Singapore's new PM takes office pledging to lead in his own way


Singapore's new Prime Minister Lawrence Wong (left) shakes hands with the former prime minister Lee Hsien Loong during the swearing-in ceremony as President Tharman Shanmugaratnam looks on at the Istana in Singapore on May 15, 2024. - AFP

SINGAPORE: Singapore's Lawrence Wong was sworn in on Wednesday (May 15) as its fourth premier since independence, promising to lead the wealthy city state his own way after completing a carefully calibrated power transfer aimed at ensuring continuity.

Wong, 51, comes from among a crop of so-called "4G" leaders, a new generation of politicians that were hand-picked by the long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to take over the reins of the key Asian trade and financial centre.

He is the first Singaporean premier born after its independence in 1965, what he called a significant milestone that would see the handing of the baton to a new generation.

Wong will retain his position as finance minister and takes charge of a country led for two decades by Lee Hsien Loong, the 72-year-old son of Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore who stayed in politics until his death in 2015.

"We understand the vital importance of good leadership, political stability and long-term planning. We ourselves are the beneficiaries of the imaginative policies of our founding fathers, pursued resolutely and patiently over decades," Wong said in his inauguration speech.

"Our leadership style will differ from that of previous generations. We will lead our own way. We will continue to think boldly and to think far."

The succession has been long coming, with Lee's plans of stepping down before he turned 70 upended by the pandemic, and by a transition fumble when his anointed successor unexpectedly ruled himself out of the running in 2021.

Wong said he was taking over at a challenging time with an uncertain external environment that was in flux, adding Singapore was strong but vulnerable to external influences "that tug us in different directions".

He said Singapore's international standing was high, with a brand that was admired globally, and would strengthen partnerships and continue engaging with the United States and China "even as issues inevitably arise between them".

Wong rose to prominence in 2020 as co-chair of the pandemic taskforce and was named Lee's successor in April 2022 after a series of consultations between the political leadership and Wong's peers.

He was promoted to deputy prime minister and led a high-profile public consultation exercise to chart a "social compact" between the government and the people on dealing with issues like sustainability, inequality and employment.

Wong made a very minor cabinet reshuffle on Monday, promoting the trade minister to become his deputy, noting that continuity and stability were key considerations. He has pledged a bigger reshuffle after an election due by next year.

Lee will remain in Wong's cabinet as senior minister, as former Singapore prime ministers have done, preserving the political clout of the long-serving Lee family.

Lee's father stepped down as leader in 1990 and stayed on in the cabinets of his successors for 21 years, initially as senior minister then as "minister mentor" in his son's government.

Wong pledged to do his utmost to make Singapore an innovative, fairer and more equal society for its 5.9 million people.

"I will serve you with all my heart, I will never settle for the status quo," he said, in a speech in English that included chapters in Malay and Mandarin.

"My mission is clear: to continue defying the odds and to sustain this miracle called Singapore." - The Straits Times/ANN

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