Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat will step back as the leader of the fourth-generation (4G) leadership team of the People’s Action Party (PAP).

"After careful deliberation and discussions with my family, I have decided to step aside as leader of the 4G team, so that a younger leader who will have a longer runway can take over,” he announced at a press conference on April 8.

The move means Heng will also no longer be in consideration to be the next Prime Minister.

Heng, who will remain as DPM and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, will also step down as Finance Minister in the next cabinet reshuffle, which is slated to take place in two weeks’ time.

The decision was attributed to Heng’s age.

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"This year, I am 60," he says, adding that he would be in his mid-60s by the time the Covid-19 crisis is over.

"When I also consider the ages at which our first three Prime Ministers have taken on the job, I would have too short a runway should I become the next Prime Minister then.”

"We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-Covid-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building efforts,” he adds.

Heng also noted that “it is in the best interests of the nation for someone who is younger to tackle the huge challenges ahead,” referring to the demands of the post-Covid-19 world.


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"Having worked with PM, ESM (Emeritus Senior Minister) and MM (Minister Mentor), I know that the top job imposes exceptional demands on the office holder," he adds. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has thanked Heng for his “selfless decision” to step aside after receiving Heng’s letter announcing his intention to step down to allow a younger leader to take over.

"We agreed that Budget 2021 would be an important budget, not an emergency budget like the five in 2020, but a budget to take Singapore beyond Covid-19," says Lee.

"I told him it would be good for him to see through Budget 2021 and then he would give up the MOF portfolio to concentrate on the broader coordinating responsibilities. There will be consequential moves in other ministries, and I intend to announce the reshuffle in about two weeks' time."

In his letter of response, Lee also noted Heng’s “many contributions” as Education Minister and Finance Minister.

"When I asked you to take on the finance portfolio in 2015, we both knew that you had a difficult job. Even before Covid-19 hit, Singapore had reached a crossroads. We had to overcome fiscal challenges while strengthening social safety nets, as well as transform our economy in the face of seismic global disruptions," he wrote. 

"I thank you for your selfless decision to stand aside. Your actions now are fully in keeping with the spirit of public service and sense of duty that motivated you to step forward when I asked you to stand for election in 2011."

In a statement issued to the media on the same day, the 4G team indicated that it has asked Lee to stay on as prime minister as it will need more time to choose another leader among themselves.

“We are grateful that PM has agreed to our request,” they wrote.

“This unexpected turn of events is a setback for our succession planning,” the statement read. 

“We recognise that Singaporeans will be concerned. We seek your support and understanding, as we choose another leader for the team. We will continue working as a team to serve our people, and to earn the confidence and trust of all Singaporeans.”

The meeting was attended by all the ministers, senior ministers of state, ministers of state, the Speaker of Parliament and the secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

Lee, Heng, and the two senior ministers, Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shamugaratnam, were not present at the meeting.

The team adds that the decision made by Heng must have been “difficult”.

“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,” adds the statement.

Heng's announcement now begs the question as to whether Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, who is also the second assistant secretary-general of the PAP, will be next in line to take on Heng's role.

“We were all working on the basis that the issue of succession had been settled. We were all entirely focused on making sure that Singapore can get through the Covid situation and emerge stronger. Now that DPM has decided to step aside, we will need to relook the issue of succession,” says Chan at a press conference on April 8.

“DPM Heng chose me as his deputy in 2018 and the team supported it. Now that DPM has decided to step aside as the leader of the 4G, the 4G team should be given the opportunity to relook the question of succession holistically and we will make a collective decision on who will be the next leader of the 4G in due course.”