Heng Swee Keat says East Coast GRC election result not the reason he is stepping aside as 4G leader

A file photo from July 5, 2020, showing Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat interacting with residents during a walkabout at Bedok South Market and Food Centre.
A file photo from July 5, 2020, showing Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat interacting with residents during a walkabout at Bedok South Market and Food Centre.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The results of last year's general election, and in East Coast GRC, in particular, were not the reason Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat decided to step aside as leader of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) team, he said on Thursday (April 8).

Responding to a question from The Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, Mr Heng reiterated that his decision to step aside as leader of the 4G team - and as Singapore's next prime minister - was due to his age, and the fact that the Covid-19 crisis will not come to an end soon.

Mr Heng said he had been an MP in Tampines since he joined politics in 2011 and had built up a certain rapport with residents there, but he moved over to East Coast GRC during last year's polls when it needed reinforcement.

"It was completely new ground for me and I did my best... When I went out during the campaign period, there were residents who told me that they changed their minds to vote for the PAP since I was there."

Mr Heng noted that he is 60 years old this year, and that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will continue to stay on as prime minister to see Singapore through the crisis.

"By the time I take over, I will be in my mid-60s and the runway is really too short," Mr Heng said.

He added that much will change in a post-Covid-19 world and Singapore will need to plan for the long term.

"We need someone who is younger, with a longer runway, to not think in just one or two election terms, but to think about the long-term future of Singapore and of Singaporeans, and the challenges that we have... So it is better for someone younger with a longer runway with people to take Singapore through this next phase of our nation-building."

Minister for National Development Desmond Lee also responded to the question, saying that the 4G team had chosen Mr Heng as their leader in 2018 because he was the most experienced among them.

Mr Desmond Lee said Mr Heng's collaborative and consultative approach best represented the approach to governance that the 4G team was working towards.

"I say this for myself, and I think I say this for the whole of the 4G: We know DPM's decision was a painful and difficult one. We accept it regrettably. We understand it.

"Not just over the last two years, but over the last 10 years, my colleagues and I have looked up to him, and continue to do so for guidance, for advice and for partnership."

Mr Heng's move last July to helm the PAP's East Coast team was a surprise manoeuvre that took place on Nomination Day. He replaced former minister and labour chief Lim Swee Say on the PAP slate in one of the most closely watched contests of the general election.

The PAP retained East Coast GRC in GE2020 with 53.41 per cent of the votes, down from 2015, when it clinched the group representation constituency with 60.73 per cent.

Mr Heng was also asked if he will continue to stand for election in the next general election.

He responded by thanking East Coast GRC residents for their support, and said he and his team remain committed to serving them.

"We value the support given to us as a party and will continually fight to retain it. The PAP has never taken the support of Singaporeans for granted," he said.

"I will continue to serve Singaporeans to the best of my ability, in ways which are useful and meaningful."