Just over two weeks after a decisive election victory for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a new cabinet on Monday.
The key change in the structure of the cabinet is the introduction of three so-called coordinating ministers, each of whom would be in charge of a few related ministries. Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam will both keep their deputy prime minister roles, but relinquish their minister portfolios and instead serve as coordinating ministers for national security and economic and social policies respectively. Khaw Boon Wan will serve as both coordinating minister for infrastructure and minister for transport.
Two of the ministries – education and trade and industry – will also now have two ministers each, a reflection of the priority placed not just on them individually but on the link between equipping Singaporeans with necessary skills and their ability to secure employment. Several existing ministers also saw their portfolios shifted. Some notable changes include Vivian Balakrishnan (Foreign Affairs) K Shanmugam (Home Ministry), Heng Swee Keat (Finance), and Lawrence Wong (National Development). All in all, nine of the fifteen ministries got new full ministers, and all but one ministry saw some sort of change in office holders.
The changes came after the PAP secured a landslide victory with about 70 percent of the vote – up from 60 percent in its worst-ever showing in the last general election in 2011. Lee explained the changes, which he called “bold,” largely as a product of two factors. The first is an effort to forge a “tighter, whole-of-government approach” to address more complex issues across a range of ministries as Singapore tackles tougher challenges in its next 50 years, with the coordinating ministries being a case in point.
The second is leadership renewal, which he said he was making a “decisive” move toward. This factor, Lee said, was behind his decision to put younger faces in the key ministries to broaden their experience, with more senior cabinet members providing both mentorship and a steady hand at the tiller. An example of this is the choice of two first-time members of parliament to head the education ministry. Half of the 20-member cabinet, he also noted, is below the age of 55.
“We don’t have time to lose. To that end, I have given heavy responsibilities to the next generation of ministers,” Lee, who is now 63, said Monday. “They will be stretched and tested, they have to improve themselves and gel together as a team. Soon after the end of this term, we must have a new team ready to take over from me.”
Lee’s remarks regarding leadership renewal were read as further confirmation of his previous comments that he intends to step down by 2020 and hand over the reins to a successor before he reaches 70. He also said that his successor would “most likely” be in this cabinet short of an unexpected circumstance, simply because there was little time left for any kind of transition.
The cabinet changes announced will take effect October 1.