Heng Swee Keat throws in the towel as touted successor to Singapore premiership

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has announced on Thursday (8 Apr) that he will not be running for the Prime Minister position, and will also be relinquishing his role as the Finance Minister due to his age and fear that he cannot fulfil the exceptional demand of the job.

In a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier today, Mr Heng, who turns 60 this year, noted that he would have “too short of a runway” to become the next Prime Minister as he would be in his mid-60s when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“But when I also consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next prime minister then.

“We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-COVID-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building effort,” he wrote.

In his reply to Mr Heng, PM Lee who is currently 69, said he understood and respected Mr Heng’s decision, and was glad that he has agreed to stay in the Cabinet.

Separately, the next generation of leaders — the fourth-generation (4G) leadership — said in a statement that they would “need more time to select another leader from among us” given their priority to handle the country’s pressing immediate challenges and ensure that Singapore emerges stronger from the COVID-19 crisis.

“We have therefore requested PM Lee Hsien Loong to stay on as Prime Minister until such time when a new successor is chosen by the team and is ready to take over. We are grateful that PM has agreed to our request,” it noted.

In a press conference on Thursday, PM Lee said: “They (the 4G team) and I are very conscious that succession remains an urgent task and cannot be put off indefinitely.”

Speaking at the same press conference, Mr Heng said: “Singapore politics is not about self but what is good for Singapore, and I have been constantly thinking of what is in the best interest of Singapore and Singaporeans.”

Mr Heng will remain as Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.

In November 2018, Mr Heng was named first assistant secretary-general of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), after the 4G leaders picked him as their frontman, opening the way for him to succeed PM Lee as head of government.

Just prior to the GE2020, People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders and commentators in the local mainstream media all touted him to be the next Prime Minister of Singapore and guaranteed his ability to succeed PM Lee.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. PM Lee has said that he would see Singapore through the public health crisis before handing over the reins to the next generation of leaders.

If the next general election were to be held 5 years later, he would be 74 then. In comparison, late Lee Kuan Yew stepped down as Prime Minister at the age of 67, passing the position to Goh Chok Tong.

With DPM Heng’s latest move to drop out as the would-be-Prime Minister, the succession plan for PAP after Lee Hsien Loong seems even murkier and uncertain than before.

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