In profile: The men who could be Singapore’s next Prime Minister

In profile: The men who could be Singapore’s next Prime Minister

Mr Chan Chun Sing and Mr Ong Ye Kung see major changes in their portfolios, and Mr Heng Swee Keat has his wish answered by continuing at the Ministry of Finance in the latest Cabinet reshuffle.

chan chun sing, ong ye kung, heng swee keat
From left to right: Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Mr Heng Swee Keat.

SINGAPORE: Much has been discussed and written since the start of the year in an attempt to divine who the next Prime Minister of Singapore might be, and the focus has fallen squarely on Chan Chun Sing, Heng Swee Keat and Ong Ye Kung.

In the latest round of cabinet changes, Mr Chan has been recalled from his stint at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to head the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In doing so, he will also relinquish his appointment in the Prime Minister’s Office.

He will also take over responsibility for the Public Service Division from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, as well as continue being the deputy chairman of the People’s Association.

Mr Ong, meanwhile, will continue at the Ministry of Education, where he will now be the sole Minister taking on the whole ministerial portfolio. His counterpart, Mr Ng Chee Meng, has been tasked to lead the Labour Movement and will take up the role of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.   

Finally, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has had his wish answered after he retained his current portfolio. He had earlier this month said he would be “very happy” to continue in his role as “there are many things that we need to do” as announced in this year’s Budget.

He also picked up additional responsibilities, as he will be taking over assisting the Prime Minister on National Research Foundation matters from DPM Teo.

Here’s a closer look at the three men touted to be next in line to lead Singapore:


Chan Chun Sing Interview (5)
File photo of Mr Chan Chun Sing. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Life before politics: A military man, Mr Chan Chun Sing’s time at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) saw him hold various appointments such as Chief Infantry Officer, Chief of Staff of Joint Staff and Chief of Army.

These didn’t stop him from serving in other capacities though, with stints on various statutory boards and government-linked companies including Singapore Totalisator Board, ST Kinetics, Civil Service College, Defence Science and Technology Agency, Defence Science Organisation and International Enterprise Singapore.

Life in office: Mr Chan later left the SAF, and like Mr Heng stood for election in 2011. As he was fielded in Tanjong Pagar GRC – the stronghold of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew – his first General Election was a walkover after an opposition team failed to submit their application forms in time.

Upon being elected, he was appointed Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports as well as Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts for about a year – one of the youngest in the Cabinet then. He was also given a stint with the Ministry of Defence as its Senior Minister of State.

Of the appointment of office holders from the new MPs then, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: “It is a faster pace than normal but I decided to bring them in early and test them out quickly because I think there is urgency in the task of preparing for leadership succession as I have explained many times before.”

Mr Chan’s full ministerial post came in September 2013, when he helmed the newly formed Ministry of Social and Family Development, although he had been its Acting Minister for some time before the promotion. He was also Second Minister for Defence. 

His next move, however, saw him relinquish his post at MSF and MINDEF, to take up the position of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. He had earlier been appointed Secretary-General of NTUC.

Mr Chan is currently the deputy chairman of People’s Association as well as the Party Whip at PAP, having taken over from current Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Private life: Mr Chan, 48, is married with three children – a daughter and two sons. During a Mediacorp talk show in 2016, he shared that he met his wife during a training course and was in the same project group, and their first “date” was having a meal at the MINDEF canteen.

More nuggets of information on his relationship with his wife, how he proposed and where they got married can be found on this Toggle programme


Life before politics: Mr Ong Ye Kung was a long-time civil servant who started off at the then-Ministry of Communications in 1993, before moving over to the Ministry of Trade and Industry at the turn of the 21st century where he was the deputy chief negotiator for the Singapore-US Free Trade Agreement. The pact was signed in May 2003.

He was also the press secretary and principal private secretary to the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the period of 1997 to 2005.

Mr Ong was then appointed the Chief Executive of the Singapore Workforce Development and followed that by joining NTUC. He was later appointed the Labour Movement’s Deputy Secretary-General and oversaw its employment and employability programmes.

After his GE2011 loss, he stayed on at NTUC for a year before joining Keppel Corporation where he was director of group strategy. There, he was responsible for the long-term strategic planning of the organisation’s activities until decided to stand again in the next election.

Life in office: In the watershed elections of 2011, Mr Ong and his team-mates – including then-Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo and Second Minister for Transport and Finance Lim Hwee Hua – lost to a Workers’ Party slate led by Mr Low Thia Khiang in Aljunied GRC. This was the first time PAP had lost a GRC to an opposition party.

The setback didn’t deter the 48-year-old from standing again four years later, when he was part of the five-man Sembawang GRC team that won against the team by National Solidarity Party. He was thrust straight into office by being appointed the Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) in October 2015, which oversees the ITE, polytechnics, universities and SkillsFuture.  

He was subsequently promoted to a full Education minister, as well as the Second Minister for Defence, a year later.

Ong Ye Kung Wallaby 1
Mr Ong disembarking from a Light Strike Vehicle after a familiarisation ride. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

Explaining the changes, Mr Lee said then: "These changes are part of the renewal process, to reinforce my Cabinet and get a younger team in place, ready to take over."

Private life: Mr Ong is married to Ms Diana Kuik Sin Leng, daughter of property magnate and executive chairman of Sim Lian Group Kuik Ah Han. They have two daughters. In a recent Straits Times interview, he admitted the loss in GE2011 was difficult to take but one good thing to come out of it was he got to spend more time with his family while the children were still young.

His father is former Barisan Socialis Member of Parliament Ong Lian Teng.


Life before politics: Mr Heng Swee Keat was a long-time civil servant before he stepped into the arena of politics, serving in various places including the Singapore Police Force, as the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry and as the CEO of the Trade Development Board.

He was the managing director for the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) from 2005 before deciding to stand in the 2011 GE.

He was also the Principal Private Secretary to the then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew from 1997 to 2000.

Life in office: Mr Heng was named Education Minister by PM Lee in May 2011 – only the second time a new MP was named a full minister immediately after being elected.

It is in this ministry that he cut his teeth in policy-making, moving Singapore’s education system towards a student-centric, values-driven phase, most notably doing away with school rankings altogether.

It was also during his tenure as Education Minister that he coined the phrase “Every school a good school” – one he used to reduce the emphasis on elite schools and create a vision where every school is good in its own way.

In October 2015, he was moved from the education portfolio to take the reins at the Finance Ministry, replacing current Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. 

Heng Swee Keat budget arrival
Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat arrives in Parliament to deliver Budget 2018. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan) 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had this to say then: “He has proved himself in education, which is a very demanding portfolio. As a former civil servant, he is familiar with many different ministries: MHA, MAS and MTI.

“Now, he will oversee our national finance, allocate resources to implement our agenda, work closely with economic ministries to continue creating opportunities and jobs, and make sure we spend within our means.”

During this time, Mr Heng was also chairman of the SG50 steering committee, which oversaw the year-long celebration of the country’s 50th year of independence, and currently chairs the Future Economy Council that drives the growth and transformation of Singapore’s economy for the future.

Private life: The 57-year-old is married to National Heritage Board CEO Chang Hwee Nee, and has two children. He has a Master of Arts in Economics from Cambridge University, and also holds a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Source: CNA/kk