On 8 April, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat announced that he would be stepping down as the leader of the People’s Action Party’s fourth-generation (4G) team. TheHomeGround Asia took to the streets to find out how Singaporeans reacted to the announcement, and who they think will step up to the task of leading the 4G team.
Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said his decision to step aside as the leader of the People’s Action Party’s fourth-generation (4G) team was to allow for someone “who is younger with a longer runway to not think in just one or two election terms, but think about the long-term future of Singapore”. He added that such a leader will “not only rebuild Singapore post-COVID-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building effort.”
In a letter responding to Mr Heng, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong thanked him for his “selfless decision to step aside”, and confirmed that he would remain as DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies. PM Lee also said that Mr Heng would relinquish his finance portfolio “at the next Cabinet reshuffle” in about two weeks.
Said PM Lee, “Your actions now are fully in keeping with the spirit of public service and sense of duty that motivated you to step forward when I asked you to stand for election in 2011.”
Mr Heng explained that the move was taken after “careful deliberation and discussion” with his family, and said that the incoming Prime Minister should have a runway that was sufficiently long to “master the demands of leading our nation; formulate and see through our longer-term strategies for our country; and win the confidence and support of Singaporeans to build this shared future together.”
He added that he “stands ready to support” the next leader chosen by the 4G team. At present, the ministers touted to take on the leadership of the 4G team include Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chung Sing, 51, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, 51, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, 48 and National Development Minister Desmond Lee, 44.
What did some Singaporeans think upon hearing the news?
When asked about her reaction to the news, 30-year-old Twinkle who lives in Ang Mo Kio says that “she didn’t really care”, as she was assured that someone would be moving towards Mr Heng’s position and that a successor would be selected. “It’s not up to us to comment,” she says.
She thinks it is important for this leader to “show charisma” and hopes that PM Lee would be able to “carry on for another five years”, as she feels that it would be difficult for the current members of the Cabinet to step in.
Another interviewee we spoke to, who declined to be named, says that he was “a little surprised initially” because he felt that Mr Heng had been doing a good job.
“Perhaps he has good reason to step aside. He gave very good reasons in the sense that this is going to be a very extended crisis. The world and Singapore economy is not about to recover overnight, it probably will take years before full recovery is seen.”
(Photo by LH Goh for Ministry of Communications and Information)
When asked who he thought would step up to lead the current 4G team, he suggests that Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chung Sing would “fit the bill”.
“Of course there’s a lot of talk about him not being so personable, maybe using Singlish. But politics goes beyond the personal. You’ve got to look into qualifications, his credentials. I think his credentials are impeccable.”
He reckons that Mr Chan’s military experience would stand him in good stead: “We are also looking at the security situation in this region. Having a military person who understands the geopolitics of this region and its insecurities would help. Not that [a] civilian prime minister cannot fit the bill, [it’s] just that having military experience helps.”
And adds that the upcoming challenges faced by the next person to take up the leadership mantle would be a “test of leadership mettle [and] skill”, as he feels that the younger ministers are “short of crisis experience”.
“Of course Singapore in the long run has always done the right thing. And I trust that the younger leaders will step up to the plate.”
Still, the decision came as a surprise to many, including 38-year-old Jo, who lives near Bedok Reservoir. She says that she was “a bit surprised” upon learning of Mr Heng’s decision. She suggests that either Mr Chan or Mr Wong would be selected to be the next leader of the 4G team, citing the importance of an “economics or finance background”.
“Personally, I prefer [Transport Minister] Ong Ye Kung,” she says. “I think we need an orator – someone who can speak and appeal to the public. And I think he’s got [a] more friendly and approachable personality.”
For 55-year-old Tina, who also lives in Aljunied, Mr Heng’s decision comes as a sad one.
“It’s sad to hear that because he’s a good guy. And he has been in the finance role for a long time. So I’m not too sure if it will impact the country in a way,” she says.
She also believes that Mr Chan will be selected to be the next leader of the 4G team, noting that he has been given “quite a heavy portfolio”. Still, she maintains optimism, as she believes that Prime Minister Lee already has something planned to handle this issue: “[I’m] sad to hear about it, but I think it will work out.”
But another interviewee, who preferred to remain anonymous, says that he felt that people are “ready for a non-Chinese PM”.
“If they say they want some younger chap, then good luck to them. [If] they want somebody who has more presence, I suppose, Ong Ye Kung, or Chan Chun Sing. Personally to me, I prefer [Senior Minister of Singapore and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies] Tharman [Shanmugaratnam]. Everybody likes Tharman.
“Despite [some saying] that we’re not ready for a Chinese PM, I don’t believe it. We all just want change, I guess.”