In a widely expected post-election cabinet reshuffle, Singapore ’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has retained veteran politicians in key positions, but younger ministers seen as future heavyweights were rotated to new portfolios. Political analysts said the line-up reflected caution on the part of Lee following a weaker-than-expected result by the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the July 10 election . Following the poll, commentators had questioned whether Lee’s designated successor Heng Swee Keat, 59, was suited for the top political job – he won his multi-seat constituency by a thin margin – but the new cabinet composition suggested there was no change to the status quo. Instead, Heng, the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, will take on an additional role as coordinating minister for economic affairs. Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Teo Chee Hean, respected veterans of the PAP and former deputy prime ministers, retained their portfolios as senior ministers in the cabinet. Nydia Ngiow, a Singapore-based senior director with the BowerGroupAsia consultancy, said “stability seems to be the key message” as stalwarts who helmed important ministries before the election were not moved to new jobs. Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, Communication Minister S. Iswaran, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, and Manpower Minister Josephine Teo all remain in their previous positions. Lawrence Wong, the point man for the country’s coronavirus response, will take over as Education Minister. The current education chief, Ong Ye Kung, will become the next Minister of Transport – a portfolio that for decades has proven to be a lightning rod for criticism amid citizens’ high expectations for the public transport network. Grace Fu, one of three women in the cabinet – who recorded a victory margin of 70.5 per cent in the election, higher than the PAP’s national average – will helm a new Ministry of Sustainability and Environment. Ngiow, the public policy consultant, lamented that the cabinet remained stacked with individuals who are “within the same PAP mould” and the lack of women among newly promoted ministers. Two junior ministers, Edwin Tong and Maliki Osman, were promoted to full ministers. The lack of diversity “leads us to question whether they really are listening and reacting to sentiments on the ground,” Ngiow said. The PAP – one of Asia’s longest ruling political parties – has long been criticised by observers for not attracting enough mavericks to its ranks. The party has countered this assertion by stating that its slate has become more diverse in recent elections. This time around, its 27 new candidates included a women’s rights activist and an entrepreneur in the food and beverage sector. Among the party’s first time MPs, Gan Siow Huang, the first woman to achieve the rank of brigadier general in the army, will assume the position of minister of state in the manpower and education ministries. Tan See Leng, a former chief executive with the health care firm IHH Healthcare, will become a minister in the prime minister’s office. “We need experienced ministers to provide, and also to mentor, the younger ministers. And in this crisis this need is even greater,” Lee said, adding that younger ministers were being rotated to “gain exposure and experience”. In the aftermath of the July 10 election , Lee pledged that government veterans including himself would stay on to lead the country out of the current coronavirus crisis. Before the polls, earlier expectations had been that Lee would make sweeping changes to the composition of his cabinet as part of the final stage of a succession plan – in which Heng and his contemporaries in the so-called 4G or fourth generation cabal of the PAP would be in the driving seat of government in 2022. In keeping with PAP tradition – and in a process that echoes the selection of a new pope – the 4G group in 2018 unanimously selected Heng as primus inter pares, or “first among equals”, after an internal contest. Singapore’s next prime minister Heng Swee Keat: a safe pair of hands Last year, he was made deputy prime minister, a move that observers said solidified his position as Singapore’s next leader. But after Heng – known more for his technocratic prowess than his oratory skills – scraped through with 53 per cent of the vote in his five-seat constituency, commentators including Han Fook Kwang, a former editor of the establishment-friendly Straits Times, suggested the matter should be reopened in light of the poll results. Han said the decision for Heng to succeed Lee was taken before the pandemic, and questioned if “new circumstances require a different leader to rally and mobilise the people”. Asked on Saturday if the 4G team had discussed Heng’s position as their leader, Trade and Industry Minister Chan – seen as the group’s No. 2 leader – said all the focus for now was on the pandemic. He said: “We entirely focus on helping our country overcoming economic challenges and saving the jobs at this point in time. We have no plans to do otherwise. And we have no plans. No discussion on any change in plan.” Prime Minister Lee, in power since 2004, had said after the 2015 election that succession was an “urgent matter” and that the ruling party did not have the “luxury of time” to blood younger leaders. “By the end of this term, we must have a new team ready to take over from me,” he said, when announcing his new cabinet following the September 2015 elections. The age of the new cabinet is 56.4, down from 59.0 following the last election in 2015. Explainer: What are the hurdles Singapore faces in its Covid-19 fight? Local political commentator Bilveer Singh said he believed the succession plan was intact. Still, he described the veteran-heavy line-up announced on Saturday as a “functional response” to the coronavirus crisis. While most of the older ministers were not replaced, Bilveer said it was noteworthy that Lee opted to move a significant number of 4G ministers to new roles. “Quite clearly this shows that the 4G [team] is going to be in the helm, and that succession is on track,” he said. Felix Tan, a political observer and associate lecturer with SIM Global Education, agreed with the sentiment that the changes reflected caution on the part of the prime minister. He attributed the lack of major changes to the “watershed” nature of the July 10 elections. In the extraordinary pandemic-time polls, the PAP retained its supermajority but ceded ground to an opposition that won the most seats in five decades. The PAP won 83 of 93 seats and 61.2 per cent of the popular vote, a sharp drop from the 69.9 per cent seen in the 2015 election, which was held soon after the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s revered independence leader and father of the current prime minister. This was the PAP’s 15th straight election victory since the city state became self-governing in 1959. The opposition Workers’ Party held on comfortably to the six seats where it was the incumbent, and staged a stunning victory in the four-seat ward of Sengkang, ousting three PAP office-holders, including the country’s powerful labour movement chief. Opposition presence in Singapore parliament at record high with Workers’ Party win That victory means Singapore will now have the most number of opposition lawmakers since 1966. Apart from the Workers’ Party, which won more votes in total than the PAP in the six wards it contested, other groups such as the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and the Singapore Democratic Party also outperformed expectations – though they did not win seats. The PSP, helmed by former PAP stalwart Tan Cheng Bock, will send two non-constituency MPs to parliament as part of a scheme put in place to ensure there are at least 12 non-PAP voices in the legislature.