Singapore—A Bloomberg report says that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s bowing out of contention to be the next Prime Minister, announced on Apr 8, should not come as too much of a surprise, given the results of last year’s general election.
But it does upend what had been accepted as a leadership succession plan when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong steps down.
Although DPM Heng’s merits as a Finance Minister have not been questioned, concerns have arisen as to whether he has the charisma needed to see the country, as well as the ruling People’s Action Party, through in this difficult time.
Bloomberg reports that as early as last week, a few senior PAP cadres were aware of the DPM’s decision to step aside out of concerns that the country would need a younger leader, since he is about to turn 60.
But at the media conference last Thursday (Apr 8) he also announced he was stepping down as Finance Minister, with PM Lee saying that this had been agreed upon earlier.
Mr Heng will, however, remain Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.
A spokesperson for the ruling party has denied that Mr Heng’s performance in the 2020 elections had been a factor in his decision to step aside.
Now the country faces the most complicated succession plan in its history.
While DPM Heng’s announcement did not have an immediate effect on Singapore’s markets, if the country experiences a period of prolonged uncertainty, this will take a toll.
Therefore, a quick succession plan would be the best, Bloomberg quotes Phillip Securities Research analyst Terence Chua as saying.
“What we want to see is a quick resolution of the succession plan and a clear economic road map from the new leadership team to lead Singapore post Covid-19.”
However, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, considered one of the top contenders to be the next prime minister, said the 4G team should be given the chance to “to relook the question of succession holistically,” the Straits Times reports.
Mr Chan, who is the second assistant secretary-general of the party and deputy to DPM Heng, was asked at the media conference last Thursday if he is next in line.
He said that the next 4G leader would be chosen collectively in due course.
”Our leadership succession plans go beyond just choosing a leader… It is always about finding and forming the strongest team possible for Singapore so that Singapore has the best chance to defy the odds of history, to not only survive but to thrive,” said Mr Chan.
Another potential frontrunner, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, said that choosing a single winner is not the issue at hand, and asked “for some time to regroup”.
Mr Ong explained: “It’s different when it’s a race. You only have one winner at the end” while in a team, “we fight heart and soul on the field, and if we win, we have a trophy for the nation. And in that winning team, you will have a captain that can bring out the best in everybody.
“So that process of developing a strong team and rallying around the first-among-equals leader takes some time. What we have just learnt is a big change, a big reconfiguration. So we seek your understanding and support to give us some time to regroup.”
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