DPM Heng steps aside as 4G leader

GE2020 results not why I stepped aside: DPM Heng

He says decision is because of his age, and Covid-19 crisis not ending any time soon

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on the campaign trail last July. His move to East Coast GRC to helm the PAP's team there was a surprise that took place on Nomination Day. "It was completely new ground for me and I did my best... When I went out
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on the campaign trail last July. His move to East Coast GRC to helm the PAP's team there was a surprise that took place on Nomination Day. "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 (and decided) to vote for the PAP since I was there," he said.ST FILE PHOTO

The results of last year's general election, and in East Coast GRC in particular, are not why 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 yesterday.

Responding to a question, he reiterated that his decision to do so was because of his age, and the fact that the Covid-19 crisis will not come to an end soon.

Mr Heng, who is 60 this year, noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will 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," he explained.

He said that much will change in a post-Covid-19 world and Singapore will need to plan 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... to take Singapore through this next phase of our nation building."

Mr Heng said he had been an MP for Tampines GRC since he joined politics in 2011 and built up a certain rapport with residents there.

But he moved to East Coast GRC at last year's general election when it needed to be reinforced.

"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 (and decided) to vote for the PAP since I was there," he said.

His move to helm the PAP's team was a surprise that took place on Nomination Day. He replaced former minister and labour chief Lim Swee Say, who retired, in one of the most closely watched contests of the election.

The PAP retained the GRC in GE2020 with 53.41 per cent of the vote, down from 2015, when it clinched the constituency with 60.73 per cent.

Asked when he made his decision to step aside, he said: "I do not want to take on any job which I cannot deliver. As those of you who have worked with me know, I am a workaholic. I put my heart and soul into what I do.

"And therefore, I have been thinking about... whether am I the right person?"

On whether he will contest the next election, he responded by thanking East Coast GRC residents for their support, and said he and his team remain committed to serve 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. I will continue to serve Singaporeans, to the best of my ability, in ways which are useful and meaningful," he said.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee also responded to questions, and said the 4G team chose Mr Heng as their leader in 2018 because he was the most experienced among them. 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2021, with the headline 'GE2020 results not why I stepped aside: DPM Heng'. Subscribe