Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat was the first to issue National Day wishes to Singaporeans on behalf of the People’s Action Party (PAP), instead of party leader, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, is the leader of the PAP’s fourth-generation (4G) cohort of leaders and became the frontrunner to succeed Mr Lee after his appointments as Singapore’s sole DPM and the ruling PAP’s First Assistant Secretary-General in the past few years.
Yesterday (7 Aug) evening, he became the first to wish Singaporeans a Happy National Day on behalf of the PAP. He wrote on Facebook: “The People’s Action Party wishes all Singaporeans a Happy 55th National Day.
“Less than a month ago, Singaporeans gave the PAP a clear mandate to form a new government. The new Cabinet was sworn in last week, and Parliament will open later this month. In between, we celebrate National Day.”
He added: “This year’s National Day is like no other we have experienced, as we are battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Since our nation’s independence 55 years ago, we have weathered many crises and challenges together. We will continue to celebrate our National Day, but in new ways that keep us safe.
“Let’s fly our flag proudly and celebrate the strength and unity that we have built up over the past fifty-five years. Together, we will Emerge Stronger! Together, we are a Stronger Singapore!”
Mr Heng delivered a similar message in a party video, featuring a handful of PAP MPs extending National Day wishes to viewers. The video, which accompanied Mr Heng’s post, ended with him promising that the PAP will build a brighter future for Singaporeans:
The People's Action Party wishes all Singaporeans a Happy 55th National Day. Less than a month ago, Singaporeans gave the PAP a clear mandate to form a new government. The new Cabinet was sworn in last week, and Parliament will open later this month. In between, we celebrate National Day. This year’s National Day is like no other we have experienced, as we are battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Since our nation’s independence 55 years ago, we have weathered many crises and challenges together. We will continue to celebrate our National Day, but in new ways that keep us safe. Let’s fly our flag proudly and celebrate the strength and unity that we have built up over the past fifty-five years. Together, we will Emerge Stronger!Together, we are a Stronger Singapore! 🇸🇬 #SGUnited#TogetherStrongerSG
Posted by Heng Swee Keat on Friday, 7 August 2020
While Mr Heng called the result of the 2020 general election a “clear mandate” for the PAP, just like PM Lee did after the election, the PAP actually suffered one of its worst results in the polls since independence.
While the PAP clinched 83 of the 93 seats in Parliament, it saw a hefty dip against it in the popular vote. It suffered its second-worst score and did only 1.1 per cent better than it did in the watershed 2011 General Election, where it saw its worst electoral score since independence.
Swings against the party ranged up to 26 per cent in individual wards and the PAP lost another Group Representation Constituency (GRC) to the opposition. The Workers’ Party’s (WP) stunning victory at the new Sengkang GRC unseated three political office-holders, including Mr Ng Chee Meng.
Perhaps the biggest blow for the PAP, besides the loss of Mr Ng, was Mr Heng’s notably poor performance at the polls. He surprised observers by turning up at the Nomination Centre for East Coast GRC 30 minutes before nominations closed, revealing that he would be running in the hotly-contested ward instead of his Tampines GRC stronghold.
His disaster of a nomination speech, when he tripped over words and stammered as he told voters about his “East Coast Plan”, was perhaps an ominous sign of things to come. Instead of achieving a better result with the involvement of the PM-in-waiting, the PAP’s East Coast team suffered a worse result than it did in the 2011 elections.
Mr Heng and his East Coast teammates barely made it into Parliament, with 53.41 per cent of the vote. This is the worst PAP performance in the ward since East Coast GRC was formed nearly 30 years ago, in 1991.
The PAP’s weak performance in East Coast GRC was especially pronounced since Mr Heng and his four team members — who included one senior political office-holder and a seasoned MP — faced off against a slate of WP candidates that had never contested there.
PAP members, including branch activists, retired parliamentarians and former political office-holders who spoke to TODAY on condition of anonymity, expressed disappointment with the East Coast GRC results.
Party insiders, some of whom hoped that Mr Heng would have won by a larger margin proving that he has the nation’s mandate, reportedly indicated that his performance at the polls have given rise to internal questions of whether the PAP needs to rethink its succession plans.
While one senior activist felt that Mr Heng could have performed better if he had been able to spend more time on the ground, a former Member of Parliament (MP) said he considered what might have happened if Mr Heng had gone head-to-head with WP Secretary-General Pritam Singh instead of new WP candidate Nicole Seah.
Some activists also told the publication that Mr Heng’s “East Coast Plan” gaffe did not do him any favours and that the East Coast result suggests he might not be the “unifying figure” Singapore needs. Party activists reportedly asked whether someone else might be up for the PM’s job in the new Cabinet.
PM Lee put an end to such questions by revealing that he is retaining Mr Heng as DPM, as he announced the new Cabinet line-up last month. Mr Heng will also continue as Minister of Finance and will even be given a new role — Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.
The latest Cabinet line-up appeared to make it clear that Mr Heng remains the PM-in-waiting. Mr Heng wishing Singaporeans a Happy National Day on behalf of the PAP seems to further position him as the party’s future leader.