Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat quite predictably dodged the question of what he thinks of rumours that he will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to become the new head of government, during a recent interview with Chinese magazine, Caijing.
Heng has been rumoured to be a frontrunner for the position ever since interest in PM Lee’s successor heated up when the PM repeatedly announced in recent years that he would step down some time after the next general election, which must be held by 15 Jan 2021.
When the magazine asked the Minister about such rumours, he instead spoke about how the cabinet works cohesively and how the Prime Minister is the head of the cabinet:
Caijing: PM Lee has said that his successor is most likely to be in the Cabinet now, you have been mentioned as potential successor, what’s your response to this?
HSK: Our cabinet has very strong cohesion. It started from the time when Lee Kuan Yew was PM and it has since continued to be so with our second PM Goh Chok Tong and current PM Lee Hsien Loong. Cabinet members meet every week to discuss policies and everyone pitches policy suggestions. We also spend time discussing our relationships with our neighbouring countries and partners. We will continue to maintain constructive relationships with neighbouring countries, including China. Over time, we get to understand that different ministries face different issues, and it helps us understand national issues better. This is a very cohesive team and the PM is the leader of the team.
On what qualities Singapore’s next Prime Minister should have, Heng pointed to trust and asserted, “The most important thing in our parliamentary system is to win the trust of the people.”
Caijing: In your opinion, what qualities should Singapore’s next Prime Minister have?
HSK: The most important thing in our parliamentary system is to win the trust of the people. Before becoming the PM, you need to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) first. All MPs spend a lot of time to understand their constituents, and they strive to improve their lives.
We also need to constantly monitor what’s happening around us in the world, in order to understand the challenges and opportunities we face, and also how to mobilise the people to adapt to changes. Economic restructuring is part of this effort. For example, how can we maintain cohesion in a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious society, and how can we help the young realise their potential through education, these are very important issues to Singapore.
Several prominent figures have touted that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will make a fine PM. Former Member of Parliament Inderjit Singh said, “No obvious PM candidate other than Heng Swee Keat has emerged.”
While Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam are prime candidates for the position, it is unlikely that they will assume the role since they are only about 5 years younger than the PM.
Besides Heng, younger ministers like Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung have been tipped as top choices for the role by political pundits. Both ministers are in their 40s.
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