The elevation of Mr Heng Swee Keat to the position of Singapore's sole Deputy Prime Minister this week reinforced the widely held view that he has moved closer to becoming the country's next leader. That Mr Teo Chee Hean and Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam also relinquished their roles as DPMs to become Senior Ministers represented another major step in the transition to a fourth-generation political leadership progressively taking over more of the reins of government here. How Mr Heng and his team work together, and how closely they interact with and relate to the changing needs and rising expectations of Singaporeans, will have a significant bearing on the shape of the country's political, economic and social landscape. That will include policy-and agenda-setting, and also involve having to convince and carry the ground, especially on difficult or unpopular measures that a far-sighted government might need to take.
There will also be the challenge of having to navigate through the inevitable geopolitical economic and diplomatic headwinds that will continue to buffet Singapore and apply pressure on the country's ability to sustain the success with which it has become synonymous over the years. Like the leaders of the previous three generations, Mr Heng will have the task of being the primary agenda-setter. For Mr Lee Kuan Yew's generation, the challenge was as stark as it was simple: Singapore's survival and how to make a success of the country despite the lack of natural resources. For Mr Goh Chok Tong, a consultative mode of governance expanded and deepened the sources of support for successful policies for growth and survival. Mr Lee Hsien Loong has built on both legacies along with overseeing deep economic, social and physical changes, including with a strong emphasis on transforming the lives, well-being and the opportunities available to all Singaporeans in an inclusive society, so that the country can continue to remain a significant and relevant player internationally. To that extent, it is difficult to foresee any sharp disjuncture between the approaches taken by the third-and fourth-generation leaders in political values and overall economic strategy.