Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat from the ruling People's Action Party [PAP] in Singapore announced his decision to step aside from the race to become the country's next prime minister. He has stepped down from the position of Finance Minister, leaving PAP in a serious leadership crisis. The decision has come as a shocker as this will shake up the so called 4G or fourth generation leadership of PAP.
Succession plan is one of the key priorities of PAP. Now, with Keat's announcement, PAP will perhaps take some months before selecting a new candidate for the position. Addressing the issue, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he understood and respected Keat's views. "I told him that I understood and respected his views. However, as he was chosen as the leader of the 4G team by the younger ministers, it was best for him to speak to the ministers himself," said Loong.
The meeting was attended by PM Lee, ministers, senior ministers of state and ministers of state, and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Ng Chee Meng.
What Made Heng Swee Keat Retreat?
Explaining the reason to quit from the race, Keat said that he started mulling over the succession issue from the time he was appointed to the race, but said that he did not want to take on any job which he cannot deliver.
"As those of you who have worked with me know, I am a workaholic, and I put my heart and soul into what I do. And therefore, I've been thinking about... am I the right person? Last year's pandemic was a real turning point," The Strait Times reported Keat as saying.
He announced his decision just days before turned 60. He told the ministers that he was retreating from the race due to the age factor. By the time of handover, he would be in his mid-sixties. In his letter to PM Lee, Keat had written that Singapore needs a younger leader who can tackle the huge challenges posed in a post-Covid-19 world.
The prominent leaders forming the group 4G had appointed Keat as the next PM candidate after much consideration. Now 4G is in dire need of a new leader to face the next elections. During the last general elections held in July 2020, PAP saw an 8.7 percent vote swing, causing concerns to the party. PM Lee has said that the process of selection of 4G's next leader will take more than a few months, but hoped that it wouldn't be a couple of years.
PM Lee announced that though Keat stepped down from the position of Finance Minister, he was requested to continue as the Deputy Prime Minister. In his Facebook account, PM Lee wrote: "Swee Keat, you have always served Singapore with sincerity and diligence. Your decision today is a good reminder that Singapore is not about any one person - it depends on all of us, working together, to get the best results for Singapore."
Frontrunners for 4G Leader's Position
Reports claim that there are at least four leaders in the competition to lead the 4G group. It is said that Chan Chun Sing, Ong Ye Kung, Lawrence Wong or Desmond Lee may succeed Lee Hsien Loong as Singapore's next prime minister.
Chan Chung Sing currently serves as minister for trade and industry and minister-in-charge of public service. His name was making rounds for the position of 4G leader before zeroing in on Keat. He joined politics in 2011 after serving in Armed Forces for 24 years.
Ong Ye Kung also entered into politics in 2011. Currently, he is serving as the Minister for Transport. He is also a board member of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Lawrence Wong has worked as a principal private secretary to PM Lee. He too entered politics in 2011 after resigning from the post of chief of Energy Market Authority. Currently, he is the Minister for Education and Second Minister for Finance. His name is making rounds as he is the co-chair of the multi-ministry task force dealing with Covid-19.
The fourth possible candidate is Desmond Lee, currently serving as the Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration. He too was elected as MP for the first time in 2011. He was appointed as minister for the first time in 2017. He is a part of Emerging Stronger Taskforce charting the Republic's post-pandemic economic recovery.