SINGAPORE: The People’s Action Party (PAP) is working on a number of key issues in preparation for the next General Election, including getting ready its manifesto and selecting candidates to stand for election, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
During his interview with CNA and The Straits Times, Mr Heng, the PAP’s first assistant secretary-general, added that he is working closely with Mr Chan Chun Sing, the party’s second assistant secretary-general.
READ: ‘Build leaders in all parts of society’: DPM Heng Swee Keat on establishing consensus with Singaporeans
One thing the pair will work on is preparing the party manifesto and “how (they) hope to take Singapore forward in the next five years and beyond”, he said in his first media interview in his new capacity as DPM.
Another area of focus is in the selection of candidates to stand for election, the Deputy Prime Minister said.
“I think that the party has a policy of renewing our ranks at every election, and the work is intensifying. We’ve had some very good candidates already, but the work is continuing because we still have some time,” Mr Heng said.
Asked what traits he is looking for in these candidates, the DPM said the party is looking at a wide range and hopes to convince many of the good candidates from a variety of backgrounds to stand.
“Our society is becoming more diverse, and it is important for us to continue to represent that diversity and to make sure that we are able to bring in the views of different segments of our society,” Mr Heng said.
“At the same time, to be able to achieve a consensus that lets us turn diversity into a strength and not let diversity divide us.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had earlier said that with Mr Heng’s appointment as Deputy Prime Minister, the latter would carry more political responsibilities, which includes pitching the Government’s stance and policies to the public and building the younger leadership team to be ready to take over from him and the older ministers when the time comes.
DEDICATION TO SINGAPORE’S CAUSE SHOULDN’T CHANGE
In his interview, Mr Heng also addressed the question of whether the fourth-generation (4G) PAP leaders, as well as future ones, would be able to continue recruiting candidates to represent the increasingly diverse society here, saying that they will “certainly try (their) best”.
Citing recent trips to China and the United States, DPM Heng said he saw many very able Singaporeans who had a range of “very exciting assignments” to pick from. The party’s aim, therefore, is to convince them that “politics is a very meaningful and impactful thing to do”, he said.
“(We’ll have to) persuade them that if you want to take Singapore forward, one important way is for you to join us so that we can continue to win the trust and confidence of fellow Singaporeans,” Mr Heng said, adding he will be “very open” to many more good candidates – whether as potential MPs or to help in party matters.
Mr Heng, who remains in his role as Finance Minister, also responded to questions on his leadership style, compared to previous leaders such as Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong.
“What is very moving about Mr Lee is his lifelong dedication to Singapore. I would say that Mr Goh and PM Lee have been extremely dedicated, and I think they’ve been equally inspired by Mr Lee to carry forth this,” he said.
“In terms of what should not change, I hope that that dedication – not just of me, but of my colleagues and all Singaporeans – to the Singapore cause will not change.”
This means working to create conditions to enable Singaporeans, not just this generation but future ones, to fulfill their potential and realise their aspirations, he added.
“We can’t choose where we are born in, but we hope that our parents will feel that Singapore is a great place to have kids. I think that should not change.” Mr Heng stressed.
BUILDING A STRONG, COHESIVE CABINET
Mr Heng said, however, that he would continue to make “hard decisions” to steer Singapore through both short- and long-term challenges.
“It is very important for us to deal with issues that are right in front of us because if you don’t avoid the potholes in front, you will just fall into a hole and have to be rescued,” said the Deputy Prime Minister.
“(But) in doing that, we must not forget that where we (are) heading, what is the destination and having a view where we want to go in the future is just as important.”
Mr Heng also responded to questions during the interview on his experience, and whether he felt a stint helming the Defence Ministry might be something he would consider.
To this, Mr Heng replied: “If you go by the logic of that, then you know, anyone wanting to be the leader of the team will have to go through many jobs. I don’t think that is the critical point.”
Building a strong, cohesive team in Cabinet is more important, he said, as well as building trust and confidence within the team and with Singaporeans. This is so that when it comes to decision-making, this team can think ahead and be prepared to do the right thing, he explained.
“Ultimately, under our Cabinet system, it is a system of collective responsibility. At the end of it, the PM would have to take the final decision,” Mr Heng said.
The full interview with DPM Heng Swee Keat will be broadcast tonight (Sunday, May 5) at 8.30pm on CNA.