SINGAPORE -- Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday announced a post-election cabinet reshuffle that kept his core team largely intact, as his government tackles an unprecedented economic crisis stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat -- widely seen as Lee's heir apparent -- will retain his posts, as will Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing. The same goes for former deputy prime ministers and current senior ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
"This is not a normal time. We are in the thick of a grave crisis, dealing with a fast-moving uncertain situation every day," Lee said in an online news conference. "We are racing to keep things under control and to prevent events from overwhelming us. And this puts a premium on experience and an assured touch."
Lee's ruling People's Action Party won a parliamentary supermajority in the general election on July 10, maintaining a grip that dates back to the city-state's independence in 1965. But the opposition made significant gains, with the Workers' Party taking a record 10 seats. The PAP's share of the popular vote fell to 61.2% from 69.9% in 2015.
The transport- and trade-dependent hub economy has been badly affected by the coronavirus. Last week, the government reported that gross domestic product plunged 12.6% on the year in the April-June quarter, entering a technical recession for the first time since the global financial crisis over a decade ago. For the full year, the economy is projected to shrink 4% to 7%.
The virus itself remains a threat as well. As of Saturday, the city-state had reported a total of 49,888 infections, mainly due to outbreaks in densely packed foreign worker dormitories. The country is gradually reopening business activity, but cross-border travel is still tightly restricted and the daily case count is creeping up by the hundreds.
The ruling party had been expected to promote a leadership transition to its "fourth generation" or "4G" politicians after the election -- including an eventual transfer of power from Lee to Heng. But shaky performances at the polls by some 4G figures raised questions about the timeline, and for now, the priority appears to be continuity.
Lee had previously said he did not want to remain prime minister past age 70. But when asked during the news conference if he would stay in office after reaching that age in February 2022, he was noncommittal. "All I can say is, I will see this [crisis] though, and hand over [the country] in a good shape, as soon as possible, to the next team and into good hands."
For now, some key 4G politicians are sliding into new roles -- moves Lee said he hoped would give them more exposure. Education Minister Ong Ye Kung will become transport minister, taking over for a retiring incumbent, while National Development Minister Lawrence Wong will assume the education portfolio.
Overall, the next cabinet will have 37 members -- unchanged from the previous group -- with seven new office holders.
The changes are due to take effect on Monday. The next parliament session convenes on Aug. 24, Lee said, after the country marks its 55th National Day anniversary on Aug. 9.