With Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat stepping down as the fourth-generation (4G) leader, Mr Lee Hsien Loong will stay on as prime minister until the 4G team chooses a new chief.
At the media conference announcing the move yesterday, PM Lee called Mr Heng's decision to stand aside a "selfless" one.
"His actions are made with the best interests of Singapore in mind, and they are fully in keeping with the spirit of public service and sense of duty that motivated him to step forward and stand for election when I asked him to do so in 2011," he said.
"Nevertheless, as the 4G statement acknowledges, this is a significant setback to our succes-sion plans."
In a statement issued yesterday, the 4G team called the unexpected turn of events "a setback for our succession planning".
Mr Heng was managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore from 2005 until 2011, when he stepped down to contest the general election that year. PM Lee appointed him to the Cabinet as the Education Minister in May 2011.
Noting that the 4G team want to give themselves more time to work out new succession arrangements, PM Lee said he had therefore agreed to stay on "until such time as the new 4G leader is chosen and ready to take over".
He added that while the Government's immediate focus is on the health and economic crisis, succession remains an urgent task and cannot be put off indefinitely.
"I think (the 4G team will) take longer than a few months, but I hope that they will reach a consensus and identify a new leader before the next general election. I have no intention of staying on longer than necessary."
PM Lee previously said that he hoped to step down before his 70th birthday, which would be in February next year.
But after the pandemic hit, he pledged to see Singapore through the Covid-19 crisis before handing over the reins of the country to the next generation of leaders.
- A SOURCE OF GUIDANCE
I have had the privilege, together with Grace (Fu), to work very closely with DPM on (the Singapore Together movement) to bring Singaporeans along the journey of nation building... That really exemplifies his style and approach of leadership, and a kind of leadership that all of us, the younger ministers, aspire towards... Over the last 10 years, I, my colleagues, have looked up to him and continue to do so for guidance, for advice and for partnership.
MINISTER FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT DESMOND LEE
KEY ROLE IN EDUCATION REFORM
When I came into government, I took over from Swee Keat at the Ministry of Education, and it has been a privilege. As you know, the education system went through many changes, been going through a reform process, and I think really Swee Keat planted the seeds, got the ball rolling, set the tone, reducing the overemphasis on academic results... and that made my job a lot easier, and we kept the momentum going.
MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT ONG YE KUNG
I must put on record that I have great admiration of working with DPM Heng as a leader. I worked with him very closely in SGTogether. He has enabled a lot of the platforms, participation of Singaporeans, all sectors. So, I really enjoyed working with him tremendously. I am saddened by his decision.
MINISTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT GRACE FU
COMMITTED TO SERVING S'PORE
When I stood in the election in 2011, it was not with the ambition to become the prime minister. In fact, I did not even ask what appointment I would get... I have been in public service since serving NS at the age of 19... Now, I am 60. So, for the last 41 years, the bulk of my life has been in the public service; the last 10 years in political appointments. And I will continue to do what is useful for Singaporeans and what is meaningful.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT
Swee Keat has made a selfless decision to stand aside. His actions are made with the best interests of Singapore in mind, and they are fully in keeping with the spirit of public service and sense of duty that motivated him to step forward and stand for election when I asked him to do so in 2011.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG
IN COUNTRY'S INTEREST
We generally, overall, accepted DPM's decision, regrettably, and agreed that it is in the interest of Singapore. We are glad that he has agreed to stay on as part of the team.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH GAN KIM YONG
FOSTERED TEAM SPIRIT
The 4G selected DPM in 2018 as our leader because he was the most experienced among us. He was very consultative and has a style of leadership that engenders the team spirit that we all in the 4G look out for.
MINISTER FOR SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT MASAGOS ZULKIFLI
THINKING ABOUT SINGAPORE
We know that it has been a difficult decision for him, and he has done it in the best interest of Singapore. That is just Swee Keat's character - always thinking about what is best for Singapore and Singaporeans.
MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY CHAN CHUN SING
GRATEFUL FOR MENTORSHIP
I have worked closely with DPM since the both of us entered politics in 2011, initially in the Ministry of Education, and then subsequently in the Ministry of Finance. I have benefited tremendously from his mentorship and guidance, and I am very grateful for it. All of us on the team look forward to his continued advice and contributions.
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION LAWRENCE WONG
"You have my word: Together with my older colleagues like Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, as well as our younger fourth-generation ministers, I will see this through. I am determined to hand over Singapore, intact and in good working order, to the next team," he said in an online rally in July last year.
Yesterday, he stressed that choosing a leader is not just about ranking people and saying who is going to be the best choice.
"It is really about team building and developing the team, and developing the relationships amongst the team members - so that over time, from that balance and that chemistry, you are able to identify who amongst the people can most maximise the per-formance of the team, make all the pieces fit together and end up with more than the sum of its parts."
PM Lee stressed that the Cabinet will continue to work as one united team to overcome the challenges and lead the country forward.
"That is what Singaporeans expect of us, and rightly so. It is also the only way to maintain confidence in Singapore and to keep our country succeeding year after year."