Singapore PM promotes younger ministers amid succession speculation

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 24 2018 09:16 PM

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong promoted younger ministers in a cabinet reshuffle Tuesday as speculation mounts about who will replace him.

The changes saw three ministers from the old guard retire, more women taking leadership roles, and younger figures promoted as part of a carefully planned succession process that has made Singapore an oasis of stability in sometimes turbulent Southeast Asia.

Lee said in 2017 he was ready to step down in a couple of years.

But with elections due to be called within three years, analysts said the cabinet changes have not yet given a clear sign of who will succeed Lee, 66, unlike in the past two power transitions since independence in 1965.

When founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was succeeded in 1990 by former shipping executive Goh Chok Tong, the choice was known well in advance. The same thing happened when Goh was succeeded in 2004 by the senior Lee's son, the current leader.

"If we go by precedent, there appears to be a delay (in the naming of a successor)," said political analyst Eugene Tan.

"Three years to the next election, or even shorter if the polls are called earlier, make time of the essence for the next generation of leaders to prove themselves," Tan, a law academic at the Singapore Management University, told AFP.

One of the changes announced Tuesday was the appointment of former army general Chan Chun Sing, 48, as trade minister.

Tan said this gives Chan a "slight edge" among other purported front-runners in the race to succeed Lee. These include Heng Swee Keat, who kept his post as finance minister.

The appointment will give Chan, who is also secretary-general of the national trades union, a chance to broaden his portfolio, added Tan.

Tan said he expects another and more wide-ranging reshuffle which would give a clearer signal on leadership succession.