While many netizens felt relieved that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was named 1st assistant secretary-general of the ruling party over Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chung Sing, who was appointed 2nd assistant secretary-general as the People’s Action Party (PAP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) line-up was announced last Friday, all hope is not lost for those still rooting for Chan to become Singapore’s fourth head of government.
Singaporeans were encouraged to look at the CEC line-up closely to get a hint as to who would become the 4G PM, with political analysts indicating that the politician who clinches the 1st assistant secretary-general post would go on to lead the nation.
While this was true in the past – with both founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son, current PM Lee Hsien Loong, being appointed 1st assistant secretary-general of the ruling party before going on to becoming the PM – there is precedence of a 2nd assistant secretary-general going on to becoming PM.
Singapore’s second PM Goh Chok Tong was named 2nd assistant secretary-general before he was named Prime Minister. Author Peh Shing Huei writes in Goh’s recently released authorised biography:
“Goh was on the ascendancy and seemingly could do no wrong. But gravity can be annoyingly persistent, especially in politics. When the PAP announced its new CEC weeks after the (1980) general election, it was widely expected that his position as first among equals among the Magnificent Seven (of 2G ministers) would be cemented.
“Instead, Tony Tan was moved above him, in a move which surprised many. Goh remained as second assistant secretary-general, while Tan — who joined politics only a year early — was catapulted to the post of first assistant-general.”
According to Lee Kuan Yew, his preferred successor was Tony Tan, as well. Goh was, however, ultimately selected by the second generation of PAP leaders that included Tony Tan, Suppiah Dhanabalan, and Ong Teng Cheong, and Lee accepted their decision.
Current PM Lee Hsien Loong has also said that the fourth generation of PAP leaders will choose the next PM amongst themselves.
Since PM Lee, who retains his position as secretary-general of the ruling party, has said that he will give up his premiership after the next general election – which must be held by the beginning of 2021 – there is still time for Chan to ‘do a Goh Chok Tong’ and surpass Heng to become 4G PM.