What's next for S'pore's political succession with DPM Heng Swee Keat stepping aside: All you need to know

DPM Heng Swee Keat (left) speaking at a press conference with PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on April 8, 2021.
DPM Heng Swee Keat (left) speaking at a press conference with PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on April 8, 2021. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has decided to step aside as leader of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) team, paving the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong retires.

Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, cited the long-term and profound challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, his age and the demands of the top job as reasons for his decision.

Here's what you need to know about Thursday's (April 8) announcements, and Singapore's political succession:

1. Why is DPM Heng stepping aside?

Mr Heng said the next prime minister should have a "sufficiently long runway - to master the demands of leading our nation; formulate and see through our longer-term strategies for our country; and win the confidence and support of Singaporeans to build this shared future together".

"I have decided to step aside as leader of the 4G team so that a younger leader who will have a longer runway can take over.

"It will be for the 4G team to choose the person, and I stand ready to support the next leader," he said.

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2. What did DPM Heng say in his letter to PM?

"This year, I am 60. As the crisis will be prolonged, I would be close to the mid-60s when the crisis is over," said Mr Heng in his letter to PM Lee.

"The 60s are still a very productive time of life. But when I consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then."

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3. Does it have to do with the GE2020 results?

Mr Heng said the results of last year's general election, and in East Coast GRC, in particular, were not the reason why he decided to step aside as leader of the PAP 4G team.

Mr Heng, who had been an MP in Tampines since he joined politics in 2011, moved over to East Coast GRC during last year's polls when it needed reinforcement. "It was completely new ground for me and I did my best," he added.

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4. What did PM Lee say?

PM Lee said he understood and respected Mr Heng's decision.

Noting that Mr Heng had done exceptional work as Minister for Finance, especially in the past year, PM Lee said: "I thank you for your selfless decision to stand aside. Your actions now are fully in keeping with the spirit of public service and sense of duty that motivated you to step forward when I asked you to stand for election in 2011."

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5. Who will be Singapore's next PM?

Four men have emerged as likely candidates to fill Mr Heng's shoes.

They are Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Mr Lawrence Wong and Mr Desmond Lee - with one of them possibly succeeding Mr Lee Hsien Loong as Singapore's prime minister.

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6. Is Minister Chan Chun Sing next in line?

Mr Chan was asked at the press conference if he is next in line, given his role in the PAP as second assistant secretary-general and deputy to DPM Heng.

Noting that a collective decision on the next 4G leader would be made in due course, he said: "Our leadership succession plans go beyond just choosing a leader... It is always about finding and forming the strongest team possible for Singapore."

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7. How long will PM Lee remain as prime minister?

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".

"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 elections. I have no intention of staying on longer than necessary," he said.

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8. Who will be the new finance minister?

A Cabinet reshuffle will be announced in about two weeks' time, which will see Mr Heng relinquish his portfolio as finance minister, as earlier planned.

There will also be "consequential moves" in other ministries, said PM Lee.

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