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  • Singapore in 2018:Between Uncharted Waters and Old Ghosts
  • George Wong (bio) and Woo Jun Jie (bio)

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For the city state of Singapore, 2018 was a year of many firsts. It marked the midpoint of the 13th Parliament of Singapore within a manifestly post–Lee Kuan Yew era. The incumbent government of the People's Action Party (PAP) began the year with the pleasant surprise that economic growth in 2017 had reached 3.6 per cent. This exceeded the modest expectations of 1.5 to 3.5 per cent.1 But despite the positive start, 2018 was to be filled with headwinds for Singapore, both new and familiar. Top of the list was the revival of tensions with Malaysia, as well as a newly elected PAP Central Executive Committee, marking a crucial occasion of fourth-generation leadership transition for the world's third-longest ruling political party. On the international front it was the year of summits, with Singapore hosting two major events: the North Korea–United States Summit — the "Trump-Kim summit" — and the 33rd ASEAN Summit, both amidst the trade war between China and the United States. Meanwhile, in local politics, other notable firsts included the formation of the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods and the convening of its public hearings, as well as a cyberattack on SingHealth, Singapore's largest healthcare provider, resulting in the records of about 1.5 million patients being compromised. On the ground, inequality took the crown as buzzword of the year in the public consciousness as Singapore [End Page 297] grappled with various encounters, propelling the otherwise academic term into the limelight. On the policy side, the introduction of the Merdeka Generation Package set a new bar for the government's commitment to reducing the healthcare costs of elderly Singaporeans.

4G Leadership Transition of the PAP

In 2018, political leadership successions and renewal went into high gear both for major political parties and the government. It began with a joint-statement in January by a self-identified fourth-generation (dubbed 4G) team consisting of sixteen ministerial leaders under the ruling People's Action Party, as part of the party's commitment to pick a leader "in good time".2 The statement came barely a week after a social media post made by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong urging the current cohort of the political leadership to consolidate its succession challenge, including choosing a designate from among them for the post of prime minister. The lingering question of the PAP's leadership transition was further satiated in the latter part of the year during the party's election of its 35th Central Executive Committee (CEC). The party held its 2018 biennial CEC elections on 11 November, which bore witness to major but much anticipated overhauls. Notable changes included the stepping down from the CEC of prominent political heavyweights such as Lim Swee Say, Khaw Boon Wan, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Teo Chee Hean and Yaacob Ibrahim, albeit retaining their cabinet positions. Succeeding them were Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Seng, Ong Ye Kung, Masagos Zulkifli and Grace Fu. The CEC also saw two new elected faces, Ng Chee Meng and Indranee Rajah, reflecting the party's confidence in the wider circle of leadership stock. The committee also co-opted six more members — Josephine Teo, Ng Eng Hen, Lawrence Wong, Desmond Lee, Sitoh Yih Pin and Christopher de Souza — bringing the total tally to eighteen and cementing an unmistakably 4G presence at the party's apex.

The climax of the transition was the confirmation of Heng Swee Keat and Chan Chun Sing as the 1st and 2nd assistant secretaries-general, respectively, with the former being touted as a strong forerunner for the role of prime minister. This news however did not come as a major surprise, since news from ground sources had already identified Heng's ascension days before the selection. Furthermore, reiterating the current narrative of political transition, Heng emphasized that the confirmation was aligned with the PAP's commitment to provide a team-centred transition of continuity and stability for Singapore.3 The cabinet reshuffle earlier in April was also a strong...


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