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Heng Swee Keat to be PAP 1st assistant secretary-general, and next PM: Party sources

SINGAPORE — Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is set to be named by the People’s Action Party (PAP) as its first assistant secretary-general on Friday (Nov 23), paving the way for him to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the country’s top leader, a senior party leader and several cadres confirmed to TODAY.

Heng Swee Keat to be PAP 1st assistant secretary-general, and next PM: Party sources

Mr Heng Swee Keat is expected to be the first assistant secretary-general when the newly elected People's Action Party's Central Executive Committee — the party’s highest decision making body — meets on Friday Nov 23, 2018 to decide its office bearers.

SINGAPORE — Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is set to be named by the People’s Action Party (PAP) as its first assistant secretary-general on Friday (Nov 23), paving the way for him to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the country’s top leader, a senior party leader and several cadres confirmed to TODAY.

The newly elected PAP Central Executive Committee (CEC) — the party’s highest decision-making body — is expected to meet on Friday to decide its office bearers, but the party sources said the choices for the assistant secretary-general posts — which are the party’s second-in-command positions — have been settled. Mr Heng, 57, is set to be the first assistant secretary-general, with Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, 49, named as the second assistant secretary-general. 

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The first assistant secretary-general is expected to go on to take over Mr Lee as the PAP’s secretary-general, as well as the prime minister after the next General Election due by April 2021.

A senior party leader, who has knowledge of the discussions among the CEC and fourth-generation (4G) leaders, said that Mr Heng was chosen because the committee felt he “can rally the ground” and is the “first among equals”. He added that many of the 4G leaders had decided Mr Heng shall be the top leader among them even before the CEC elections, which were held on Nov 11.

The senior leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told TODAY: “Now that we have settled that, we can focus our attention on making the 4G team stronger.”

He added that Mr Lee will chair a press conference to announce the CEC line-up on Friday.

Two party cadres, who have been in the party for more than two decades each, said they have also been informed about the CEC’s choices. They added that more information will be released to party members on Friday evening.

The cadres said they were told that Mr Heng was chosen as Mr Lee’s successor because the 4G leaders felt that his “humility” and “brilliance” would serve him well as an “effective leader”.

On Thursday, Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao first reported that Mr Heng was likely to be appointed as first assistant secretary-general, based on “various indications”.

Speculation has been rife in the past year on who will be Mr Lee’s successor. There were initially three frontrunners: Mr Heng, Mr Chan and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, 49.

After the CEC elections, TODAY reported that Mr Ong has dropped out of the race as he was not deemed to be a core leader within the ruling party. Mr Ong was not among the names recommended by the outgoing CEC to be voted into the next committee.  

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Both Mr Heng, Member of Parliment (MP) for Tampines Group Representation Constituency (GRC), and Mr Chan, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, entered politics after the 2011 General Election.

After the election that year, Mr Heng — who was formerly the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore — was immediately elevated to a full minister, helming the Ministry of Education.

Mr Heng, who was out of action for several months after suffering a stroke in May 2016, had co-chaired the Committee on the Future Economy — which charted the strategies for Singapore's next phase of growth — and also led the Our Singapore Conversation project.

He has been heading the Finance Ministry since 2015.

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Mr Chan, a former army general, started out as Minister of State for the then Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts.

He has since gone on to assume several other posts, including Second Minister for Defence, Minister for Social and Family Development, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, as well as being the secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

He is now also the Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, and Deputy Chairman of the People’s Association. 

On Thursday morning, Mr Chan was asked about the CEC announcements at a conference organised by Britain-based Asia House, which describes itself as a “centre of expertise on Asia”.

In response, he reiterated Singapore’s leadership model of continuity, which is also “stronger than the sum of the individual parts”.

He added: “Everywhere in the world, there are many clever people who aspire to be in leadership position. But the crux of it is always this: What is the purpose, what’s the goal for you to be in a leadership position? Is it for yourself or is it for the greater good of the country and its people?

“Countries that do well, are those that are fortunate enough, not just to have good individuals but to have a strong team. A strong team that put aside individual interests but for the collective aspirations for the country.”

Similarly, Singapore’e 4G leaders are focused on “building the strongest team for Singapore”, he stressed.

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