Education Minister Lawrence Wong and National Development Minister Desmond Lee have been elected to the People's Action Party's (PAP) top decision-making body for the first time, reflecting the acknowledgement by cadres of their prominence on the national stage.
Both men, who are seen as key members of the PAP's fourth-generation leadership team, were co-opted into the central executive committee (CEC) at the last biennial party conference in 2018.
Observers and party cadres say the results of yesterday's election signal continuity and stability in the PAP's leadership ranks amid the ongoing crisis.
Mr Wong, 47, co-chairs the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, while Mr Lee, 44, co-chairs a task force to help Singapore's economy emerge stronger from the crisis.
Over 2,000 party cadres voted at the PAP's biennial party conference yesterday, with the top 12 nominees elected for a two-year term. The other CEC members are Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68; Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 59; Mr Chan Chun Sing, 51; Mr Gan Kim Yong, 61; Ms Grace Fu, 56; Mr K. Shanmugam, 61; Mr Masagos Zulkifli, 57; Mr Ong Ye Kung, 50; Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, 51, and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, 59. The 12 were elected by secret ballot from a list of 19 nominees.
Ministers Indranee Rajah, 57, who was among the top 12 in 2018, and Josephine Teo, 52, were co-opted into the CEC as they got the 13th and 14th highest votes.
The other names on the ballot were labour chief Ng Chee Meng, 52, newly promoted ministers Maliki Osman, 55, and Edwin Tong, 51; Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, 48, and North West District Mayor Alex Yam, 39.
Mr Ng, who lost the contest for Sengkang GRC in the July general election, had been elected into the top 12 in 2018.
Associate Professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University's law school said a possible reason for Mr Ng's omission from the top 12 could be that he was not re-elected as an MP in GE2020.
Another possible reason, cadres say, is Mr Ng was not viewed in the same light as others with ministerial portfolios. Observers believe Mr Ng would be co-opted into the CEC for union representation.
On newer ministers not getting in, former PAP MP Inderjit Singh said cadres want to see a slower transition to the 4G at this stage.
Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior analyst at management consultancy firm Solaris Strategies Singapore, said Mr Wong and Mr Lee's election into the CEC reaffirms their importance in the 4G team.
Associate Professor Bilveer Singh, deputy head at the National University of Singapore's department of political science, added both are future PM candidates.
Prof Tan noted that Mr Lee has the longest runway among his CEC colleagues. "He may well be a stalwart of the 5G leadership," he said.