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GE2020: Possible changing of the guard in GRCs as newer ministers could step up to lead, observers say

SINGAPORE: The upcoming General Election could represent a “changing of the guard” for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), say observers, with newer office holders stepping up to lead various Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs). 

Since Parliament was dissolved and the Writ of Election issued, many long-standing Members of Parliament (MPs) have announced they will not stand for election. 


Perhaps the most prominent among them was Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, Singapore’s second prime minister and an MP for Marine Parade for more than 40 years. 

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is the secretary-general of the PAP, said on Saturday (Jun 27) that 20 PAP MPs will retire this year.  

As the election approaches, several younger ministers have been tipped to step out of the shadows of their more senior colleagues. 

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ng Chee Meng – who joined politics in 2015 after stepping down as the Chief of Defence Force – was an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC under Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean. 

Mr Ng is expected to head the PAP team in the newly formed Sengkang GRC, comprising Senior Minister of State Lam Pin Min, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin and newcomer Raymond Lye. 

All four men were spotted wearing Sengkang GRC polo t-shirts while on a walkabout in Compassvale on Sunday (Jun 28)

READ: GE2020: New Sengkang GRC likely to see keen contest between PAP and WP, say political observers

Jalan Besar GRC – which has no anchor minister after then-Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim resigned from the Cabinet in 2018 – is expected to be headed by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, previously an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC under Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen.  

joteo and ng chee meng

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo visiting a shop in Chinatown in February 2020. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

“It has been a PAP tradition to put ministers to helm GRCs – they don’t take the GRCs for granted,” said political observer Mustafa Izzuddin. 

“So in other words, they will always want to put in the best team, regardless of who they are competing against,” added the senior international affairs analyst with management consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore. 

Noting this points to movements within GRC line-ups, especially for those with more than one full minister, Dr Mustafa said there was likely “some truth” to speculated moves such as those for Sengkang and Jalan Besar GRCs. 

If Mrs Teo does helm Jalan Besar, she would be the first female minister to head a team in a GRC, he noted. 

READ: GE2020: Senior office-holders who previously won SMCs likely to defend their seats, say observers

Other changes may also be in the works. 

Associate Professor Eugene Tan from Singapore Management University’s (SMU) School of Law suggested that Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee – who has been an MP for Jurong GRC under Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam since joining politics in 2011 – could move to West Coast GRC to strengthen the PAP’s team there. 

Former PAP backbencher Tan Cheng Bock’s Progress Singapore Party is expected to contest in West Coast GRC, which in 2006 absorbed the Ayer Rajah SMC where he was MP for 26 years. 

Assoc Prof Tan noted that another possibility is that Mr Lee is moved to East Coast GRC, which does not have an anchor minister after former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say stepped down in 2018. 

Desmond Lee helps volunteers pack food for the needy Feb 20, 2020 - 4

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee helps volunteers pack food for the needy on Feb 20, 2020. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC since 2001, could also be moved to either Marine Parade or East Coast to beef up the PAP’s team against the Worker’s Party, which has said it intends to compete in both GRCs. 

GE2020: Could Senior Ministers Teo or Tharman lead the PAP team in East Coast GRC?

Observers also did not rule out the possibility of a minister of state or senior minister of state helming a GRC. 

“I won’t discount that, said Assoc Prof Tan, adding that Dr Maliki Osman – who is Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs as well as Mayor for South East District – could “easily helm East Coast GRC”. 

“He is strong on the ground,” he said of Dr Maliki, adding that Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, with 19 years as an MP, could also head a GRC. 

Heng Chee How visits air defence exercise at Changi Air Base

Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How visits Changi Air Base on Mar 14, 2019. (Photo: Vanessa Lim)

There are several senior ministers of state who have been given “high-profile responsibilities”, said Assoc Prof Tan Ern Se from the National University of Singapore’s department of sociology. 

He gave three examples – Janil Puthucheary, who is Senior Minister of State in the Transport and Communications and Information ministries, Lam Pin Min, who holds the Senior Minister of State portfolio for the Transport and Health ministries, as well as Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon. 

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min speaks to food delivery riders

Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min speaks to food delivery riders on Nov 12, 2019, about the recent rules banning e-scooters from footpaths. (Photo: Try Sutrisno Foo)

Dr Janil – formerly an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and who is also PAP’s party whip – could also replace former minister Lim Swee Say in East Coast GRC should he decide to step down, said Assoc Prof Tan Ern Se. 

“I believe Dr Janil is due to be promoted to full minister in the new Cabinet,” he added. 

Dr Mustafa however said having an incumbent senior minister of state helm a GRC was a “back-up plan”. 

“You’ll see more of those ministers (but) if anything, it’s not helming a GRC, probably an SMC. I can’t see the PAP having a senior minister of state helming a GRC unless, of course, they can’t afford to move the ministers to their particular constituency,” he said. 

This election is about transitions and the changing of guards, said sociologist Assoc Prof Tan.  

“As we move to a 4G government, there is the need for the 4G ministers to helm GRCs,” said SMU’s Assoc Prof Tan. 

“So the possible movements we have noted are part of a deliberate policy to replace the 3G helm with a 4G one. There has to be the ‘changing of the guard’ at the constituency level as part of the overall leadership renewal and succession.”

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