New Cabinet line-up: 4G team has no plans to discuss or change support for DPM Heng as leader, says Chan Chun Sing

(From left) DPM Heng Swee Keat, PM Lee Hsien Loong and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing during a press conference on July 25, 2020. PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - The PAP's fourth-generation team is focused on tackling the challenges Singapore faces amid the present crisis and does not plan to change its backing of Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as their leader.

Responding to a question on whether the 4G leaders had discussed or reviewed their position on this matter, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said they had not discussed this - and did not plan to.

"We're entirely focused on helping our country overcome the economic challenges and saving jobs at this point in time," he said at a press conference on the new Cabinet line-up on Saturday (July 25).

"We have no plans to do otherwise and we have no plans, no discussion on any change in plan."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had referred the question posed by the media to him to Mr Chan, who is Mr Heng's deputy on the 4G team.

Mr Heng has been widely expected to take over the premiership from PM Lee, after he was appointed as the People's Action Party's first assistant secretary-general in 2018 and subsequently as deputy prime minister last year.

Mr Heng, in turn, had asked Mr Chan to be his deputy, and Mr Chan was appointed the PAP's second assistant secretary-general in 2018.

Some observers had commented on whether the leadership succession should be relooked, after the PAP team led by Mr Heng got 53.4 per cent of the vote against a Workers' Party team in East Coast GRC.

Separately, PM Lee acknowledged that whether he can still able to hand over the reins to his successor by the time he turns 70 in 2022, as he had initially hoped, will depend on how quickly the Covid-19 pandemic can be brought under control.

Asked if he saw himself continuing as prime minister beyond 70, he said: "I do not determine the path of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a lot will depend on how events unfold.

"And all I can say is, I will see this through and I'll hand over in good shape as soon as possible to the next team and into good hands."

PM Lee also said he had to maintain a greater degree of continuity in Cabinet than he would otherwise have done, because of the "existential" and "overwhelming" crisis.

The Government has to put all hands on deck and mobilise all the experience and capabilities it can muster to deal with the pandemic, he added. "I have kept on many of my older colleagues who are participating in this fight against Covid-19 and in stabilising our economy, my Senior Ministers, the other older ministers who have been in the team, and reinforced by younger ones," he said.

This is also why the ministers who have been directly handling Covid-19 have been kept in place, said Mr Lee. Mr Gan Kim Yong will stay on as Health Minister and continue to co-chair the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 with Mr Lawrence Wong, who takes on a new portfolio as Education Minister. Mr Chan Chun Sing will remain as Trade and Industry Minister, and Mrs Josephine Teo as Manpower Minister.

The ministers of defence, foreign affairs, home affairs, law and communications and information will stay in place as well.

PM Lee described his Cabinet as having a good mix of experience and ideas, that will bring Singapore through the Covid-19 crisis and beyond. "I hope that within not too long a time, as the situation stabilises and we get on top of it, it will be possible for me to make further changes," he said.

The prime minister also reiterated an earlier pledge to see Singapore through the crisis, adding: "I will hand over Singapore in good working order into the good hands of my successors as soon as that is possible."

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