SINGAPORE — Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Thursday (8 April) his age is a key reason why he was stepping aside as the leader of Singapore's fourth-generation team.
Heng, 59, will remain as DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, and step down as Finance Minister.
Speaking at a media conference to announce his decision, Heng said by the time he takes over as leader of Singapore, he will be in his mid-60s and the runway in leadership succession will be “too short”. The COVID-19 pandemic has also shaped his decision, he added.
“And we need someone who is younger with a longer runway, to not think in just one or two election terms, but think about the long term future of Singapore, and of Singaporeans and the structural challenges, which will creep up day by day,” Heng said.
Such a leader will be able to take Singapore through to the next phase of nation-building, with the support of the people, he added.
Heng, who is also Member of Parliament for East Coast GRC, said he is glad that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is staying on to see Singapore through the COVID-19 crisis.
When asked if his health was a factor behind his decision, Heng said his health is good now and he is very thankful to his medical team for taking great care of him.
In November 2018, following his appointment as the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) first assistant secretary-general, Heng said that he had made “a very good recovery” from the stroke he suffered in 2016.
Speaking at a press conference then, Heng stressed, “I would not have taken up this appointment if I do not have the confidence that my health allows me to do it.”
In response to a question at the conference on whether the outcome of last year’s general election had an impact on Heng’s decision, the DPM said the results of the GE and in particular the East Coast GRC were not a factor.
At the GE, the PAP suffered its worst electoral performance since independence in terms of the number of seats lost to the opposition. The Workers’ Party won Sengkang GRC and retained Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC for a total of 10 seats.
The PAP won 61.24 per cent of the votes cast and 83 seats out of 93 at the GE held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Its vote share was a sharp drop from 69.9 per cent in GE2015.
In the closely watched contest for East Coast GRC, Heng led the PAP team to triumph over the WP team led by Nicole Seah, winning 53.41 per cent of the vote.
Heng revealed that when he was first appointed as leader of the 4G team, he was already thinking about the heavy responsibilities and tasks ahead, saying that the pandemic last year was a turning point for him.
“I started thinking about it when I was appointed. I do not want to take on any job which I cannot deliver. Those of you who have worked with me know I am a workaholic. And I put my heart and soul into what I do. And therefore, I've been thinking about it as to whether am I the right person?”
In a joint statement before the conference, the 4G leaders excluding Heng said they "respect and accept" the DPM's decision.
"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."
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