Heng Swee Keat will become PM if PAP wins next election: Singapore's UK ambassador

Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat gives a keynote speech at the World Bank – Singapore Infrastructure Finance Summit in Singapore April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat gives a keynote speech at the World Bank – Singapore Infrastructure Finance Summit in Singapore April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will succeed Lee Hsien Loong as Prime Minister if the People’s Action Party (PAP) wins the next General Election, said Singapore’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Foo Chi Hsia.

In the government’s first explicit acknowledgement that Heng will be the country’s next leader, Foo said on Tuesday (18 December) in a statement to The Economist, “The ruling party has indeed settled on Heng Swee Keat as its next leader. But the prime minister in Singapore must command the confidence of the majority of members of parliament, no different from British prime ministers.

“Provided the party wins the people’s support in the next general election, due by April 2021, Mr Heng will take over from Lee Hsien Loong as prime minister.”

Foo’s comments came in a written response to The Economist writer Banyan’s 29 November article “Singapore’s ruling party reveals the next prime minister”. Banyan had compared Singapore’s political succession to that of China’s Communist Party, noting that Heng’s elevation was “supposedly a collective decision of the PAP’s ‘4g’ (fourth-generation) cadres”.

Banyan also noted that his readers “often grumble that Singapore’s high commissioner to London (a public servant of great intelligence and charm) wastes inordinate time penning letters of complaint to The Economist, usually over any hint that Singapore is in effect a one-party state.”

In response, Foo blasted Banyan’s “patronising backhanded innuendos about Singapore’s ongoing political succession” and stressed, “I write not to defend any political party, but to set the record straight and provide your readers with the facts to judge for themselves.”

On 23 November, Heng was appointed the PAP’s first assistant secretary-general by the PAP’s Central Executive Committee, making him the prime candidate to succeed Lee. Before becoming PM, both Lee and his predecessor Goh Chok Tong took up the role of assistant secretary-general.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who had been thought by many to be the favoured candidate to be the next PM, was appointed second assistant secretary-general.

Following the appointment of the new CEC office holders, Lee said, “The younger ministers and political office holders have been meeting in recent months to discuss who should lead them. They have reached a consensus that Heng Swee Keat will be their leader…It was therefore natural for the CEC to elect the two of them (Heng and Chan) as 1st and 2nd Assistant Secretaries General.”

At a media conference to unveil the CEC office holders, Heng didn’t state that he would be the country’s next leader. He emphasised instead that while there is “natural interest” in who will succeed Lee, it is important that the Cabinet is led by a strong and united team.

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