SINGAPORE: Singapore’s 4G or fourth generation leadership team will need more time to select another leader from among them, they said in a statement on Thursday (Apr 8) after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that he will stand aside as head of the 4G team.
Mr Heng remains a member of the 4G team and will continue in his roles as Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.
He will relinquish his role as Finance Minister in the next Cabinet Reshuffle, slated in about two weeks. Mr Heng will also remain as first assistant secretary-general of the People’s Action Party (PAP), said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a press conference on Thursday.
“Tackling Singapore’s pressing immediate challenges and ensuring that Singapore emerges stronger from this crisis remains our foremost priority. Under these circumstances, the 4G team will need more time to select another leader from amongst us,” said the 4G team in a statement signed by 32 People’s Action Party (PAP) politicians.
“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.”
READ: DPM Heng says he is stepping aside as 4G leader for younger person with 'longer runway' to become future PM
The team issued the statement after a meeting of all the ministers and other office holders, including the Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng.
Mr Heng, Mr Lee and the two Senior Ministers, Mr Teo Chee Hean and Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, did not attend the meeting.
The 4G team asked for Singaporeans’ support and understanding as they choose another leader.
“This unexpected turn of events is a setback for our succession planning. We recognise that Singaporeans will be concerned. We seek your support and understanding, as we choose another leader for the team.”
They added: “We will continue working as a team to serve our people, and to earn the confidence and trust of all Singaporeans.”
The leader of the 4G team is seen as Singapore’s next Prime Minister, and Mr Heng was regarded as Mr Lee’s successor after he was elected “first among equals” by his compatriots in early 2018. This new development is a clear indication that succession plans have shifted.
READ: Teo Chee Hean will be Acting Prime Minister in PM Lee's absence until 4G team picks a new leader
In 2018, when Mr Heng was announced as leader of the 4G team, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing was designated his deputy.
When asked if he will be next in line in the succession, Mr Chan said: “Now that DPM has decided to step aside as a leader of the 4G, the 4G team should be given the opportunity to relook at the question of succession holistically. And we will make a collective decision on who will be the next leader for the 4G in due course.”
He added that leadership succession “goes beyond just choosing a leader”, but is about finding and forming the strongest team for Singapore.
Responding to another question about who are the frontrunners to be the 4G leader, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said Singapore’s succession planning should not be seen as a competition or “race”.
The team is not selecting a “boss”, but someone who will bring out the talents and strengths of everyone, he added.
“When it's a race, you only have one winner at the end standing on the podium … with a team, we fight hard … on the field, and if we win, we have a trophy for the nation. And in that winning team, we will have a captain that can bring out the best of everybody,” he said.
“So that process of developing a strong team and rallying around the 'first among equal' leader takes some time.”
Prime Minister Lee said that succession is "very, very important and urgent", but choosing a new leader may take some time.
"This is a process which takes more than a few months, but I think that it should not take more than a couple of years. And I hope that ... I will have a clear outcome before the next General Election," he said.
Elaborating on Mr Ong's analogy, Mr Lee said the selection process is about team building and developing relationships among the team members.
"Over time, from that balance and that chemistry, you're able to identify who amongst the people can maximise the performance of the team, and make all the pieces fit together and add up to more than the sum of its parts."
Mr Lee added that the long process was also why they decided to announce Mr Heng's decision now, before a successor is identified.
"The public also has to know what the real status is in order to know what progress is being made and where they stand," he said.
"If we were a listed company, we would have clear obligations to make this public within quite a quick time, which is what we have done."
The 4G leaders also said that Mr Heng has played a critical role in leading key initiatives of the Government, including delivering five Budgets last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have all benefitted from his experience and expertise, and we look forward to his continued advice and contributions as we navigate our recovery and chart Singapore’s path forward,” said the statement.
Education Minister Lawrence Wong, one of the 4G team at the press conference, said that Mr Heng’s decision exemplifies the qualities associated with him as someone who is “selfless, with a deep sense of duty, and a strong conviction to do what is best for Singapore, and Singaporeans”.
“Importantly, he has left a strong imprint on all of us in terms of his collaborative and consultative style of leadership,” said Mr Wong.
“We've all benefited from his experience and expertise,” he added.
The team also said they respect and accept Mr Heng’s decision to stand aside as leader of the 4G team.
“We appreciate what a difficult decision it must have been. But no one could have foreseen the disruption of COVID-19, the great uncertainty it has created, and its long-lasting impact. We know that he has made the decision with Singapore’s long-term interests at heart.”
The statement was signed by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, Minister for Social and Family Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, National Development Minister Desmond Lee, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, Mohamad Maliki Osman and Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong.
It also includes Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, Senior Ministers of State Heng Chee How, Chee Hong Tat, Amy Khor, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Sim Ann, Zaqy Mohamad, Dr Koh Poh Koon; and Ministers of State Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Low Yen Ling, Desmond Tan, Sun Xueling, Alvin Tan, Gan Siow Huang, Tan Kiat How and NTUC Sec-Gen Ng Chee Meng.