PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday made a number of changes to some key positions in his Cabinet, with five office-holders involved in this latest reshuffle ahead of the next general election.
These changes, Mr Lee explained, are part of continuing leadership renewal as well as to build a "strong 'A' team" for Singapore.
Top of the list was Masagos Zulkifli, who was promoted to a full minister with effect from Thursday. The 51-year-old, formerly a Senior Minister of State, now holds three posts - Minister in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), and Second Minister at both the Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs ministries.
With his rise up the ranks, the Cabinet has two full ministers from the Malay-Muslim community for the first time, the other being Communications and Information Minister and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim.
Mr Lee said that Mr Masagos, who entered politics at the 2006 general election, has performed well, both in his ministries and as a Member of Parliament in Tampines.
"It is the first time we are having two Malay full ministers, which reflects the progress of the Malay community," the prime minister added.
In a widely-anticipated move, Chan Chun Sing will step down as Social and Family Development Minister and Second Defence Minister from Thursday. This paves the way for the 45-year-old to become the new secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on May 4.
In a separate statement, the labour movement announced on Wednesday that its central committee had "unanimously elected" Mr Chan as its new labour chief, taking over from Lim Swee Say who handed in his resignation earlier in the day.
Mr Chan, a former army chief who was elected at the last polls in 2011, will still remain a member of the Cabinet as a Minister in the PMO.
Taking the helm at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is Tan Chuan-Jin, another first-term politician and fourth-generation leader. The 46-year-old will also continue as Manpower Minister until he relinquishes the post on May 4.
Mr Tan started out at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) shortly after the 2011 general election as a Minister of State, moving up the ladder to become Acting Minister a year later and then a full minister in May 2014.
"I had not realised how extensive a reach the (MOM) has. Whether it is on retirement adequacy, workers' welfare and rights, workplace safety and health, creating better employment opportunities, managing our labour policies, they are all issues that matter greatly because it impacts our people's lives," said Mr Tan.
"While I am sad to leave, I am looking forward to serving in MSF. Great work has been done by Chun Sing and his team and we will certainly build on that. Nurturing a strong and caring society is important as we look out for those who need the additional helping hand. It reflects the values we hold as a people."
With Mr Chan giving up his defence portfolio, the Defence Ministry (Mindef) will get a new Second Minister, Lui Tuck Yew, who will continue serving as Transport Minister.
Mr Lui, a former navy chief who joined politics in 2006, said he looked forward to renewing his interactions with the team at Mindef. "(I) will do my best to contribute to both transport and defence portfolios. But you can be sure that I will still continue to pay particular attention to matters related to public transport," he wrote on his Facebook page shortly after his new appointment was confirmed.
As for Mr Lim Swee Say, he will relinquish his position as Minister in the PMO on May 4, the same day he becomes the new Manpower Minister.
The 60-year-old, who began his political career in 1997, said he was "grateful" to be assigned to the Manpower portfolio and that he looked forward to strengthening tripartism in Singapore in his new capacity.
"Chuan-Jin has done much to re-tune our manpower policy to reposition our economy and re-skilling our workers," he wrote on Facebook. "I will build on the solid foundation laid by him to help our people of all ages to pursue fulfilling careers."
This Cabinet reshuffle is the fifth set of changes since the general election on May 7, 2011. The first round took place soon after that poll, with further changes made in July 2012, August 2013 and April last year.
The next election must be called by January 2017, although many political watchers think that it could be held as soon as later this year.