A string of senior public servants are resigning from their posts, giving rise to speculation that the upcoming elections may be called any time.
Earlier this month, People’s Association (PA) chief Desmond Tan Kok Ming – a retired brigadier-general – announced that he will retire from his post on 15 June. The day that he retired, it was announced that Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) chief executive Tan Kiat How would step down from his post in less than a week’s time, on 20 June.
Both Mr Desmond Tan and Mr Tan Kiat How were appointed to lead the Government statutory boards in January 2017. While the PA and the IMDA said that the resignations are part of their leadership renewal processes, analysts have said that the public servants have resigned to contest the upcoming general election under the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) banner.
The ex-PA chief and the outgoing IMDA CEO, who remained mum on their plans for the future, are not the only senior public servants who have been tipped to enter politics. Two others, both from the health ministry, have stepped down from their roles.
Yip Hon Weng, former group chief of the Silver Generation Office under the Health Ministry, has left the Health Ministry while Ng Ling Ling, who held leadership roles at the Health Ministry’s Office of Healthcare Transformation (MOHT), has stepped down and become a senior consultant.
Observers have noted that all four could be fielded as part of the PAP’s slate of candidates in the next general election, especially after they were spotted taking part in the Government’s virtual discussions with residents and grassroots leaders in recent months.
The timing of the public servants resignations have also sparked speculation that they are preparing for an election that is around the corner. Recent remarks heavyweight PAP ministers made have given rise to talk that an election may be held as soon as July.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that there is “not much time” left for the election while Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat urged the people to be prepared for elections that are “coming nearer by the day.”
In the meantime, the four senior public servants who are stepping down join the ranks of Changi Airport Group vice-president Poh Li San, Facebook’s head of trust and safety for South-east Asia Alvin Tan and KPMG principal adviser Yap Kwong Weng as potential PAP fresh faces.
The ruling party replaces about 25 per cent of its slate during every election period. Potential candidates are first invited to attend tea sessions hosted by a minister and a few MPs, in the initial stage of the selection process, before they are invited to individual interviews by a panel of ministers in the later stages of the process.
Closer to the GE, individuals who are not already party activists will shadow MPs in their constituency work. Ms Poh and Dr Yap have been volunteering at Sembawang GRC and Nee Soon GRC, respectively. There is also talk that Mr Desmond Tan may be fielded in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC while Mr Tan Kiat How is expected to join the PAP’s team at East Coast GRC.
The Straits Times reported last year that the PAP has narrowed a list of 200 potential candidates to 50 since 2017 and many of these potential candidates have been volunteering actively and fielded to serve in PAP branches and in grassroot groups.
Noting that the fourth-generation (4G) leadership is “largely in place,” with 11 4G leaders occupying seats in the 19-member cabinet, the publication cited observers who said that “the PAP’s immediate challenge is to recruit thought leaders and people with private-sector experience to take Singapore forward.”