Workers’ Party (WP) chairperson Sylvia Lim suggested that PM-in-waiting Heng Swee Keat may be more comfortable crunching numbers when she was asked to comment on Mr Heng becoming Singapore’s next prime minister in a recent interview.
Both Ms Lim and Mr Heng started out in the police force before their paths diverged. Mr Lim pursued a career in law while Mr Heng joined the civil service. Mr Heng went on to become managing director of the central bank before he was fielded as a PAP candidate in the 2011 election – the same election where Ms Lim was elected into Parliament, after serving in opposition politics since 2001.
The latest election, which took place on 10 July 2020 – close to a decade since Mr Heng and Ms Lim were elected into Parliament – saw the WP gain significant ground while the ruling party’s share of the popular vote dipped significantly. While the WP clinched another multi-member ward and saw Ms Lim being re-elected with about 60 per cent of votes, Mr Heng was narrowly returned to Parliament with about 53 per cent of the vote.
Mr Heng and his team’s relatively poor performance at East Coast GRC, which was contested by a team of new WP candidates, seems to have put the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) succession plans in disarray.
Mr Heng – the Government’s sole Deputy Prime Minister in the last term of government -was supposed to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sometime after the election, but Mr Lee indicated that he will stay at the helm of the party for a little longer. There is also talk within the party about whether Mr Heng is the right man for the PM job, given the election outcome.
Ms Lim was asked to comment on Mr Heng by reporters from Bloomberg, in a recent interview. Revealing that she and the PM-designate go way back, Ms Lim said that while Mr Heng may not be the most charismatic leader, he can show competence in other ways.
She told the publication: “Well, I actually know DPM Heng personally, although not very well because he was a police scholar and I was a police officer in the past. In fact, he headed the recruitment interview when I was recruited to the police force and by all accounts, I think everyone agrees that he’s a very decent man.
“But I suppose in a sense, he might be more comfortable crunching numbers and so on. I mean, charismatic is not a term that we would ascribe to him, but that doesn’t mean of course, that the Prime Minister has to be charismatic in a firebrand manner.
“I mean, he can show competence in other ways, so I do believe that as and when DPM Heng becomes PM, he will have his own style of leadership, he will have a team with him. So it’s not just him alone.”
Ms Lim also gave Mr Heng the benefit of the doubt when asked to comment on his performance at East Coast GRC during the recent election. Suggesting that it is unclear whether the results are a referendum on his leadership or on his party, she said: “I do not know how much time he and his team had to really work out a strategy. It appeared as if the campaign wasn’t well prepared. So I’m not sure how much of that is really attributed to him per se or to the party as a whole.”