SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has been appointed to the new post of deputy secretary-general of the People’s Action Party (PAP), after the party’s top decision-making body met on Saturday.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was previously an assistant secretary-general, has been appointed PAP chairman.
National Development Minister Desmond Lee has been appointed assistant secretary-general, alongside Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.
In a statement, the PAP said that the new deputy secretary-general appointment, in addition to two assistant secretary-general appointments, is in line with its plans for the party leadership transition.
“The deputy secretary-general will exercise the roles and responsibilities of the secretary-general in the absence of the secretary-general,” the PAP said.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is the PAP’s secretary-general.
The PAP central executive committee (CEC) has also co-opted four new members: Mr Alex Yeo, who was a member of the PAP team that contested in Aljunied GRC in the 2020 General Election; East Coast GRC MP Cheryl Chan; labour chief Ng Chee Meng; and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng.
Two others – Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong and Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo – were earlier co-opted into the CEC, as they had received the 13th and 14th highest number of votes.
Mr Tong is one of the organising secretaries for the party, alongside Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu.
The party treasurer is Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, and the assistant treasurer, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli remains the party’s vice-chairman.
The other members of the CEC are Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin.
The appointments come several weeks after the PAP elected its top decision-making body at its biennial party conference at Resorts World Convention Centre that was attended by more than 3,000 party members.
Political analysts said the creation of the new deputy secretary-general role underscores Mr Wong’s position as the leader of the party’s fourth-generation (4G) team.
Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director for research and senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said one question to ask was why it was not sufficient to make Mr Wong first assistant secretary-general, as other PMs-in-waiting were.
She believes the new role was created “to signal that Mr Wong will be the first among equals of the 4G leaders but also that he is to exercise the powers of the secretary-general when PM Lee is absent”. She added: “It signals to the public that while the handover of leadership in the party and Government might not be immediate, it is certain.”
Singapore Management University Associate Professor of Law Eugene Tan said the appointment of Mr Chan and Mr Desmond Lee as assistant secretaries-general points to both of them as poised to be Mr Wong’s deputies in his future Cabinet should the PAP win the next election. Prof Tan added that while Mr Chan has had a broader scope of responsibilities in the party, Mr Lee’s appointment signals his growing stature within the party although he was made a full minister in 2017, several years later than the other 4G ministers.
Agreeing, Dr Felix Tan from Nanyang Technological University said: “As National Development Minister, he is involved in the housing aspect of the portfolio and he will play a very important role given that he is also involved in one of the basic necessities (for) a lot of Singaporeans.”
On Mr Heng’s relinquishment of his role as first assistant secretary-general and him being appointed party chairman, Prof Tan said the move was not surprising given Mr Heng is no longer the leader of the 4G team. Mr Heng stepped down as leader of the 4G team in April 2021, and the members of the 4G leadership decided on Mr Wong as their leader in April 2022.
Dr Koh pointed out that another noteworthy development is the inclusion of Mr Yeo who, in a way, replaced Mr Victor Lye, also a member of the team that contested Aljunied GRC. She said: “It indicates that the party is serious about understanding the residents of Aljunied in addition to just understanding the conditions in all opposition wards and having that feedback reflected in the development of the PAP and its electoral strategies.”
The PAP also announced several other appointments. Mr Wong is also the PAP headquarters executive committee chairman, replacing Mr Chan, who becomes vice-chairman.
North West District Mayor Alex Yam, Minister of State Desmond Tan and Senior Minister of State Tan Kiat How were appointed assistant organising secretaries, while Mr Masagos was also appointed chair of the PAP Malay Affairs Bureau.
Manpower Minister Tan will chair the party’s Seniors Group, taking over from Mr Desmond Lee, while Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann will chair the party’s Women’s Wing, taking over from Communications and Information Minister Josephine Teo. Mrs Teo will take on the role of adviser to the PAP policy forum, a role previously held by Mr Wong.