SINGAPORE: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (Nov 23) he is deeply conscious of the heavy responsibility that he is taking on as the People's Action Party (PAP) first assistant secretary-general.
Taking on that role is seen as an indication that he is the frontrunner to be Singapore's next prime minister.
Mr Heng said he will discharge his responsibilities to the best of his abilities with the help of second assistant secretary-general Chan Chun Sing.
“The younger ministers have chosen me as their leader and I've accepted. It is my privilege to serve,” said Mr Heng at a news conference.
"I'm deeply conscious of the heavy responsibility I'm taking on, leading the party and governing Singapore are massive and complex tasks," he continued.
"No one person can do it alone, not even Mr Lee Kuan Yew who had the help of able, stout-hearted colleagues. I'm heartened that I have the backing of a strong team."
Mr Heng stressed that while there is “natural interest” in who will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, it is just as important to have a strong and united team in the Cabinet.
“Our team has strengths in different areas and a range of skills to deal with a complex set of internal and external challenges. Based on our experience of working together in the past few years, I'm confident we will work together to take Singapore forward and to improve the lives of Singaporeans,” he said.
Mr Heng and Mr Chan fronted the 45-minute news conference which saw both ministers speaking in English, Malay and Mandarin.
Watch the full press conference:
It was attended by several of Singapore’s fourth-generation leaders, including Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu and Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah.
The prime minister was not at the news conference.
When asked about his health, Mr Heng, who suffered a stroke in 2016, said he has made “a very good recovery” and that doctors have given him a clean bill of health.
“I would not have taken up this appointment if I do not have the confidence that my health allows me to do it,” he told reporters.
“I took this up after thinking about it very seriously and in particular making sure that my health allows me to do that,” he added.
“This very major life-and-death episode has strengthened my commitment to serve Singaporeans.”
CHAN CHUN SING HAS MANY STRENGTHS: HENG
Earlier on Friday, a group of 32 younger political office-holders said in a statement that they came to a consensus that Mr Heng will lead the team after “carefully considering” the issue of leadership.
Mr Heng said he chose Mr Chan to be his deputy because he “can complement me very well”.
He recalled how both of them were involved in the Our Singapore Conversation project. They had also worked to set up the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) when Mr Heng was education minister and Mr Chan was acting minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports.
“Those were the very good experiences we have had working together. I can see how Chun Sing can be very, very helpful to me,” said Mr Heng.
He noted that Mr Chan has “many strengths”, having served with the army, the unions and with the grassroots community.
“So he has been doing a lot of ground work with the various organisations and grassroots organisations, as well as with our party. And it is important that we pull together our strengths to mobilise,” Mr Heng added.
On his part, Mr Chan stressed the importance of teamwork in leading the country: “I've always said this - no matter how good we are individually, it is necessary but not sufficient.
“What distinguishes the Singapore team from other people, other countries, is the fact that we have a very cohesive team and that is the hallmark of our leadership style.”
He added that the new team will continue to learn from the senior leadership.
“We continue to learn from them, every Cabinet meeting we attend with them - how we come together, set aside our own personal considerations but always to put the country's in front,” he said.
“And if we can keep this within the PAP DNA and Singapore leadership, I think we will go from strength to strength.”
Describing the appointments as a "milestone" in political leadership renewal, Mr Heng said they must now connect with party members and Singaporeans.
When asked if he will be the next prime minister, Mr Heng said: "What is important is that it is critical for us to win the support of Singaporeans.
"The prime minister has indicated the timeline for the next general election. We are working hard to win the trust and confidence of Singaporeans."