SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat suffered a stroke and collapsed during a cabinet meeting on Thursday and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was named to cover his duties.
Heng, 54, who had been tipped as a potential successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was recovering in hospital after surgery, the prime minister’s office said.
“Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be covering the duties of the minister for finance with immediate effect,” it said in a statement.
Tharman, 59, stepped down from his role as finance minister in October after Lee inducted younger people in key ministries as part of preparations for a leadership transition.
Tharman was named the coordinating minister for economic and social policies and also continued as the chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the central bank.
“Heng Swee Keat had a sudden stroke due to an aneurysm, which is a localized weakening of a blood vessel. He underwent initial neurosurgery to relieve pressure in his brain due to the bleeding,” the statement from the prime minister’s office said.
It said the aneurysm was successfully closed and Heng will remain under close monitoring in an intensive care unit.
Heng, a former managing director of the central bank, collapsed at 5.34 pm on Thursday and was rushed to hospital.
The other potential candidates to succeed Lee, who has said he will hand over power by 2020, are Chan Chun Sing, a minister in the prime minister’s office and Tan Chuan-Jin, the minister for social and family development.
Heng, a former education minister, won praise from Singapore’s first prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, as being the best principal private secretary he ever had.
In his maiden budget in March, Heng announced support for the Southeast Asian nation’s battered offshore marine sector and small businesses, but made no big stimulus moves for the $290-billion economy slowing from a global downturn.
“He came across as somebody who is on the ball, a good listener, and has a view on what needs to be done for the economy,” said Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB private bank.
Reporting by Lee Chyen Yee, Anshuman Daga and Saeed Azhar; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Dominic Evans