Singapore GE2020: Heng Swee Keat decided to move to East Coast GRC as it cannot afford a 'succession gap'

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (right) and MP Lee Yi Shyan (second from right) during a walkabout at Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre on June 30, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (June 30) said he decided to move to East Coast GRC, as the constituency cannot afford a "succession gap" in such uncertain times.

In one of the biggest surprises on Nomination Day, Mr Heng left his Tampines stronghold - where he has been MP for two terms - to lead the five-man People's Action Party team contesting East Coast GRC at the July 10 general election.

In a Facebook post, Mr Heng said he previously discussed the move with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"The question was: Should I move to East Coast? I thought long and hard about it," he said. "After serving for almost a decade, I am very attached to Tampines and the people there."

But Tampines GRC, now helmed by Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli, has a "very good team", he said, adding that he has a strong successor in Senior Minister for State Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon, who has moved over from Ang Mo Kio GRC.

"If I move, I can do my part in East Coast," Mr Heng said. "We cannot afford a gap in East Coast in these uncertain times. We need a full team that can take care of the residents and position them to come out of this crisis stronger than before."

Mr Heng replaces former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who is retiring from politics, as the anchor minister in East Coast GRC.

He said he had good discussions with the current East Coast slate - Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman, three-term backbencher Jessica Tan, one-term Fengshan MP Cheryl Chan, and new face Tan Kiat How.

"Our team looks forward to working together with our residents, to get through this crisis safely, to continue to build the East Coast spirit of care and support for one another, and to emerge stronger," he said.

"We will build on the good work by Swee Say, Yi Shyan, and the team. There is so much to learn, and I will work hard to learn it."

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Mr Heng, who is the PAP's first assistant secretary-general, was referring to Mr Lim and three-term MP Lee Yi Shyan, who was a senior minister of state until he returned to the backbench in 2015. Like Mr Lim, Mr Lee is also retiring from politics.

In the post, DPM Heng also paid tribute to Mr Lim for his contributions to Singapore and the work he had done in the constituency.

Mr Lim was best known for championing workers during his time as labour chief and Manpower Minister, and brought a "very balanced tripartite perspective to any discussion", he wrote.

"I admire his ability to explain complex ideas in simple terms, often in a memorable way. Many times, I came away from Cabinet meetings struck by his ever helpful interventions," Mr Heng said. "Swee Say is truly a team player. This is one of the many reasons I have deep respect for him."

He recounted a dinner with Mr Lim 18 months ago, where Mr Lim "in his usual way... spoke at length about everything he was passionate about". These included Mr Lim's concerns and hopes for East Coast residents. The discussion helped him to better understand the people in the constituency, Mr Heng said.

He added that he and his team have a plan for East Coast to "forge ahead with unity and care".

"We will engage with East Coast residents in this journey. I look forward to meeting the residents of East Coast that our team speaks so fondly of. I hope to learn about your worries as well as your hopes. I hope to earn your confidence," Mr Heng said.

"If you entrust us with your vote, my team and I will do our best for you and for Singapore, to work with everyone to navigate Singapore out of this unprecedented crisis."

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