Mr Heng, 60, will also step down as Finance Minister at the next Cabinet reshuffle.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has stepped aside as the leader of the People’s Action Party fourth generation team.
He made the announcement on Thursday (Apr 8), paving the way for a younger person “with a longer runway” to become the next Singapore leader when current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong retires.
Mr Heng, 60, pointed out in his announcement that by the time the COVID-19 crisis ends, he will be in his mid-sixties.
“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,” he said.
“We need a leader who will not only rebuild Singapore post-COVID-19, but also lead the next phase of our nation-building efforts.
“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.”
Mr Heng added that having worked with PM Lee, Goh Chok Tong and the late Lee Kuan Yew, he knew the top job “imposes exceptional demands on the office holder”.
“It is in a very different post-COVID-19 world, that the demands will be even more exacting. While I am in good health today, it is in the best interests of the nation, for someone who is younger to tackle the huge challenges ahead,” he said.
Mr Heng added that together with PM Lee and other senior ministers, he will continue to mentor the younger ministers and identify the next leader from among them.
He will also step down as Finance Minister at the next Cabinet reshuffle, which happens in two weeks. However, he will still remain as the Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.
PM Lee said that he understood and respected Mr Heng’s decision. Both had agreed after discussions that Mr Heng will relinquish his Ministry of Finance (MOF) portfolio.
“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,” said Mr 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.”
The Prime Minister also noted Mr Heng’s “many contributions” while he served as Minister of Education and Minister of Finance.
“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,” Mr Lee wrote in a letter to Mr Heng.
“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.”
PM Lee also said that choosing a successor is a “very, very important and urgent issue”.
“Choosing a leader isn’t just ranking the people and saying who’s going to be the best choice. It’s also really about team building and developing the team and developing the relationships amongst the team members so that over time, from that balance and that chemistry, you are able to identify who amongst the people can most maximise the performance of the team and make all the pieces fit together and add up to more than the sum of its parts.”
It is a process that “takes more than a few months”, but it “should not take more than a couple of years”, said Mr Lee, who added that he hopes there will be a clear outcome before the next General Election.
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