Dynasty ends

November 23, 2018

SINGAPORE -- Singapore’s ruling party will Friday set in motion a carefully orchestrated political succession that will see the powerful founding family hand over the premiership, a key moment in the city-state’s short history.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will be unveiled as the second in command of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore since it gained self-rule from Britain in 1959, putting him on course to become premier, pro-government media reported.

The 57-year-old is expected to take over in the coming years from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the son of late founding premier Lee Kuan Yew, who oversaw the country’s rapid economic development during three-decades of sometimes authoritarian rule.

The power transfer is in line with the current premier’s plan to hand power to a broadly younger generation of leaders. Heng would be the country’s fourth prime minister and the second from outside the Lee family.

But it is a sensitive moment for the financial hub of 5.6 million people, with the country’s transformation into one of the world’s wealthiest and most stable societies inextricably linked in many people’s minds to the rule of the Lee family.

With Lee Hsien Loong, 66, having insisted he harbours no political ambitions for his own son, the looming power transfer may signal the end of members of the founding family holding the country’s top job.

The PAP is set to unveil Heng, a former central bank chief and education minister, as the party’s first assistant secretary general later Friday, reported the Straits Times newspaper, which is close to the government.

The man seen as his closest rival, Trade Minister Chan Chun Sing, 49, is set be named the PAP’s second assistant secretary general, the paper said.

The promotion of a younger crop of leaders comes as the government gears up for elections that must be held by 2021, but which Premier Lee has indicated may be called earlier.

The government is not expected to face any serious challenge to its rule — it tightly controls institutions, has firm control over the domestic media, while the opposition is weak and divided.

Lee will lead the PAP into the elections and has indicated he wants to step down by 2022.

The Straits Times said with the power transfer beginning, the team of younger leaders “will take on greater roles” but added: “There is no certainty how this transition might pan out.”

The start of the transition follows an unprecedented public row last year between Lee and his siblings over the future of a family bungalow, which shocked the tightly controlled city state.