Cabinet reshuffle likely to come after 2019 Budget debate: PM Lee

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was appointed as PAP's first assistant secretary-general, is widely expected to become deputy prime minister in the upcoming reshuffle.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attends the plenary session at the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 1 December. Also seen in Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat (right). (PHOTO: Reuters)

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has indicated that a Cabinet reshuffle will take place only after the 2019 Budget debate set for March next year.

Speaking to Singapore media on Saturday (1 December) on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) Leaders’ Summit in Buenos Aires, Lee noted that the last Cabinet reshuffle took place April this year.

“So next year around the same time, I think it is reasonable,” he said.

The announcement ends weeks of speculation over an impending Cabinet reshuffle following the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Central Executive Committee (CEC) elections on 11 November and its subsequent appointment of roles with the party’s top committee.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was appointed as PAP’s first assistant secretary-general, is widely expected to become deputy prime minister in the upcoming reshuffle.

Meanwhile, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing was appointed as second assistant secretary-general following the CEC elections.

The deputy prime minister post was held by both Singapore’s second and third prime ministers – Goh Chok Tong and Lee, respectively. Prior to the CEC election, local and foreign media had tipped both Heng and Chan as being the most likely candidates to become Singapore’s next prime minister.

‘No surprises’ if all goes to plan at next GE

At the G20 Summit, Lee also said that he expected the nation’s fourth-generation (4G) leaders to be in the “thick of things” at the next general election despite still being there to lead the PAP.

They will do so by setting the party’s agenda, working out its policies, preparing the manifesto, making the pitch to the public, actively campaigning, and organising the election, he said. Singapore’s next general election is due to be held before January 2021.

“I’m still the leader, so in the next election, I will be the leader and I will lead the party into the election. But the content of the policies and how they are presented, and what they want to do, I think the young ministers will have a lot to say about that,” said PM Lee.

While he did not confirm that Heng would take over his post, he said that the 4G ministers have decided that Heng is their leader, and that the PAP MPs have endorsed it.

“So the party’s position is clear,” he said. “First, we have to fight an election. We have to win the election and after that, if all goes according to plan, well, the succession happens within the PAP, there are no surprises.”

Lee, 66, had previously said that he hoped to hand over his post to his successor by the time he turns 70 in 2022.

Younger ministers to meet in January

Heng, who was also in Buenos Aires, told reporters that the younger ministers will meet in January to discuss long-term issues that Singapore needs to address.

Following the discussions, the team will then consult Singaporeans on the topics that will shape the country’s future, in a planned series of discussions after next year’s Budget.

These sessions with different groups of people will build on the “Our Singapore Conversation” national feedback drive that Heng spearheaded in 2013.

“We want to have some time to look at what are some of the fundamental, long-term issues that as a country, as a society, we need to address,” he said.

Depth of experience going into next elections

Going into the upcoming polls, Lee believes that the PAP has a depth of experience – not just in terms of experienced leaders, but also a younger crop who possesses the capability and willingness to take Singapore into the future.

“It’s not just the present leaders, who are in their late 50s, early 60s – but also the next generation of leaders, 40s, 50s, ready to take over,” he said.

“I think that’s a very strong message, which goes beyond any specific policies and manifesto items or promises, but the commitment is we are here to serve and not just for now, but to serve into the future and you can rely on us.”

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