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Politics

Singapore finance minister in pole position to be next PM

Ruling party to fill key posts Friday, with Heng Swee Keat to take No. 2 role

Heng Swee Keat is set to be the front-runner to become Singapore's next prime minister. (Photo by Shinya Sawai)

SINGAPORE -- Singaporean Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat is set to be appointed the first assistant secretary-general of the ruling People's Action Party on Friday, a job that paves the way for him to become the leading contender for the position of prime minister after Lee Hsien Loong steps down.

PAP's highest decision-making body, the Central Executive Committee, is expected to meet on Friday to decide its office bearers, government-owned media Today Online reported Thursday, citing party sources.

According to Today, the assistant secretary-generals, who will be second-in-command, have already been decided, citing sources of "a senior party leader and several cadres." The report said Heng is set to be the first assistant secretary-general and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing is expected to be the second.

Local newspaper The Straits Times also reported on Thursday that the decision-making body met Wednesday night to finalize its choice and that Heng is likely to be named the first assistant secretary-general. PAP's secretary-general is Prime Minister Lee.

Heng was first elected to parliament in 2011, after serving as the chief of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the central bank. He used to be the private secretary to Lee Kuan Yew, the country's founding father and first prime minister, and also father to Hsien Loong.

Singapore was founded in 1965. The elder Lee served as prime minister until Goh Chok Tong, currently emeritus senior minister, took over in 1990. Goh then passed the baton to the younger Lee, the first son of Kuan Yew, in 2004.

The current prime minister has expressed his intention to step down over the next few years. But his successor has yet to be named and is becoming a pressing issue for the city-state.

The fourth prime minister would have to handle multiple challenges faced by Singapore, including a rapidly aging population and changing global geopolitical landscapes.

Lee this year gave greater power to a group of younger ministers who would be key members in the next government. Among other front-runners thought to be in the succession race are Trade and Industry Minister Chan and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Friday's meeting will be seen as a key move before the next general elections by early 2021.

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