By John Geddie
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong named a largely unchanged cabinet on Saturday following an election win this month, and flagged a possible delay, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, of his plan to step down.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, Lee’s expected successor, was kept in post helming the finance ministry, as were senior ministers Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Teo Chee Hean.
“We are in a crisis of a generation … therefore I have kept on many of my older colleagues who are all participating in this fight against COVID-19,” Lee, whose People’s Action Party (PAP) has ruled Singapore since its independence in 1965.
Lee, 68, said he may have to delay his plans to handover to a successor by the time he is 70 because of the pandemic.
“A lot will depend on how events unfold and all I can say is I will see this through,” said the scion of Singapore’s modern day founder, Lee Kuan Yew.
In some minor changes, national development minister Lawrence Wong – the co-head of a COVID-19 taskforce – was moved to education, while education minister Ong Ye Kung was moved to transport.
Newly elected Alvin Tan, head of public policy for social network LinkedIn and a former senior Facebook executive, was given a post as minister of state in the trade ministry.
In the July 10 general election, the PAP retained a large parliamentary majority but its vote share slipped to near a record low as opposition parties made historic inroads.
Heng, selected by his peers as a future leader of the party in 2018, scraped through in his constituency in the first real test of his public popularity.
Asked at a media conference whether the ballot had changed the party’s succession plans, trade minister Chan Chun Sing said there had been no discussion of the matter.
Singapore reported 513 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, its highest in nearly two months, almost all from migrant worker dormitories at the centre of the outbreak in the city-state.
The vast majority of Singapore’s 49,888 cases have been in those dormitories, which house more than 300,000 mostly South Asian workers, and have been under strict quarantine.
(Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel)