Singapore poised for new leadership

Dawn of a new era: This combo picture shows Lee and Wong (right). Wong is the second non-member of the Lee family to lead Singapore. — AFP

THE city-state will have a new prime minister on May 15, with Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong set to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on that day.

The date for the handover was announced in a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday, a key detail in Singapore’s long-planned leadership transition from the third-generation to the fourth-generation (4G) political team.

After he is sworn in at 8pm on May 15 at the Istana, Wong, who entered politics 13 years ago, will be Singapore’s fourth prime minister.

In a Facebook post, Lee said leadership transition is a significant moment for any country.

“Lawrence and the 4G team have worked hard to gain the people’s trust, notably during the pandemic,” he said. “Through the Forward Singapore exercise, they have worked with many Singaporeans to refresh our social compact and develop the national agenda for a new generation.”

Lee said the 4G team is committed to keeping Singapore working well and moving ahead, and asked that Singaporeans give Wong and his team their full support to jointly create a brighter future.

Wong, 51, had been the presumptive next prime minister since April 2022, when he was picked by his peers as the leader of the People’s Action Party’s 4G team.

Before Wong, who is also Finance Minister, emerged as leader, former minister Khaw Boon Wan had spoken individually to the 4G leaders and other members of the Cabinet to move along the process of finding a successor for Lee.

Khaw revealed that 15 out of the 19 he had spoken to had put DPM Wong as their top choice.

It capped a period of uncertainty in Singapore’s succession.

A year before, in April 2021, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat – originally earmarked for the job by his 4G peers in November 2018 – had stepped aside to pave the way for a younger person to lead the country. He was going to turn 60, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which began in 2020, had shortened his runway as the next prime minister, he had explained.

The pandemic, meanwhile, is also what helped Wong come into prominence, pundits have said. As co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, Wong had been front and centre in Singapore’s fight against Covid-19, along with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong.

His assured manner during the task force’s many press conferences and ability to break down issues simply had gained him admirers. The usually business-like minister also showed a gentler side, choking back tears as he thanked healthcare and other frontline workers during a speech in Parliament at the height of the crisis.

Lee, 72, later said that his younger colleague and the 4G team had “earned their spurs” during the pandemic. The baptism of fire they went through put paid to worries that the team would have only a short time to forge bonds and learn to work together before having to take over.

Since then, Wong and his team had gone on to take on more responsibilities, chief among them spearheading the Forward Singapore exercise to forge a new social compact with Singaporeans.

The team’s report, put out in October 2023, set the public agenda for the years ahead. It called on Singaporeans to partner the government in developing a fair, caring and inclusive society with people progressing together.

While the Forward Singapore report has been described as a continuation of the work of the government, there are signs that the new team will go further than their predecessors, as signalled by policy shifts such as the forthcoming introduction of unemployment assistance.

The coming into power of the 4G team also happens at a more troubled time for the world, with wars raging in Europe and the Middle East, and uncertainty in the global economy.

With Wong taking over before August, he will have the National Day Rally to lay out his plans for the year ahead.

He also has his work cut out as he prepares his party for the next general election.

At the biennial PAP convention held at the Singapore Expo in November 2023, Lee, who has been prime minister for 20 years, made his intention clear that he wanted to hand over to Wong before the next general election, due by November 2025.

Wong, on his part, signalled his readiness for the task. Speaking to a hall full of his party’s members, he said: “I am ready for my next assignment.” — The Straits Times/ANN

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