SINGAPORE - Law and Home Minister K. Shanmugam has rejected speculation that he could occupy one of the top positions in the People's Action Party's (PAP) new central executive committee (CEC).
Who occupies the positions of first and second assistant secretary-generals (ASGs) has come under close watch after the party's internal elections last Sunday (Nov 11).
When the 14 elected and co-opted members of the CEC went on stage, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was flanked by Mr Shanmugam on his right and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on his left.
Mr Shanmugam is the next most senior MP after PM Lee. Some political watchers have also speculated he could be a deputy prime minister.
In response to media queries on Tuesday (Nov 13), Mr Shanmugam said: "I can understand the speculation based on the photograph at the party conference and my relative seniority. But these assessments are based on a snapshot, of a point in time, rather than a deep understanding of how the PAP operates and how transition works.
"I have said on Sunday, in response to a question as to whether I will be one of the ASGs, that these matters have to be decided by the CEC, but that my own view is that the appointments must reflect the future and not the transition.
"So quite a bit of the breathless speculation may be off the mark."
The prime minister occupies the secretary-general post, which PM Lee has held since 2004.
The front runners for Singapore's next prime minister are expected to be given the post of ASG.
Sources say that given how the CEC's office-holders will be chosen in a matter of weeks, it is very likely minds have been made up - and consensus reached - on who the ASG, or ASGs, will be.
Deputy prime ministers Teo Chee Hean, 63, and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 61, were first and second ASGs in the previous CEC. Both stepped down from the new CEC, which will lead the party into the next general election which has to be called by January 2021.
Co-ordinating Minister for Infrastructure Khaw Boon Wan, 65, who was party chairman, former minister Yaacob Ibrahim, 63, who was vice-chairman, and former minister Lim Swee Say, 64, also stepped down to make way for new blood.
At the party's elections on Sunday, 12 were elected into the CEC. The list, as released by the party:
- PM Lee, 66
- Mr Shanmugam, 59
- Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, 49
- Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, 54
- Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, 59
- Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, 57
- Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, 55
- Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah, 55
- Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng, 50
- Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, 48
- Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, 49
- Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, 57
They had received the most votes from about 2,000 cadres gathered at the Singapore Expo.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, 59, and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, 50, were co-opted, receiving the 13th and 14th highest votes.
It is understood that PM Lee and Mr Shanmugam were named first as they are the most senior MPs. The others from Mr Chan were alphabetically arranged.
Three names have been tossed up over the past year as front runners for the premiership - Mr Heng, Mr Chan and Mr Ong.
After Sunday's elections, political watchers say it is likely to be down to Mr Heng or Mr Chan for the ASG - and future PM.
The writing, they say, was in how the previous CEC had left out Mr Ong's name in its own shortlisted choice of future key leaders.
The Straits Times had reported last Saturday how cadres were to be given 19 names to vote for the new core leadership. Of the 19, seven names would be highlighted as the previous CEC's choice, ST had reported.
The seven were, in this order: PM Lee, Mr Shanmugam, Mr Chan, Ms Fu, Mr Gan, Mr Heng and Mr Masagos. Mr Ong's name was conspicuously absent.
In the previous CEC, Mr Ong had been co-opted, but on Sunday, he made it to the decision-making body under his own steam.
PM Lee had described Sunday's changes as "a major transition point for the party" and said the new line-up is a "major step forward in our political renewal".
The list of office holders will be revealed after the new CEC meets and PM Lee said this will be followed up with changes in the Cabinet line-up.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.