group of key leaders.”

Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s Transport Minister read out the seven named of the individuals that the CEC nominated before voting began on November 11. Their names were announced before the other nominees, as was customary for PAP, said the sources, one of whom said, “We were told the first seven in the ballot paper were those nominated by the CEC.”

These were Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

One of the sources said that the CEC nominees are usually a combination of experienced leaders, as well as representatives from other sectors—which would explain the inclusion of Fu and Massages.

While the fact that Ong was excluded from the first seven names surprised the cadres, it signified that he was not in consideration as a successor to PM Lee. “If you read between the lines, it means he is out of the race, to put it simply. So, it is down to two men — Mr. Chan Chun Sing and Mr. Heng Swee Keat.”

Another source said, “People might think that the race is still between three people. But you need to be perceptive. The list of seven didn’t include Mr. Ong, and that means he is out.”

Read related: Ong Ye Kung – the only PM frontrunner who publicly thanked party members and senior politicians after being elected to PAP CEC

The four sources said that one factor may be that Ong has less political experience than Chan and Heng, who became MPs in 2011, while Ong only entered the police arena three years ago. Ong had run in 2011 but lost the elections, but later won as a member of PAP’s Sembawang GRC nominees in 2015.

Eugene Tan, Singapore Management University law lecturer, believes that Ong had smaller chances than the other two men, due to his having less experience, according to TODAY. “It would appear that Mr. Ong is not quite in the frame for now (to become prime minister) given that the previous CEC did not nominate him.”

Woo Jun Jie, an Assistant Professor from the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Social Sciences seemed to agree that Ong’s being relatively new in politics” worked against him since the nominations from the former CEC signified who they wanted to see as future leaders of PAP and of the nation. “It is important to note that this current group of seven includes a mix of 3G (third-generation) and 4G leaders. It is almost certain that these seven individuals will take on key party and Cabinet positions.”

When asked, the Education Minister referred back to statements he made months ago reiterating that he was concentrating on doing his job well. In an interview with Channel News Asia last August, he said, “I really don’t want to think about that. If you’re an MP, be a good MP and if you’re entrusted with a ministry, be a good minister. And that is where I am now. That should be my focus. I just want to be a good education minister, and there are so many things we need to do. So let’s just focus on that.”