SINGAPORE -- The Prime Minister's Office of Singapore on Tuesday announced that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat would be promoted to deputy prime minister effective from May 1, an appointment that is seen as Heng taking a step closer to becoming the country's next prime minister.
According to a statement about a cabinet reshuffle released by the Prime Minister's Office, Heng will be promoted to deputy prime minister while remaining as finance chief.
The announcement comes after Heng, 57, last November became the first assistant secretary-general of the country's ruling People's Action Party, putting him ahead in the race to be the next prime minister.
"Deputy prime ministers work closely with the prime minister by practice and by tradition," including taking on the prime minister's role when the premier is absent, explains Alan Chong, associate professor at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.
The position of deputy prime minister is seen as key in the country's politics. Lee Hsien Loong, the current prime minister and the country's third, and his predecessor Goh Chok Tong both took up the deputy position before they became leader.
"The next generation leadership is taking shape and progressively taking over from me and my older colleagues," Lee, 67, said in a Facebook post after the reshuffle was announced. "The team is working closely together, building up public trust and confidence in their leadership."
Singapore must call its next general election by early 2021, with Heng looking set to become a key figure during the campaign. The PAP has been gradually promoting younger ministers who will lead the next government ahead of the elections.
Heng was first elected to parliament in 2011, after serving as chief of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the central bank. He was previously private secretary to Lee Kuan Yew, the country's founding father, first prime minister and father of Hsien Loong.
Two incumbent deputy prime ministers, Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, will relinquish their positions as part of the cabinet reshuffle, leaving Heng as the only deputy prime minister of Singapore.