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DPM Heng abandons setback, but not ‘blow’ to succession planning: analysts

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SINGAPORE: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat’s decision to step down as potential Prime Minister of Singapore is a setback in succession planning, but depending on leadership’s next steps, the impact may be contained, analysts told UKTN on Thursday (April 8).

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“This is a setback but not a blow to succession planning,” said associate professor of law Eugene Tan of Singapore Management University.

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“The 4G leadership succession has been structured as a team effort with a focus on the collective strength of 4G leaders.”

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(Left to right) Minister of Education Lawrence Wong, Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Minister of Transport Ong Ye Kung.

Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies, said that while ministers have stepped down in the past it has never been at such a high level. But she stressed that there was continuity in Singapore’s political leadership.

“What is important to note is that it has been reaffirmed that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will continue to remain at the helm and Mr. Heng will remain Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Policy Coordination She said.

READ: DPM Heng Swee Keat steps down as PAP 4G team leader, PM Lee agrees

The latest announcement, however, raises questions about the ability of the People’s Action Party (PAP) to refresh its leadership, said Ms. Nydia Ngiow, senior director of BowerGroupAsia Singapore, a strategic consultancy firm.

The big question will be how quickly 4G leaders will “rise up to come together and act decisively” in choosing Mr. Lee’s successor, she said.

If the 4G team can decide quickly, it will give the new leader “a long enough road” to work with Mr. Lee towards the next general election, Ms. Ngiow added.

Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser from the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore said, “This appears to be a serious disruption of the process. However, if there is someone willing to take it from here, then the impact would be minimal or insignificant. “

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When asked if Mr Heng’s decision to step down was a surprise, Dr Koh replied that it depended. The general public has questioned whether there might be a change in succession plans after the 2020 general election, she said.

“Of course, DPM Heng said his decision was unrelated to the GE, but some Singaporeans wondered if that might affect his position,” she said.

“So, to this group of people, whatever reasoning is now offered for Mr. Heng’s decision to step down, this announcement comes as no surprise.”

Although Mr. Heng denied on Thursday that the results of last year’s general election influenced his decision, Nanyang Technological University political observer Felix Tan said it could have played a role in his decision. transfer of management.

“I think there is still some noise on the ground about his performance during the election,” Dr Tan said.

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In the last election, Heng left the Tampines Group (RCMP) representative constituency – where he had been a member since 2011 – to join the East Coast RCMP.

There, the five-member PAP team led by Mr. Heng garnered around 53 percent of the vote, narrowly winning against the Workers’ Party (WP) candidates.

Last year’s general election saw PAP’s share of the vote drop to 61.2%, while the WP was able to win the newly formed Sengkang GRC as well as retain Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC – becoming thus the first opposition party to win two RCMPs.

However, Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, who is a senior international affairs analyst at management consulting firm Solaris Strategies Singapore, said PAP could have done much worse on the East Coast without Mr Heng’s presence, adding that the Deputy Prime Minister had helped turn the tide for the party.

In July of last year, a few weeks after the elections, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan declared that 4G ministers were in “perfect unity” behind Mr. Heng’s leadership.

This suggests that it was due to a personal decision on Mr. Heng’s part and not an issue of not having his party’s support, Dr Tan said.


Dr Mustafa noted that with Singapore keeping its COVID-19 situation under control and vaccinations being rolled out, this was the opportune time to revisit the idea of ​​leadership succession as the country eagerly awaited its post-pandemic future.

Observers have identified a handful of candidates for the lead role.

NTU’s Dr Tan, co-author of a book analyzing the results of the 2020 election, suggested Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing was the “most likely candidate” to replace Mr. Heng.

Mr. Chan had already been named as one of the first to be the next prime minister.

“I think we can expect Chan Chun Sing to ride a lot faster now,” Dr Tan said.

At 51, Mr. Chan is old enough to take over the leadership of Mr. Heng, who will soon be 60, said Dr Mustafa.

“Basically you need someone younger than Heng Swee Keat, but not too young where you don’t have enough political experience,” he said.

READ: PM Lee thanks DPM Heng Swee Keat for his ‘altruistic decision’ to step down as 4G team leader

Dr Mustafa also highlighted Mr Chan’s position in the PAP hierarchy, noting his position as deputy to Mr Heng in his role as the party’s first deputy general secretary, as an indicator that he could be next in line. line for this role.

NTU’s Dr Tan called Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, also 51, a “very good competitor” who “performed quite well”.

SMU’s assistant professor Tan also listed Mr. Chan and Mr. Ong as candidates, as well as Education Minister Lawrence Wong, 48.

“A dark horse is Desmond Lee,” he said, referring to the 44-year-old Minister of National Development.

NUS Associate Professor Tan believes the ‘new favorite’ is Mr Wong, whose profile has been raised since assuming the role of co-chair of the multi-ministerial working group to combat the COVID-19 crisis .


Mr Heng’s announcement threw a wrench into the succession planning work among 4G executives, Dr Tan said, adding that they were now essentially back to square one.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong may have to readjust, makeover and seriously reassess his squad, he said.

“It is likely that we will not see a new prime minister until after the next elections. Because if a new prime minister were to take over at that point, it’s too short a track for him – or for her – to really perform and to garner enough support from the ground, ”Dr Tan said.

Dr Mustafa disagreed, however, suggesting that the next prime minister could take the helm as early as next year – halfway between the last election and the next.

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The upcoming cabinet shuffle could produce some surprises, Dr Tan said, highlighting the possibility of more MPs for the first time taking on higher roles.

Mr. Lee had said there will be a reshuffle in two weeks, and Mr. Heng will step down from his role as finance minister, while remaining deputy prime minister and minister of economic policy coordination.

IPS’s Dr Koh has asked to find out who will take over the finance portfolio.

“The portfolio of the Ministry of Finance should be handed over to a prime minister on hold if 4G is to give momentum to the issue,” she said.

Ms Ngiow also said she had to keep an eye on the cabinet reshuffle as she threw another name into the ring: “For example, if Tan Chuan Jin is transferred from his post as president to the head of a ministry, it would be a clear sign that even he mixes it up to consider a potential PM. “

Dr Koh added: “The key point is that the world and therefore Singapore is going through a period of drastic uncertainty.

“Any leader and potential new Prime Minister of the country must not only be close to the pulse of Singaporeans, but have significant visibility and strong networks within the international community to know how to guide the country through the new post-COVID normal. that it is the state of global health and geopolitics that matters a lot. “


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