PM LEE SHIFTS THE DECK CHAIRS IN HIS CABINET

Written by Bertrand Seah

What happened?

With the current parliament halfway through its term, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced major changes to the cabinet. The key changes concern much of the so-called 4G team that is expected to be the future of Singapore’s political leadership. Chan Chun Sing takes charge of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) and assumes responsibility for the Public Service Division from DPM Teo Chee Hean. Heng Swee Keat remains Minister of Finance, having made a slew of big changes in February’s budget announcement, and replaces DPM Teo in assisting the PM in National Research Foundation matters. Ong Ye Kung relinquishes his position as Second Minister of Defence, and takes full control over the Ministry of Education. The position of Minister of Education was previously shared with Ng Chee Meng, who will now replace Chan as labour chief at NTUC.

The shuffle also saw promotions for Indranee Rajah, Baey Yam Keng, Amrin Amin, and Edwin Tong, as well as the stepping down of three older Ministers, Yaacob Ibrahim, Lim Swee Say, and Lim Hng Kiang. While most Ministries have seen changes, Ministers for four heavyweight ministries remain unchanged – Vivian Balakrishnan heads the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, K Shanmugam remains Minister of Law and Home Affairs, and Ng Eng Hen continues as Minister of Defence.

The Battle for PM narrows to two

A major talking point leading to the reshuffle was the possibility that the identity of Singapore’s next PM would definitively emerge. Within the mainstream media, the consensus seems to be that the race now comes down to Chan Chun Sing and Heng Swee Keat, with Ong Ye Kung now seemingly out of the running. While Heng continues to head the heavyweight Ministry of Finance, the reshuffle might be seen as a major positive for Chan, with his portfolio now giving him influence over the public service, trade, trade unions, and the People’s Association. Much emphasis has been placed on this 4G serving “as a team”, but with no definitive moves being made, the leadership transition continues at a snail’s pace.

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