PM Lee to become senior minister, no major changes to Cabinet until after next GE: DPM Wong

DPM Lawrence Wong will announce the make-up of his new Cabinet a few days before he is sworn in as Singapore’s fourth prime minister on May 15. - ST

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will take on the role of senior minister in the new Cabinet, which is not likely to have major changes, said Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

DPM Wong will announce the make-up of his new Cabinet at a press conference a few days before he is sworn in as Singapore’s fourth prime minister on May 15.

He told reporters on April 16 that he expects existing Cabinet ministers to remain in their current portfolios, although there may be “marginal adjustments here and there”. Those continuing in their roles include Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is Coordinating Minister for National Security.

Bigger Cabinet changes are likely to take place only after the next general election, he said, adding that he is already on the lookout for new candidates – especially those with the potential to hold political office.

“Our system works on the basis of continuity and progressive change,” DPM Wong said in explaining his decision.

“It has never been the case that when there is a leadership transition, all the older ministers stepped down at the same time. Instead, they continued to contribute in different ways, while making room for the younger ones to step up. I will adopt the same approach when I take over.”

Given that some ministers have been appointed to their current portfolios fairly recently, there is no reason to move them, he added.

DPM Wong was speaking to reporters during a 10-minute doorstop interview at the Ministry of Communications and Information, a day after the long-awaited handover date was announced.

The 51-year-old, who entered politics 13 years ago, 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 (PAP) fourth-generation team. He will be formally sworn in at 8pm on May 15.

DPM Wong said he is in the process of speaking to current Cabinet ministers about their appointments and will take their considerations into account.

“I will also look at possible promotions, as well as consider bringing in a few backbenchers to strengthen the team.”

When asked about his considerations in forming his new Cabinet, DPM Wong replied that the broad shape of the team will remain intact for now. Going forward, he said his main priority is to form the best possible team for Singapore, with a focus on both change and continuity.

“We should build on what we have today. We should affirm and reinforce what works well for Singapore,” he said. “But I also want change because we should re-examine and refresh our current approaches and be prepared to break new ground in order to adapt more effectively to a rapidly changing environment.”

He added that his aim, in time, is to reach a good balance between experienced ministers and new members who can add fresh perspectives.

On the next general election, which must be held by November 2025, DPM Wong said that depending on the outcome of the polls, there will be an opportunity then to renew and strengthen the team with new members.

“Hopefully when the election is called, I will be able to present a new slate of candidates, with quite a number of them having the potential to hold office.”

He said the Cabinet already has a “full agenda” for the rest of this term of government. This includes dealing with concerns around the economy, jobs and the cost of living, providing more assurance to vulnerable groups, and taking concrete steps to realise the shared aspirations set out in the Forward Singapore report.

DPM Wong was also asked how the 70th anniversary of the ruling PAP in November 2024 might impact the timing of the next general election.

“They are two different things altogether,” he said, noting that the biennial party conference involves cadre members meeting to elect the party’s central executive committee.

In comparison, preparations for the next general election are “always a work in progress”, he added.

“We have to consistently tend the ground, attend to the needs of residents and strive to win over their hearts and minds,” DPM Wong said. “If all our branches do that, then we really do not have to anticipate or second-guess when the elections are called. Because whenever the button is pressed, we will be ready for the campaign.”

SMU associate professor of law Eugene Tan pointed out that PM Lee filling the role of senior minister is similar to what his predecessors did. Former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong had both served as senior ministers after stepping down.

“PM Lee’s experience, expertise and networks are at the disposal of the Cabinet. It will be a waste not to tap them for the good of Singapore,” said Prof Tan, adding that PM Lee still has much to contribute to the nation. - The Straits TImes/ANN

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