Widely speculated as “the next Prime Minister”, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat suddenly suffered a stroke and collapsed during a Cabinet meeting today (May 12). The incident happened at 5.34pm and Minister Heng Swee Keat was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The Prime Minister Office (PMO) issued a press statement saying that a CT scan revealed that the Minister suffered a stroke. As of press time, he is still unconscious and the severity of his stroke is unknown.
Given Minister Heng Swee Keat’s health conditions, the chances of him becoming the next Prime Minister is no longer possible as a stroke affects judgment and is likely to recur. Also, unlike Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who returned to his Minister poistion after his first cancer, Minister Heng’s father is not Lee Kuan Yew and he has no powerful relative in government to back him up.
The three potential PM candidates who were being streamlined and groomed as the next Prime Minister from 2011 were Minister Chan Chun Sing, Minister Tan Chuan Jin and Minister Heng Swee Keat. Minister Chan Chun Sing was ruled out of the position and was sidelined as the NTUC chief, a position taken by party loyalists with no leadership capabilities like his predecessor Lim Swee Say. Minister Tan Chuan Jin was unofficially deemed unsuitable for the office as his multiple public gaffes and offensive political attacks against critics made him very unpopular with Singaporeans. Minister Heng Swee Keat is relatively low profile and did not make outrageous comments like the other two. However with Heng Swee Keat’s elimination, the promotion chances of Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan Jin landing the S$2.2 million job and dictatorial powers are now higher.
Before Lee Hsien Loong became Prime Minister, he was the Minister of Finance, and hence it has become an unspoken rule that the Finance Minister position is earmarked to take over the premiership. Prior to his Finance Minister portfolio, Heng Swee Keat was the Managing Director for the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He is the only PAP Minister with economical knowledge, unlike Chan Chun Sing and Tan Chuan Jin, who spent their entire career as generals in the army and having no knowledge on finance.
Heng Swee Keat is hence supposed to be the “chosen” candidate to take over Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is looking forward to retirement after suffering a cancer relapse earlier in February last year. The ruling party PAP is now in a leadership crisis and chances are PM Lee will continue to be Prime Minister for another term.
Premiership aside, it is widely speculated that Deputy Prime Minister Tharman will return as an interim Finance Minister, while Lee Hsien Loong seeks his next successor. The new PAP MPs brought in were mainly high ranking officers from military and police background, with no knowledge in economics or even an ounce of experience managing a business entity. A new Finance Minister with no economics background will throw the Singapore economy into disarray and worsen the ongoing recession.
Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong ascertained Heng Swee Keat’s position with the following comment: “He has just undergone surgery and doctors are doing their best to deal with his problem … He is a core member of the fourth generation leadership team. We need him.”
The current condition of Heng Swee Keaet is still unknown, there is no report stating whether if he had regained conscious after an emergency surgery.