PAP exco election set to give younger leaders bigger role in party
Younger ministers likely to take up more significant posts in top decision-making body
By around 9am tomorrow, more than 2,000 People’s Action Party (PAP) cadres would have made their way to a hall in the Singapore Expo in Changi.
There, they will each be given a slip of paper with 19 names, seven of which will be highlighted.
The cadres can choose up to 12 names from the list to form the party’s new central executive committee (CEC), its highest decisionmaking body.
Cadres interviewed told The Straits Times they expect most of the new CEC to be comprised of the 16 “younger ministers” who issued a joint statement in January, saying that they were working closely to pick a leader.
It is understood that the shortlist of 19 possible CEC candidates is decided both by the outgoing CEC as well as through a poll of branch chairmen and senior cadres as well as groups like the party’s youth and women wings.
The seven names chosen by the CEC are clearly marked out, signalling its choice of the party’s core leaders.
According to sources, the seven this round are Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 66; Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, 59; Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, 59; Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 57; Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, 54; Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, 49; and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, 55. All seven are in the current CEC. Someone from the CEC will even- tually become Singapore’s next prime minister, taking over from Mr Lee, who has made clear he intends to hand over to a successor by the time he turns 70, in 2022.
Speculation has been rife over the last year about who his successor will be, with three men touted as front runners: Mr Heng, Mr Chan, and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, 48.
This year’s election will give the strongest indication yet of who will succeed Mr Lee. Several older CEC faces are also expected to step down and make way for younger blood.
PAP’s cadres – often long-serving members holding key appointments in the party’s branches – meet every two years to elect members to the CEC.
CEC members tend to be ministers or government office-holders with strong grassroots support.
A l ong-time cadre who requested anonymity said these have been “quite a fuss-free affair”.
“The whole vote can be done in less than an hour,” he said.
“But this one’s got a bit more ‘wah’ feeling. We are, in our own way, showing who we trust to take Singapore to the next level.”
While tomorrow’s vote will determine the make-up of the new CEC, the actual office-holders will be decided several weeks later, after the elected members meet.
Under the party’s Constitution, 12 can be elected to the CEC, and up to six co-opted.
The current CEC has 18 members, six of whom were co-opted after the previous party conference in 2016. Among the six is Mr Ong, who entered Parliament in 2015, four years after Mr Heng and Mr Chan.
He was also made one of three organising secretaries, alongside Mr Gan and Mr Chan.
PM Lee has been the PAP secretary-general since 2004, a position held by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew when they were prime ministers.
He is expected to remain secretary-general and see through the next general election, which must be called by April 2021.
The younger ministers who are elected to the CEC are expected to play a key role in the party’s election preparations.
In the current CEC, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan, 65, is party chairman while Deputy Prime Ministers Teo Chee Hean, 63, and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 61, are assistant secretaries-general.
The talk among the cadres is that Mr Gan might take over as chairman from Mr Khaw, if he goes on to be elected tomorrow, as many expect him to be.
But all eyes will be on who will occupy the positions of assistant secretaries-general, currently occupied by both the deputy prime ministers.
Cadres interviewed expect Mr Chan to take one of these positions. But opinions were divided as to whether Mr Shanmugam or Mr Heng will take the other.
They added that even if DPM Teo, DPM Tharman and Mr Khaw – who are coordinating ministers overseeing cross-ministry issues – do not hold party positions, they may well still be part of the CEC.
Another cadre said he hopes Mr Ong, who was co-opted at the last CEC election, will be voted in directly this time, as he believes he is a good alternative voice in the Cabinet.
In any case, the CEC has room for renewal, with at least two outgoing members: Mr Lim Swee Say and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim.
It is understood that both will not be on the ballot, having retired from the Cabinet in May.
Four of the 16 younger ministers – Mr Heng, Ms Fu, Mr Chan and Mr Masagos – are on the CEC’s shortlist of seven.
The other younger ministers include Mr Ong, Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ng Chee Meng, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah.
The voting by the cadres should be over by 10.15am, after which they will join other party members to listen to a speech by PM Lee and witness an awards ceremony, while the votes are tallied by a small, trusted group of senior cadres and party officials.
At around 12.30pm, the 12 members with the highest number of votes will be announced. Those who are 13th and 14th in the polling will be co-opted. Up to another four members can be co-opted by the CEC later.
Cadres say being directly elected to the CEC is crucial for whoever is in contention to be the next prime minister.
“If you can’t even get the support of your own party members, how are you going to win votes from Singaporeans?” said one cadre.