Singapore PM Lee to hand power to successor Wong on May 15

  • World
  • Monday, 15 Apr 2024

FILE PHOTO: Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during a joint press conference with Australia's Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (not pictured) at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, in Melbourne, Australia March 5, 2024. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy/File Photo

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -Long-time Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Monday he would hand over power to his designated successor, Lawrence Wong, on May 15, ahead of an election that must be by held next year.

Wong has been prime minister-in-waiting since April 2022 after the previous anointed successor stepped aside unexpectedly and derailed the carefully choreographed leadership transition typical in the affluent Asian financial centre.

Wong, 51, was catapulted into the spotlight as co-head of the government's COVID-19 task force during the pandemic, restricting movement within and in and out of Singapore and overseeing contact-tracing, earning him praise for helping contain infection and keeping deaths low in the city state while also explaining policies clearly to the public.

He served as Lee's principal private secretary from 2005 to 2008 and led the education and national development ministries before becoming finance minister in 2021 and deputy prime minister in 2022.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Lee, 72, prime minister since 2004 and the eldest son of modern Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew, called the leadership transition a "significant moment".

"I will relinquish my role as Prime Minister on 15 May 2024 and Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong will be sworn in as the next Prime Minister on the same day," wrote Lee.

"Lawrence and the 4G (fourth generation of leaders) team have worked hard to gain the people's trust, notably during the pandemic," he said.

In a video statement posted on Facebook, Wong said: "I accept this responsibility with humility and a deep sense of duty. I pledge to give my all to this undertaking."

Wong is also deputy chairman of sovereign wealth fund GIC and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Southeast Asian nation's central bank.

In addition, he spearheaded a national exercise called Forward Singapore meant to chart the country's "social compact" between the government and the people on how to deal with issues ranging from sustainability to inequality and employment.

Still, National University of Singapore political scientist Chong Ja Ian said it was hard to tell what kind of prime minister Wong would be.

"No one knows to be honest. Up until now, Wong has not given people a sense of his political vision," said Chong.

Chong added that while a leader who doesn't rock the boat may have been more welcome in the past, "given that Singapore is in a more uncertain world today, more of the same may not be good enough".

(Reporting by Xinghui Kok and Kanupriya Kapoor; editing by John Mair and Mark Heinrich)

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