In the wake of his appointment as the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) first assistant secretary-general, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that he has made “a very good recovery” from the stroke he suffered two years ago.
Speaking to reporters during a televised press conference at the party’s New Upper Changi Road HQ on Friday (23 November), Heng stressed, “I would not have taken up this appointment if I do not have the confidence that my health allows me to do it.”
“I took this up after thinking about it very seriously and in particular making sure that my health allows me to do that. This very major life and death episode has strengthened my commitment to serve Singaporeans.”
The press conference was only open to local media despite requests from several foreign media outlets, including Yahoo News Singapore, to attend. It was held after Heng’s appointment by the PAP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) on Friday.
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.
The 57-year-old is now seen as the leading contender to succeed Lee Hsien Loong as Prime Minister. Former PM Goh Chok Tong and Lee both took on the role of assistant secretary-general before ascending to the premiership.
Heng said that he had the backing of a “strong team” which includes Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, 49, who will be the PAP’s second assistant secretary-general. Chan, along with Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, was thought to be a leading contender to succeed PM Lee.
Heng said, “The younger ministers have chosen me as their leader and I’ve accepted. It is my privilege to serve. I’m deeply conscious of the heavy responsibility I’m taking on, leading the party and governing Singapore are massive and complex tasks.”
At the press conference, Chan said he will work closely with Heng under the new PAP leadership.
He said, “I have great respect for Swee Keat’s capabilities especially his considerable international experience and his knowledge of the financial markets. As a team, we will complement one another, leveraging on our respective strengths to do our best for Singapore.”
Heng, a former Education Minister, is thought to be the most experienced of the fourth generation leaders. He entered politics in 2011 and is a Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC.
The father of two began his career in the Singapore Police Force and was later managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Heng also served as Principal Private Secretary to the late Lee Kuan Yew in 1997.