On April 8, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hien Long’s designated successor, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, announced his decision to resign as the city’s next head. He said it would be in the best interest of the nation to have a leader with a runway long enough – long enough for “not only rebuilding Singapore after COVID-19, but also spearheading the next phase of our nation-building efforts. “
The question of who will succeed Lee has been a question until Heng was appointed deputy prime minister two years ago. Now, his decision to leave the chain is a step back. The move raises a series of questions about the timing and impact of the move, including the big question: Who will follow Lee as prime minister?
Before we find out why Heng announced his decision now, it is reasonable to point out that he might not have given up on his leadership ambitions had it not been for a pandemic. Indeed, COVID-19 has brought enormous changes and challenges for all countries, and Singapore is no exception. In 2020, Singapore’s GDP will decrease by 5.4%. Even though that was better than expected, the performance was still its worst ever.
Under the leadership of Heng, who is also Minister of Finance, Singapore has set up four budgets by 2020 to prevent the country’s economic loss. The total budget amounted to S $ 92.9 billion. Heng recently announced its annual budget for 2021; estimated total expenditure is S $ 102.36 billion. Leading the charge to draft all of these budgets is no easy task. Heng needs to convince fellow ministers, members of Parliament, as well as the public that spending these large sums of money is a must.
In addition to his work in the finance ministry, Heng is also chairman of the Future Economic Council (FEC), responsible for driving the growth and transformation of Singapore’s economy in the long term. The FEC’s mission is very important to Singapore even before the outbreak of the coronavirus. Since the pandemic has pushed the country and the world into a deep recession, finding a way to revive and transform the economy has not only become important, but also crucial. As chairman of the FEC, Heng has embraced a large amount of new pressure and responsibility.
As Heng mentioned in his Leadership Transformation Press Conference, he has been pondering whether he will be able to take on all of these tasks since being selected as his successor in 2018. Without any pandemic, the task will be relatively easier; Perhaps, he will become prime minister this year. However, the ongoing pandemic not only made it harder for Heng, but also disrupted the original succession plan. It is not clear how long Lee will remain in power, even if this will only be determined by the development of the pandemic. During his entire year fighting COVID-19, Heng must have realized how difficult his task is – and will be prime minister.
Singapore’s predecessor prime ministers have all served for more than 10 years (Lee Kuan Yew served 25 years, Goh Chok Tong 14 years and Ly Hien Long 17 years). With that said, it is expected that the next leader of Singapore will stay long to rebuild a better lion nation in the post-pandemic period. However, Heng will turn 60 this year and he has a stroke in 2016. It seems that his age and medical history make him less likely to serve long term. Therefore, after completing work on the 2021 annual budget and before the regular cabinet reforms during the year, Heng announced his decision to step aside.
Although a new successor will be appointed, it is unlikely to bring about any inconsistencies or changes in government policy. In other words, the change of succession plans will not have a major impact on Singapore’s future development. First, Ly Hien Long is still the prime minister of the country. Lee reiterated that he had no intention of staying longer than necessary; However, it is still unclear what timeframe he means “necessary”. Although his grip on power is only determined by the readiness of the fourth generation (4G) leadership or the growth of the pandemic, he is likely to remain prime minister for a few more years. . With Heng’s decision, Lee was able to stay longer than planned.
Second, Heng’s decision to give up his chances at the top of the line does not mean he will leave the 4G team. On the contrary, expect him to continue to play an active role in government. He will continue to be the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economic Policy Coordination, Chairman of the National Research Fund and co-chair of the Joint Council on Bilateral Cooperation between China and Singapore. In the People’s Action Party, he remains the first assistant secretary-general. Furthermore, Heng even confirmed that he will compete in the next general election, which will take place in 2025. Last but not least, as core members of the 4G team remain unchanged. However, a change of successor is unlikely to cause any major changes in policy.
Scholars and observers have pointed out that there are four main candidates for the new successor: Chan Chun Sing (51 years old), Minister of Commerce and Industry; Ong Ye Kung (51 years old), Minister of Transport; Lawrence Wong (48 years old), education minister and second finance minister; and Desmond Lee (44 years old), national development minister and social service integration minister. They are all much younger than Heng. Chan and Ong were both considered before Heng was finally chosen as the leader who waited two years ago.
Some opinions suggest that Chan is the favorite out of the four. However, Singaporeans have polarized views about him. In the petition website, change.com, many people signed up in support of “Say NO to Chan Chun Sing for PM!“Compared to those who voted for”Say YES to Chan Chun Sing for PM! “ Critics complain that Chan lacks maturity, intelligence, communication skills and empathy for ordinary people. Among the four candidates, Wong and Lee are relatively new to the public, but it is worth noting that Wong spoke during the Leadership Transformation Press Conference as representatives of the 4G team. He provided a summary of the discussion of Heng’s decision.
The answer as to who will be the new successor may take some time to clear up, but the cabinet reshuffle two weeks from now should give us some pointers. Since Heng will no longer be finance minister, the finance minister’s identity can provide useful information on this matter.