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

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS - Rachel Au-Yong Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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