PAP leaders meet ex-MPs, branch secretaries to address concerns about 4G succession plans

Law Minister K. Shanmugam and North West District Mayor Alex Yam arriving at the PAP headquarters on April 9, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Sustainability and the Environment Minister Grace Fu arriving at the PAP headquarters on April 9, 2021. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Following the shock announcement on Thursday (April 8) that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will step aside as the designated successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, various meetings among leaders from the People's Action Party (PAP), former MPs and activists were organised to address concerns and questions about the party's succession plans.

Hours after the news broke on Thursday evening, an invitation to a party meeting on Friday afternoon was sent out to former MPs.

A former MP said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam met about 40 to 50 former MPs and ministers in the Parliament House auditorium on Friday afternoon, where they fielded questions about the succession.

"What was shared at Thursday's press conference was explained in detail... They also wanted our views and feedback, what people outside were saying," said the former MP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In announcing his decision to step aside, DPM Heng, who turns 60 next week, said that his decision would pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when PM Lee, 69, retires.

DPM Heng will also relinquish his finance portfolio when a Cabinet reshuffle takes place in two weeks, but will remain as Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, and as the PAP's first assistant secretary-general.

A closed-door meeting for PAP branch secretaries - who lead the party's 93 branches - was also held at the PAP headquarters in New Upper Changi Road on Friday evening. It started at 7pm, and lasted for close to 1½ hours.

A former minister, who was invited to the session for ex-MPs but could not attend due to the short notice given, said he hoped that the party will be able to give a clearer indication of who will be likely to step up as 4G leader.

"The (announcement) was quite sudden, and frankly, I don't know if that is the full story," he said.

"I just hope we can settle this leadership problem very soon."

Former minister of state Chan Soo Sen, who also received an invitation but did not attend, said he is confident that the party will be able to resolve the question of leadership.

"It is a bit of a setback, but on the other hand, Mr Heng is still around, PM is still around, the whole team is still around. We will be able to sort this one out given some time."

An ex-MP who attended the session said many felt a decision should be made sooner, given that the potential successors have relevant exposure to tough posts.

"(Three of those named) have many years of experience already in difficult ministries. The decision should be made fast so that Singaporeans are assured of the next leadership. This was brought up as a group, the ground is keen for a faster decision."

The former MP was referring to Mr Chan, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung and Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who observers have identified as among the candidates for 4G leader.

Mr Chan, who is the PAP's second assistant secretary-general, and Mr Shanmugam, who is party treasurer, also turned up at the PAP HQ to meet the branch secretaries on Friday evening, alongside other members of the PAP's central executive committee.

They included Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Sustainability and the Environment Minister Grace Fu, Senior Ministers of State Janil Puthucheary and Chee Hong Tat, and North West District Mayor Alex Yam, who is executive director of the PAP HQ.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary at the PAP headquarters on April 9, 2021. ST PHOTOS: JASON QUAH

Shortly after Mr Chan and other CEC members left, Mr Heng and other members of his East Coast GRC team arrived at the PAP HQ.

Virtual meetings over teleconferencing platform Zoom were also organised by MPs from Thursday night to address questions by party activists.

A party source said that assurances were given to members that the 4G leaders will stay united and function as a team, and that their priorities remain unchanged from before.

The sudden decision by Mr Heng to step aside has thrown open the question of succession again. In the meantime, PM Lee will remain at the helm until a new successor is chosen by the 4G team and is ready to take over. PM Lee also said that he hopes that a new leader can be identified before the next general election.

Additional reporting by Hariz Baharudin

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