Cabinet reshuffle the next item on Singapore's political calendar

Key 4G leaders likely to be tested with changes in portfolios, say MPs and political observers

Clockwise from top left: Chan Chun Sing, Grace Fu, Heng Swee Keat, S. Iswaran, Desmond Lee, Lawrence Wong, Josephine Teo, Ong Ye Kung, Ng Chee Meng and Masagos Zulkifli. PHOTOS: ST FILE

The next item on the political calendar is a major Cabinet reshuffle, now that Parliament has taken its mid-term break.

The reshuffle will likely see some older ministers making way for younger ones, said MP Zainal Sapari. While leadership renewal is good, it is also important to ensure some form of continuity, he added.

"I hope the arrangement of coordinating ministers will continue, such as having Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam overseeing several ministries, to ensure guidance for younger ministers and continuity in terms of the Government's long-term strategic plans," he said.

MP Lily Neo said that while some of the fourth-generation leaders may see a change in their portfolio, they are likely up to the challenge.

"We have seen them at work already, and they have already proven they are capable," she added.

Public policy researcher Gillian Koh said that the younger political leaders will have the opportunity "to stamp their mark on new policies, policy reforms or new programmes" in the next parliamentary session.

The front runners to be the next prime minister will likely be given greater exposure in "heavy-weight ministries" such as defence, trade and industry, and finance, she added.

Doing so will not only expose them to new portfolios, but also allow them to build up their standing on the international stage, noted Dr Koh.

Such movements will help determine who the next prime minister and other key future ministers will be, said former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin.

He noted that society is more diverse, and Singapore has reached a stage of development where ministers cannot run away from making unpopular decisions.

Thus, the key challenge for the younger leaders now is to communicate well with the public, regardless of their portfolio, he added.

"We need to identify that leader who can make tough, unpopular decisions, while being able to mobilise public support for them."

The Cabinet reshuffle is key to this process, he said, as ministers will be rotated to different ministries and challenged.

"Through this process, you get a sense of their capabilities and public support for them, so indirectly the people get to, in a way, influence who the key ministers are."

MPs and political observers also said a fresh agenda should be laid out when Parliament returns after its mid-term break, and it is likely to include a renewed focus on bread-and-butter issues.

They listed issues such as economic restructuring, jobs and healthcare financing, and added that the agenda could also include newer challenges such as deliberate online falsehoods.

Dr Koh said the Government will likely focus on financing healthcare and caregiving support, media and democracy, inequality and social cohesion, making technological disruptions work for Singapore workers, and the economy.

Labour MP Patrick Tay said the key milestones in the first parliamentary session include the rollout of industry transformation maps across 23 economic sectors.

In the new parliamentary session, he hopes to see progress made on executing these plans, to create good jobs and skills for Singaporeans.

MP Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, said the Government will have to focus its efforts on helping Singaporeans and local businesses better tap Asia's growth.

The widening social stratification is another concern, he added.

"We need to examine if some of our policies have inadvertently contributed to that and take measures now to address this trend."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline Cabinet reshuffle the next item on Singapore's political calendar. Subscribe