Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday moved one step closer to becoming the Lion City’s next leader after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong named him as his new deputy.
Lee, 67, moved his two current deputies, Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, to senior minister roles.
Heng, 57, will be the sole Deputy Prime Minister and will also continue as Finance Minister. The changes will take effect next Wednesday.
Lee’s office announced the changes in a statement on its website. On Facebook, the prime minister said Heng’s promotion was “part of the ongoing leadership renewal” in the country.
“The next generation leadership is taking shape, and progressively taking over from me and my older colleagues,” he wrote. “The team is working closely together, building up public trust and confidence in their leadership.”
Heng, also writing on Facebook, said he was honoured by Lee’s trust in him, and “will do my very best, together with my colleagues, to fulfil our responsibility to serve Singapore and Singaporeans.”
Heng’s promotion comes after the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) last November elevated him to the position of First Assistant Secretary-General, a post traditionally held by the city state’s number two leader.
The November development put to rest speculation over who would succeed Lee. The earlier uncertainty was unprecedented for the PAP, which has stage-managed political succession through its uninterrupted 60-year rule of Singapore.
The talk within the city state’s political commentariat had been that Heng, along with trade and industry minister Chan Chun Sing and education minister Ong Ye Kung – all part of the younger 4th Generation or “4G PAP leadership – had been vying for the top job.
Heng, a career civil servant and one-time central banker, is believed to have eventually garnered majority support from both his colleagues in the 4G clique, and the PAP’s powerful grassroots cadres.
Prime Minister Lee, son of the country’s revered independence leader and founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, is the country’s third leader. He took over from the elder Lee’s successor Goh Chok Tong in 2004.
Lee has said he hopes to step down soon after the next election that is due in 2021.