Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister turns away from future leadership role

The skyline of the central business district of Marina Bay Sands in Singapore on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Lauryn Ishak | Bloomberg | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – The deputy prime minister of Singapore announced on Thursday that he will step aside so that “a younger leader, who will have a longer lead can take over”.

Heng Swee Keat, who was supposed to replace Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is also finance minister and coordinating economic policy minister.

Heng will step down as finance minister in the next cabinet reform, but will remain in his other roles.

Lee said earlier that he would remain prime minister until the end of the Covid-19 crisis. Heng was expected to take over, but will now cease to be the leader of the so-called “4G team” – or leadership of Singapore’s fourth generation.

We need a leader who will not only rebuild post-COVID-19 Singapore, but also lead the next phase of our national construction efforts.

Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore

In a letter addressed to the prime minister, Heng said he would be 60 this year.

“When I also consider the ages at which our first three prime ministers took office, I would have a very short lead if I became the next prime minister,” he said. “We need a leader who will not only rebuild post-COVID-19 Singapore, but also lead the next phase of our national construction efforts.”

“After careful deliberation and discussions with my family, I decided to step down as 4G team leader (fourth generation), so that a younger leader, who will have a longer track, can take over,” he said in the letter. “It will be up to the 4G team to choose that person and I am ready to support the next leader.”

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat waves during a campaign walk ahead of the July 8, 2020 general election in Singapore.

Suhaimi Abdullah | Getty Images

Lee, 69, said he understands and respects Heng’s decision, calling it “selfless”. He added that Heng will help him mentor younger ministers as they choose another leader, in order to ensure a “smooth and timely leadership transition”.

Singapore’s “4G leaders” said in a statement that they are happy that Heng remains a member of his team, while continuing in his other portfolios.

“We appreciate the difficult decision it must have been,” they said. “We know that he made the decision with Singapore’s long-term interests in mind.”

Still, they acknowledged that the “unexpected turn of events is a setback” for their succession planning and said they are grateful that the prime minister has agreed to stay until a new successor is ready to take over.