SINGAPORE – Singapore’s carefully planned leadership succession has been thrown into disarray.
Political observers say it is now unclear who will become the next prime minister of the Asian financial center.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat shocked the nation on Thursday night when he announced that he would withdraw as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s designated successor.
He said he will turn 60 this year and cited his age as an obstacle to leading the country into a post-pandemic world.
Heng will relinquish his role as finance minister in the next cabinet reshuffle, which the local media said is expected in two weeks. Still, he will remain deputy prime minister and coordinating economic policy minister.
“This really is an obstacle in terms of Singapore’s carefully defined succession plans, but I don’t see it as a blow to Singapore’s political renewal,” Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University and an observer politician, told CNBC ” Street Signs Asia “on Friday.
Financial markets were flat on Friday after Heng’s announcement, with the Straits Times Index falling 0.1% and the Singapore dollar stagnating against the US dollar.
Who could be the next Prime Minister of Singapore?
Analysts identified four potential candidates who could be chosen by the leadership to become Singapore’s next prime minister:
- Chan Chun Sing, 51, who is Minister of Commerce and Industry;
- Ong Ye Kung, 51, who is Minister of Transport;
- Lawrence Wong, 48, who is Minister of Education and co-chair of the country’s task force at Covid-19;
- Desmond Lee, 44, Minister of National Development.
Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute for Political Studies at the National University of Singapore, said the men had some exposure on the international stage. It could help them reach the top job, she said on Friday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” program.
However, she pointed out that Wong and Lee, who are in their 40s, would have “a much longer track”, even if they assumed more than five years from now.
The ruling Popular Action Party has governed Singapore since the country’s independence in 1965. Transition of leadership – Singapore has only had two so far – it is usually an uneventful case, with an identified successor many years before the incumbent prime minister stepped down.
But even before Heng’s decision to withdraw, the country’s leadership succession plan was overturned by the Covid-19 pandemic, said Tan, the law professor.
Lee, the current Prime Minister, had previously said he was ready to retire when he turns 70, but later indicated that he would delay his delivery to see Singapore during the Covid-19 crisis.
Lee is 69 this year and said on Thursday that he would remain as prime minister until a new successor appears and is ready to take over.
“The pandemic really changed the leadership’s succession plans, and so … I see DPM (Deputy Prime Minister) Heng as an unfortunate victim,” said Tan, who added that Heng seemed “very at peace” with his decision. take a step to the side.