Singapore—Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong perhaps confirmed the time-honored saying ‘that the more things change, the more they remain the same,’ as his new cabinet was announced on Saturday, which many believe only strengthens the status quo.
After much speculation concerning Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s role as PM Lee’s successor when he won in the General Election with a noticeably small margin, it turns out that the status quo in the Government’s highest ranks remains unchanged.
Mr Heng not only retains his positions as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister but is now also the coordinating minister for economic affairs.
PAP heavyweights, Senior Ministers Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Teo Chee Hean, remain in place, as do Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Communication Minister S. Iswaran, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
It was also not unexpected that those considered to have a bright future within the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) have been given new portfolios to ‘gain exposure and experience,’ as PM Lee said. Lawrence Wong, who, has been the man of the hour as he co-led the multi-ministry task force that took on Singapore’s pandemic response, will be heading the Education Ministry, a seat vacated by Ong Ye Kung, now moved to the Transport Ministry upon the retirement of Khaw Boon Wan. And Grace Fu has been tapped to helm the newly-created Ministry of Sustainability and Environment.
With the new cabinet looking very much as it did before the election, some observers are commenting over the lack of diversity and are wondering whether the PAP leadership is listening to people.
Singapore-based senior director with the BowerGroupAsia consultancy Nydia Ngiow is quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying that the cabinet is constructed “within the same PAP mould.” Ms Ngiow also commented that there are no women among the newly-promoted ministers, saying that this “leads us to question whether they really are listening and reacting to sentiments on the ground.”
As part of his announcements on Saturday, PM Lee said that Edwin Tong and Maliki Osman had been promoted to full ministers. He also announced seven new PAP Members of Parliament to new political appointments, only one of whom, Gan Siow Huang, MP for Marymount Single Member Constituency, is a woman with only one other new MP, Mohd Fahmi Aliman from Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency being non-Chinese.
Ms Gan Siow Huang, Singapore’s first woman brigadier general, will assume the position of minister of state in the manpower and education ministries, and Mr Fahmi will become Mayor of South East District, a position vacated by Dr Maliki Osman.
The SCMP quotes Bilveer Singh, a political commentator, as saying that the 4G positioning shows the succession plan is proceeding as intended. “Quite clearly this shows that the 4G [team] is going to be in the helm, and that succession is on track.” —/TISG