SINGAPORE - The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) co-opted four new members into its highest decision-making body on Thursday (Nov 19), a move some political observers say identifies three faces to watch.
They are Minister Edwin Tong, MP Alex Yam and businessman Victor Lye, a PAP grassroots leader who had contested, without success, in two general elections.
The fourth was a non-surprise: labour chief Ng Chee Meng, who led the team that lost to the Workers' Party (WP) in Sengkang GRC in the last general election held in July.
Given the close ties between the PAP and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) , it would be a "massive departure" from the past if the labour movement was not represented in the 36th Central Executive Committee (CEC), Singapore Management University's Associate Professor Eugene Tan, a former Nominated MP, told The Straits Times.
The announcement on Thursday also signals the PAP's succession plan is intact, with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat poised to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the observers added.
DPM Heng and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing remain the first and second assistant secretaries-general.
The organising secretaries continue to be National Development Minister Desmond Lee, and Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu.
Mr Lee, with Education Minister Lawrence Wong, were elected by party cadres for the first time into the CEC at the PAP's biennial party conference earlier this month.
Two others were co-opted into the CEC then for garnering the highest number of votes after the top 12 were elected.
The duo were Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, and Mrs Josephine Teo, the Manpower Minister.
Mr Wong will continue to chair the party's Policy Forum and Mrs Teo, its Women's Wing.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong will remain as party chairman and Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, its vice-chairman.
The party treasurer is Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and the assistant treasurer, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung.
PM Lee remains the PAP's secretary-general.
Non-MPs in CEC is break from PAP's early years
The co-opting of the four men represents a break from the past, said Prof Tan.
"I suspect that to find non-MPs sitting on the PAP CEC, you would probably have to go back to the early days of the ruling party, like in the 1950s," he noted.
"But in this round, the party would have reserved the first co-opted member seat for Mr Ng, because of his position as secretary-general of the NTUC," he added.
Mr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at management consultancy firm Solaris Strategies Singapore, linked Mr Ng's inclusion to the role of tripartism in Singapore, and its increased importance in the midst of the pandemic and an uncertain economic future.
Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh believes Mr Lye's inclusion "is in recognition of his unwavering effort in fighting two GEs". Both times, he was in the team that contested in a WP stronghold: Aljunied GRC.
"Loyalty is important...(there's) no guarantee he will remain in Aljunied in the next GE," he added.
Mr Lye's move into the CEC also sends a message that the PAP values the efforts of the party's rank-and-file members in trying to win back Aljunied GRC, said Dr Mustafa and Prof Tan.
All the analysts interviewed said Mr Tong was shaping up to be a key member of the party's 4G (fourth-generation) team.
Prof Tan said his move into the CEC is his third significant achievement, following his promotion to full minister after GE2020 and taking over from Mr Ong as chairman of the Chinese Community Liaison Group earlier this month.
The unchanged faces in the top ranks of the CEC held no surprises, given the need for party unity as the Government battles Covid-19, the analysts added.
"Right after GE, and with the crisis of a generation, what you want is stability and continuity," said Prof Tan.
Added Mr Singh: "The PAP does not want to make it seem that someone has to take the fall for the GE results. So the signal is no change in succession plan for now."
The PAP's overall vote share in GE2020 is 61.24 per cent, an almost nine percentage point drop from 2015. Also, it lost in the newly-formed Sengkang GRC, resulting in the WP increasing its electoral wins to two GRCs and one single-seat constituency.