Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is in pole position to become the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) first assistant secretary-general.
According to a local media report on Thursday (22 November), this paves the way for him to become Singapore’s next prime minister.
Citing reliable sources, Chinese language daily Lianhe Zaobao reported that the highly regarded Heng is favoured to take the post when the PAP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) meets on Friday.
This means that Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing is likely to become second assistant secretary-general. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, thought to be another contender in the leadership race, is reportedly not in the running for either post.
Traditionally, the role of PAP assistant secretary-general is held by either a deputy prime minister, or the men who will go on to become PM or DPM. For example, former PM Goh Chok Tong and current PM Lee Hsien Loong both held the post, while DPMs Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam also held the role.
Short runway to next General Election
Following the party’s leadership elections earlier this month, Teo and Shanmugaratnam both stepped down from the CEC to make way for the fourth generation leaders. In light of this, whoever becomes the first assistant secretary-general is thought to be the likely successor to PM Lee.
With a General Election thought to be coming in 2019, this leaves an unusually short runway for Lee’s successor. By comparison, Goh served as DPM for six years before succeeding the late Lee Kuan Yew, while PM Lee himself was a deputy PM for 14 years.
Heng, 57, is a former Education Minister and managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He entered politics in 2011 and is a Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC.
In May 2016, Heng collapsed from a stroke during a Cabinet meeting. He was discharged from hospital after six weeks and resumed his duties as Finance Minister in August.