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  • Singapore in 2019:In Holding Pattern
  • Khairulanwar Zaini (bio)

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[End Page 294]

A Nation Awaits

Frequent travellers flying to Changi Airport may occasionally find their aircraft caught in a holding pattern, as their flight circles the airport while waiting for clearance to land. Singapore in 2019 appears to be in a similar holding pattern as the country awaits an election that is coming sooner rather than later. Although the current parliamentary term only expires in April 2021, the Election Department's announcement on 4 September 2019 about the formation of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) was the first—and clearest—sign of an impending election. Convened by the prime minister prior to every general election, the EBRC is tasked with determining the number of parliamentary seats and delineating the electoral map of constituencies, taking into account demographic changes and shifts in the residential housing populations.1 The committee of five senior civil servants was also instructed to increase the number of single-member wards while reducing the average size of Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).2 In the past, the committee has taken between three weeks and seven months to issue its report to the prime minister, who would then generally call for an election soon after.3 This time, however, the committee was reported to be still in the midst of deliberations as of early January 2020,4 suggesting that the next election will only be likely to be called in the second quarter of 2020 or later, after the conclusion of the Budget and Committee of Supply debates in February 2020.

The PAP Continues Apace with Its Leadership Transition

As part of its preparations for the elections, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has taken steps to consolidate its fourth-generation (4G) leadership as [End Page 295] Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong moves ahead with his plans to step down after the next election. After being appointed as the PAP's first assistant secretarygeneral in November 2018, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was elevated to deputy prime minister in April 2019, in a further affirmation to the public and the international community of his status as heir apparent.5 In order to facilitate this leadership renewal, the two incumbent deputy prime ministers—Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam—relinquished their positions and were appointed as senior ministers, while retaining their roles as coordinating minister for national security and coordinating minister for social policies, respectively. By convention, the Cabinet is generally served by two deputy prime ministers, but this particular reshuffle makes Heng the first solo deputy prime minister since 1985, firmly indicating his position as primus inter pares in the 4G leadership team. In his new role, Heng is expected to review the long-term policy challenges confronting Singapore, including managing an ageing population and future-proofing the country's economy.6 He has also mooted the Singapore Together movement, which is intended "to allow regular citizens to play a part in the policymaking process".7 Heng will be hoping that this new platform will be able to reprise the success of the Our Singapore Conversation, the consultative dialogue exercise held under his leadership in 2012 and which positioned him as a frontrunner in the prime ministerial race.

Prior to his entry into politics, Heng was a senior mandarin in the bureaucracy, rising to the rank of permanent secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry in 2001 before serving as the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Singapore's central bank, from 2005 to 2011. Lauded for his leadership potential when he was introduced as a PAP candidate in the 2011 elections, he was then immediately appointed as education minister, thus being only the second person in Singapore's political history to be directly elevated to a full ministerial role upon being elected as a Member of Parliament (MP).8 His political ascendancy was temporarily interrupted by a stroke in May 2016, but he was able to recover and resume his duties by August 2016. Since assuming the finance portfolio from Shanmugaratnam in 2015, Heng has designed government Budgets reflecting "a shift away from a top-down...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1793-9135
Print ISSN
0377-5437
Pages
pp. 294-322
Launched on MUSE
2020-05-13
Open Access
No
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