Friday, 15 April 2022

Lawrence Wong to lead PAP's 4G team, paving way for him to be Singapore's next Prime Minister

Humbled and grateful for the trust and confidence: PAP's new 4G leader Lawrence Wong
By Zakir Hussain, Political Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2022

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong has been selected to be the leader of the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) team, paving the way for him to be Singapore's next prime minister.

Cabinet ministers affirmed their choice of Mr Wong, 49, as the leader of the 4G team on Thursday (April 14), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement.

This decision was then endorsed by all government MPs in a party caucus, added PM Lee, who is secretary-general of the PAP.

The statement comes a year after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 61, announced he had decided to step aside as leader of the 4G team, to pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when PM Lee retires.

At the time, the 4G ministers had asked for more time to reach a consensus on their next leader, as the country was still battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

But with the pandemic situation having stabilised recently, they were able to relook the issue of succession.


Giving details of how the decision was reached, PM Lee said that after consulting the ministers, he asked former minister Khaw Boon Wan, a former PAP chairman, to start a process involving the ministers, as well as Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, both former 4G ministers.


"Mr Khaw met each one of them individually, to sound out their personal views in confidence and to facilitate a new consensus on a 4G leader. The views of the Prime Minister and the two Senior Ministers were not sought," the statement said.

"Mr Khaw found that the overwhelming majority of those consulted supported Minister Wong as the leader."

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Khaw briefed Cabinet ministers, as well as Mr Tan and Mr Ng, on his findings, and all endorsed the decision for Mr Wong to lead the team.

This decision was subsequently presented to and endorsed by PAP MPs in the evening.


The statement also said PM Lee will make adjustments to Cabinet appointments and these will be announced in due course.

"This decision on succession is a crucial one for Singapore. It will ensure the continuity and stability of leadership that are the hallmarks of our system," PM Lee said in a Facebook post.

"The right to lead is not inherited. It has to be earned afresh by each generation of leaders. Singapore will always need a strong team in charge, with a leader who can bring others together, and draw out the best of each team member," he added.

"I have every confidence that Lawrence and his team will continue to give their best for Singapore and Singaporeans."


Mr Wong is a co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on Covid-19 and was appointed to the key finance portfolio in the last Cabinet reshuffle in May 2021.

He was a senior civil servant before he entered politics in the 2011 General Election, and became Minister of State for Defence and Education. He was appointed Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth in November 2012 and promoted to full minister in May 2014.

He became Minister for National Development in 2015, took on an additional appointment as Second Minister for Finance in 2016, and was made Education Minister after the 2020 General Election. He became Finance Minister in May 2021.


Mr Wong said in a Facebook post that he was humbled and grateful for the trust and confidence of his colleagues, who have chosen him to lead them, and for the support of his fellow MPs.

"From the very beginning in 1959, our model of political leadership has never been about one person, but the team. Each of us contributes, complements each other, and gives our best to Singapore," he said.

"My colleagues in the 4G leadership have stood shoulder to shoulder with each other in the fight against Covid-19. The experience of the past two years has cemented our cohesiveness and strengthened our resolve to steward Singapore safely through this crisis and beyond."


He added: "It is my privilege to be called upon to lead this team. I will do my utmost to uphold this responsibility. But as we have been reminded many times, the right to lead cannot be inherited. Together with the rest of the 4G team, I will continue to serve Singaporeans wholeheartedly, and strive to earn the trust and support of each and every one of our fellow citizens."

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said he looked forward to continue working closely with Mr Wong and the team, adding that many geopolitical and economic uncertainties and social challenges remain.

“The 4G team will continue to work closely together with Singaporeans to improve their lives while seizing opportunities to leave behind a better Singapore for future generations,” he said.


Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said he had witnessed Mr Wong’s dedication and commitment to Singapore and Singaporeans, adding that he puts his heart and soul into what he does, and is never a seeker of credit or fanfare.

“The 4G team, now led by Minister Lawrence Wong, will continue to put Singapore and Singaporeans at the heart of every decision we make. I will do my utmost to support him, and look forward to be part of his team,” he added.


Observers said Mr Wong’s communication skills, seen in his delivery of his maiden Budget speech in February, gave him an edge.

DPM Heng said: “It was not an easy Budget to deliver, but he did so with verve, steadiness and a sense of fairness.”

He added: “I have found him to be a leader who considers things carefully, is able to bring people together, and has conviction to do what’s right for Singapore.”








Lawrence Wong clear choice to helm PAP's 4G leadership, with 15 of 19 stakeholders backing him
By Warren Fernandez, Editor-in-Chief, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

The choice of Mr Lawrence Wong to helm the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) leadership was made by an "overwhelming majority" of those involved, and this was subsequently endorsed by its top leaders and all its MPs.

This process of forging a consensus on who should lead the party, and Singapore, should the PAP win the next general election, was undertaken in a systematic and thorough way, to allow for candour, introspection and objectivity, and to help forge unity and support for the outcome.

Mr Wong, 49, emerged as the top choice of 15 out of the 19 stakeholders involved.

The 19 were all the Cabinet ministers, excluding Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the two senior ministers, and included Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, both former 4G ministers.


Each of the 19 was interviewed separately by former PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan over the past month after the Budget debate in March. They were asked for their preferred choice - other than themselves - and had to rank potential candidates in order of their preference.

None of the other names garnered more than two votes, said Mr Khaw, indicating a clear majority of 79 per cent for Mr Wong.

This was more than a super-majority, he added.


Details of the vote were disclosed at a media conference held at the Istana on Saturday morning (April 16). It was chaired by PM Lee and attended by Mr Wong and Mr Khaw, to elaborate on Thursday's announcement of the party's choice of its next leader.

PM Lee said this was a major step forward in the political succession process, which he felt could not be delayed much further, as the uncertainty was not good for the country, given the many challenges ahead.


Now that the 4G choice was made, he would discuss with Mr Wong the timeline and next steps, with a view to handing over when Mr Wong and the 4G team are ready. This process would be done "carefully and deliberately", he said.

He would discuss with Mr Wong and decide later what was the best strategy for the PAP to contest the next election, which is due by November 2025.

This might include handing over to Mr Wong and his team ahead of the polls to allow them to contest and seek a fresh mandate from the electorate. Alternatively, PM Lee could lead the PAP team to fight the election, and if the PAP wins, Mr Wong would step up as PM some time thereafter.

"It will depend on how things evolve, it's something which we'll decide later on. But either way, our plan is for Lawrence to be the next PM, if the PAP wins the next GE. That has been settled.

"And the reaction from the public over the last two days shows that many people are happy we have taken this decision, and are happy with the decision."


This process of forging a consensus around the next leader was important, he added, since as first among equals in the Cabinet, the PM must have the support of his ministers, who bear collective responsibility for their decisions.

"Otherwise, the Government cannot function," said PM Lee, adding that the process was to pick the 4G leader, not his deputy or a 5G leader. It would be up to Mr Wong to pick his choice of deputy and his team later.

"To be effective as a PM, he must be able to trust and rely on his ministers, and his ministers must also be team players, supporting the PM, their PM, and supporting the team. And they all have to help the team to score goals collectively for Singapore."


For his part, in his first public outing since Thursday's announcement, Mr Wong said that he would work hard, together with his colleagues, to continue to win and earn the trust of Singaporeans.

He noted 4G leaders had already taken a “first step” in a multi-year plan to renew and strengthen society’s social compact in this year’s Budget, and would comprehensively review policies to see what more could be adjusted and improved.

“So, this would be a major agenda for the 4G team,” he said. “But beyond that, we will as a team continue to work hard to win the trust and support of every Singaporean, to create bonds and connect with them, and to develop new ideas that will resonate with Singaporeans, and especially with a new generation of Singaporeans."

He added: "I fully recognise the growing diversity of experiences and perspectives amongst Singaporeans, and I would like every Singaporean to know and feel that they will always have a stake in our society, even as we chart our new way forward together.



Acknowledging that he had his work cut out for him as he embarked on "possibly the biggest responsibility of my life", he added that he was "under no illusions about the demands of the job".

"It will get more challenging with greater political contestation and the growing desire for diversity in Parliament.

"And as PM said in Parliament recently, we do not assume that the PAP will win the next general election. Every GE from now on will be about which party will form the Government, not just how many seats the opposition wins or what percentage of the votes the ruling party gets.

"Knowing full well that we will have to earn the right of leadership, I will continue with the same principles that have guided me all these years, which is to give of my best, to engage and listen, and to learn and improve continually."
















4G team will strive to earn support of Singaporeans: Lawrence Wong
Humbled and grateful for the trust and confidence
By Royston Sim, Deputy News Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2022

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said he was "humbled and grateful" for the trust and confidence of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) team, which chose him as their leader.

The move, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (April 14), paves the way for Mr Wong to succeed Mr Lee as Singapore's next prime minister.

"It is my privilege to be called upon to lead this team. I will do my utmost to uphold this responsibility," Mr Wong, 49, said in a Facebook post, adding he was also deeply grateful for the support of his fellow PAP MPs, who have endorsed the decision.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force handling the pandemic, said the party's 4G leaders have "stood shoulder to shoulder with each other" in the fight against Covid-19.

"The experience of the past two years has cemented our cohesiveness and strengthened our resolve to steward Singapore safely through this crisis and beyond," he added.

He noted that since the PAP came to power in 1959, its model of political leadership has never been about one person, but the team.


The 4G team's decision comes a year after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 60, announced he had decided to step aside as their leader, so that a younger person with a longer runway can lead the country when PM Lee retires.


He was a senior civil servant before he entered politics at the 2011 General Election, holding the post of chief executive of the Energy Market Authority. Mr Wong was previously the principal private secretary to PM Lee as well.

After the election, he became minister of state for defence and education. He was appointed acting minister for culture, community and youth in November 2012, and promoted to full minister in May 2014.

He became minister for national development in 2015, and took on an additional appointment as second minister for finance in 2016, and was made education minister after the 2020 General Election. He became finance minister in May 2021.


In his post on Thursday, Mr Wong said: "As we have been reminded many times, the right to lead cannot be inherited.

"Together with the rest of the 4G team, I will continue to serve Singaporeans wholeheartedly, and strive to earn the trust and support of each and every one of our fellow citizens."


Residents in Mr Wong’s Limbang ward in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC said he has taken care of their estate well, and is friendly and approachable.

Mr Rusman Lamri, 56, said he met Mr Wong at a bursary award ceremony, when his son received an award.

“He’s very friendly and I think the estate is managed well under him, I have no issues here as a resident,” said Mr Rusman, a driver.

Others like forklift driver Ng Ah Huat, 57, who has lived in Yew Tee for about a decade, said Mr Wong helped to resolve issues raised at Meet-the-People Sessions.

“As a resident here, I am happy that he has been chosen to lead. I feel he has looked after our needs well,” said Mr Ng in Mandarin.

Engineer Matthew Ong, 51, said it was possible that Mr Wong’s co-chairmanship of the multi-ministry task force battling Covid-19 has raised his profile, and led to his peers selecting him as their leader.

Citing the task force’s decision to live with Covid-19 and treat it as endemic, Mr Ong said he hoped that Mr Wong and the 4G leaders would continue to make “bold and right” decisions for the country.










'Integrity, commitment, conviction': Ministers congratulate Lawrence Wong on being chosen as 4G leader
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2022

Cabinet ministers and members of the ruling People's Action Party on Thursday (April 14) offered their congratulations and support to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong who was endorsed as the leader of the party's fourth-generation (4G) team.

They spoke of their experience working with the man who is now effectively the heir apparent to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

PM Lee announced on Thursday evening that Cabinet ministers have affirmed their choice of Mr Wong, 49, as the new leader of the 4G team, a decision later endorsed by all PAP MPs.


Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who had been slated to take over the reins before he stepped aside in April last year for a younger leader with a longer runway, wrote on Facebook that he was glad that Mr Wong has accepted the responsibility.

"What we need is a next leader who has the well-being of Singaporeans and Singapore at heart, who has the integrity and commitment to serve, and the ability to forge new paths and bring people together. I believe that Lawrence has these qualities," said Mr Heng, 61.

Mr Heng said he has found Mr Wong to be a leader who considers things carefully, is able to bring people together, and has the conviction to do what is right for Singapore.

"As importantly, Lawrence has the runway to eventually succeed PM. We have had a challenging few years. In the coming years, we will need to navigate even more changes that will affect Singaporeans," he added.


Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said he deeply appreciated the camaraderie he shared with Mr Wong over their years in politics together, and that he looks forward to continue working closely with him and the rest of the team to tackle the challenges facing Singapore.

"While Singapore is cautiously emerging from the worst of the pandemic, there remain many geopolitical and economic uncertainties and social challenges that we have to overcome together," said Mr Chan.

"The 4G team will continue to work closely together with Singaporeans to improve their lives while seizing opportunities to leave behind a better Singapore for future generations."


Health Minister Ong Ye Kung also congratulated Mr Wong on his selection and endorsement as the leader of the PAP's 4G team. He said that it was clear since the start of the succession planning process that the goal is to select someone who can bring out the best in the team to collectively serve Singapore.

"We now have a good outcome," said Mr Ong, who noted that he has known Mr Wong since they were both principal private secretaries to PM Lee, and later as Cabinet colleagues and co-chairs of the multi-ministry taskforce tackling Covid-19.

"I have worked with him up-close and witnessed his dedication and commitment to Singapore and Singaporeans," said Mr Ong. "He puts his heart and soul into what he is doing and is never a seeker of credit or fanfare."

Mr Ong added that he will do his utmost to support Mr Wong, and looks forward to being part of his team.


Minister for National Development Desmond Lee thanked Mr Wong for stepping forward and taking up the responsibility of leadership, and called on the team to continue working hard for Singapore.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin wrote: "May our leaders and team be blessed with wisdom, courage and love. May we all be united as we continue to strive as one people, one nation."

Mr Wong also received a strong endorsement from Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who called him an excellent leader for a changing Singapore.

He cited the challenges of holding a country together in a troubled world while making room for different and new voices, and the unending work of making life better for ordinary citizens.

“He is down to earth, has his heart in the right place, and has the steel to make tough decisions,” said SM Tharman.

“And knowing Lawrence, I’m sure he will earn the trust of Singaporeans in his own way and be a PM with his own character.“That must be the case - each future leader must be their own man or woman.”






















Lawrence Wong has displayed leadership in crisis, say observers on the PAP 4G leader
By Hariz Baharudin and Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2022

Mr Lawrence Wong's high-profile roles as Finance Minister and co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 allowed him to exercise leadership in a crisis and put him in good stead to become the leader of the People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) team, said political observers.

He will be regarded as a pair of safe hands with his crisis management and policy experience.

But with about three years to go before the next general election is due, Mr Wong will have his work cut out for him to cement his political support among the Singapore electorate, the observers added.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Thursday (April 14) that Mr Wong, 49, has the support of the "overwhelming majority" of the Cabinet ministers to lead the 4G team. The decision was also endorsed by all government MPs in a party caucus on Thursday.

Dr Woo Jun Jie, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said Mr Wong's role as co-chair of the multi-ministry task force - which he assumed in January 2020 - placed him in the spotlight and allowed him to exercise leadership in a crisis.

In shaping this year's Budget as Finance Minister, said Dr Woo, Mr Wong also demonstrated the high-level leadership required of a prime minister, as the Budget involves strategic planning that includes allocating resources across the Government. Some also said he made a strong case for the goods and services tax (GST) hike when he explained that the move would not hurt the poor, and unveiled substantial measures to cushion the blow.

Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh said Mr Wong has handled his Covid-19 and finance minister roles well.

He argued that the contest was a close one, but given the "urgency to select a leader, Mr Wong benefited most as he had the most results to show over other potentials".


Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at Solaris Strategies Singapore, said that besides Mr Wong's contributions in steering Singapore during Covid-19, his effective political communication skills made him stand out among his ministerial peers and earned the respect of the people.

Formerly a senior civil servant, Mr Wong was elected MP in 2011 and was promoted to full minister in 2014. Since then, he has helmed the culture, community and youth; national development; education and finance portfolios.

National University of Singapore (NUS) associate professor of sociology Tan Ern Ser said Mr Wong will likely be well received on the international stage, given his temperament, eloquence and knowledge of global trends.

"I think he is pragmatic, yet firm with a soft touch. I don't think he is a populist, as demonstrated in his stand on the GST and on not yielding to calls for lower energy prices," he said.

Ms Nydia Ngiow, managing director at strategic advisory consultancy BowerGroupAsia Singapore, said Mr Wong is unlikely to deviate much from other PAP leaders - a point that Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan also made.

"Singapore can continue to be a reliable global partner whether it's in economic or security matters. Mr Wong can rely on the Singapore branding," said Associate Professor Tan.


Mr Wong will also have to play a key role in leading the PAP into the next general election, which must be held by November 2025.

With only 3½ years to the polls, Mr Wong "does not have the luxury of time" to gain the support of voters, said Prof Tan.

While some might see the runway to the next GE as short, Mr Wong's role in leading during the Covid-19 crisis has required him to navigate a steep learning curve, noted Dr Woo.

"Compared to ordinary times, the Covid-19 pandemic represents a baptism by fire that requires significantly higher levels of policy leadership than usual," he said.

Nanyang Technological University political analyst Felix Tan said Mr Wong would have to make the best use of his time to galvanise support and resources to form a strong team.

Associate Professor Chong Ja Ian, a political science professor at NUS, added: "Mr Wong's main challenges would be to navigate an increasingly uncertain world, as Singapore tries to exit Covid-19 and manage the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. All these will also occur against the backdrop of intensifying US-China competition."













Lawrence Wong as 4G leader: Political succession back on track
By Grace Ho, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2022

When Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza in February implored the ruling People's Action Party to quickly decide on who Singapore's next prime minister will be, Facebook comments - some of which were, of course, trolling - ranged from "calm down" and "cannot wait ah", to "drag any longer will be 5G".

Well, the wait is over.

In a statement released on Thursday (April 14), Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was named the leader of the 4G team. He had, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, "overwhelming support" among the ministers.

Leading up to this had been a series of articles in the local and foreign press about when the announcement would take place - at the end of the year, and ahead of the party conference, they said (too late).

Others parsed the recent social media presence of the two ministers widely regarded to be the front runners, Mr Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung (new TikTok videos!).


But in the end, the passing of the baton was largely uneventful.

It took the form of a simple two-page statement explaining the consultation process.

It stressed the "continuity and stability of leadership" that are the hallmarks of the Singapore system.

And in a nod to meritocratic ideals - ideals which have been hotly debated amid the leadership transition - it said that the ministers recognise that the right to lead "cannot be inherited", and that Mr Wong and his younger team will continue to justify Singaporeans' trust and support.

Everyone loves a horse race. In the coming days, even months, there will be pundits who will tell Singaporeans if the horse they bet on won or lost - and if the winning horse will continue its winning streak.

Questions which will certainly be raised and debated over, with many views all round: What was the list of reasons why Mr Wong came out on top? If and when he becomes PM, who will be his deputy or deputies? What comes next in the Cabinet changes alluded to by PM Lee?

Little turns on such speculation, so perhaps it is best recalling what Dr Shashi Jayakumar from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies told me in an interview last year.

Citing Plato's The Republic, he said the proper motive for ruling is that one is compelled to rule, lest someone worse ends up the ruler.

"Plato is not saying that the ruler who thinks he can do the job is necessarily a bad ruler," Dr Jayakumar added.

"But he is saying that the best reason for wanting to be a ruler is necessity, and not because one is grasping for it."


Mr Wong has been in politics for more than 10 years now, steadily moving up the ranks without trying too hard to draw media attention, or demonstrating the sort of one-upmanship so characteristic of political players elsewhere.

That changed though when he was thrust into the spotlight as co-chairman of the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force (MTF). The Government's handling of Covid-19 was not perfect, even rocky, at the start. Yet, over many rounds of press briefings and events, he was able to get difficult messages across calmly and persuasively.

Then, when he moved to helm Finance and stepped up to deliver a difficult Budget announcing a GST hike, it became clear he could defend policy positions in Parliament clearly and rationally, without any hesitation.

His Budget message was simple but resonant: a fair, inclusive, and green society.

He also made high-profile speeches not directly relating to his portfolio, on topics such as race and social cohesion.

Someone I know summed up his broad appeal perfectly, if bluntly: "It says something if you can come out of the MTF and Covid-19, plus Budget, without Singaporeans hating you and actually still liking you."

Now that a decision has been made, it will be up to Singaporeans to judge if the trust and support for Mr Wong and the 4G team is justified.

As Mr Wong wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday: "From the very beginning in 1959, our model of political leadership has never been about one person, but the team. Each of us contributes, complements each other, and gives of our best to Singapore.

"My colleagues in the 4G leadership have stood shoulder to shoulder with each other in the fight against Covid-19. The experience of the past two years has cemented our cohesiveness and strengthened our resolve to steward Singapore safely through this crisis and beyond."

Mr Wong has a short runway until the next general election, which must be held by November 2025. The PAP has typically held elections earlier, to pick the best timing electorally, as many incumbent parties in parliamentary systems tend to do.

Will 3½ years be enough for him to cement his support among the general population, as well as in his own Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC?

What other challenges - both domestic and global - will he face? Can he cope with the high expectations and changing demands of Singaporean voters?

I don't have a crystal ball to predict the future. But I will always remember how, on a day in March two years ago, I was sitting in the gallery in Parliament as Mr Wong was speaking, and thanking front-line workers.

The scourge of Covid-19 was new then, and it was spreading through the world like wildfire.

Midway through his speech, there was a pause, a wobble in the voice. Then he broke down. Trying to hold back his tears, he moved out of the camera frame for some time, then stepped back towards the microphone.


He drank some water.

He may have used some tissue. I remember wishing I had tissue myself. But I didn't.

So I kept my head down and continued scribbling in my notebook, thinking: Here's a political leader who shed a tear in public for those who were hurt, exhausted, and perhaps even frustrated - and then carried on with the job, even so.

I can get behind that.













A bookworm, music lover and policy wonk: PAP's new 4G leader Lawrence Wong
By Linette Lai, Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Apr 2022

A usually businesslike man who is known to be a policy wonk, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong displays a different side when handed a guitar.

In one video on the Internet, he is on stage belting out the Hokkien hit, I Ask Heaven, while plucking his six string with emotion.


It is among various clips of him performing for a live audience over the years, at parties and dinner-and-dance events.

He has performed at least twice for the annual ChildAid concert, which raises money for The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and The Business Times Budding Artists Fund.

Last Christmas, he posted on his Instagram account a clip of him at home, tapping his foot as he plays a snazzy modern rendition of Jingle Bell Rock on his electric guitar. "Playing the guitar helps me to unwind," he said. "So I have a 'jamming corner' in my room. And since it's Xmas, here's a little tune to get you in the festive mood."

His love for the instrument goes back to when he got his first guitar at the age of eight. He spent the weekends borrowing guitar books from the old Marine Parade library near his HDB home. When he got a government scholarship to the United States to study economics, his trusty guitar went along.

This is the softer side of the man who has been chosen as leader of the People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) team, paving the way for him to be Singapore's next prime minister.


Although he entered politics in 2011 and joined the front bench after being elected, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that thrust Mr Wong, 49, into the limelight.

Then the National Development Minister, he was not seen as the most obvious choice to co-chair the multi-ministry task force when it was formed in January 2020. But he impressed at media briefings with his clear explanation of policies and grasp of detail.

Then Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who had picked Mr Wong to co-chair the task force, said they worked very well together.

"It's very enjoyable talking to him because he has a very strong ability to comprehend the issues," Mr Gan said in the book In This Together: Singapore's Covid-19 Story written by The Straits Times.

"I just have to tell him a few things and he can join the dots quite quickly and understand what I was talking about."


Mr Wong - a self-professed bookworm and music lover - grew up in a flat in Marine Parade.

His late father was a salesman for Sime Darby who was born in China, moved to Malaysia and put down roots in Singapore. His mother was a teacher in Haig Boys' School, which Mr Wong and his older brother both attended.

They were raised Methodist. He remembers his mother as being a disciplinarian both in school and at home, and how that gave him "a strong sense of responsibility". It also ingrained in him the ethos of making sure he does something well once he commits to it.

In his teens, he attended Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School - which he chose because it was near his home - and later, Victoria Junior College.

Subsequently, he secured a government scholarship to read economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States. The US was home to his favourite musicians, and following in their footsteps, he went busking there with his American roommate. He has a master's degree, also in economics, from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


In 1997, he joined the civil service as an economist in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Although he had offers from the private sector early on, he turned them all down.

Mr Wong, who was divorced with no children, spent 14 years in the public service. He has since remarried and his wife is in the private sector.

He was principal private secretary to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong from 2005 to 2008, and moved to head the Energy Market Authority in 2009.

There, he oversaw the set-up of Singapore's first liquefied natural gas terminal, launched pilot projects to introduce more efficient electricity networks, and introduced a scheme to jump-start the development of electric vehicles here.

Two years later, he stepped down from the post to enter politics as the youngest of five candidates tipped to form the core of the PAP's 4G leadership.

The others were Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 61, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, 52, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, 52, and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, 53.

Mr Wong was first fielded in West Coast GRC. In 2015, he moved to stand in the new Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, where he has been anchor minister ever since.

He has held a range of portfolios, including the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth where he was appointed acting minister in 2012, and made full minister two years later. In 2015, he moved to head the National Development Ministry.

During his tenure, he drew attention to the issue of lease expiry for ageing HDB flats, by cautioning that not all old flats will be automatically eligible for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme.

He also set in motion moves to explore ways to reduce the "lottery effect" of HDB flats in prime locations like The Pinnacle@Duxton, which have materialised in the form of the Prime Location Public Housing model announced last October.

After the 2020 General Election, he was appointed Education Minister for a short 10-month stint, before succeeding Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the Finance Ministry following another Cabinet reshuffle last May.

In his first Budget speech in February 2022, Mr Wong unveiled a slew of progressive tax measures aimed at generating revenue to fund growing social spending, as well as to address inequality in Singapore.


Aside from his key finance portfolio, he has also been handed the task of fronting thorny issues for the PAP and Government.


In 2021, he was the keynote speaker at forums on race and racism in June and tribalism and identity politics in November, in a year where these issues came to the fore in Singapore through a spate of widely publicised incidents.

His June speech in particular was lauded in some circles for presenting a more forward-thinking and progressive approach than usual to an often contentious topic.

Then, he pledged that the Government would continue to engage Singaporeans and update its policies on race and racial harmony.

"No community has gotten everything it wanted, but collectively, we have achieved more together than what we would have otherwise by just focusing on our individual agendas," said Mr Wong.

As Cabinet ministers go, he had kept a relatively low profile. But the Covid-19 pandemic changed all that, and burnished his image as a clear communicator who could handle crises.

His emotions, however, got the better of him at one point when he addressed Parliament on March 25, 2020. He had to choke back tears as he hailed front-line workers and unsung heroes for their help in fighting the virus.

"The speech in Parliament took me by surprise too, because I didn't go in thinking that I would break down," he said later. "I hardly break down, but I suppose you never know, right? When the emotion overwhelms you, you can't stop it."

In a Facebook post on Thursday (April 15), he noted how the pandemic had cemented the cohesiveness of the PAP's 4G leadership team and strengthened its resolve to steward Singapore through the crisis and beyond.

The PAP's model of political leadership has never been about one person, but the team, he said, adding: "Each of us contributes, complements each other, and gives of our best to Singapore."













'I've never hankered for post, position or power': Read PAP's 4G leader Lawrence Wong's speech
The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

The People's Action Party's new fourth-generation (4G) leader Lawrence Wong outlined his guiding principles and the challenges ahead at a press conference on Saturday (April 16). Here is the Finance Minister's opening speech:

Throughout my life, I've never hankered for post, position or power. I've always been realistic about my own abilities and strengths. My philosophy in life, instilled by my parents from young - is that whatever task I'm assigned, I will give off my best. And if my best falls short - as it surely will from time to time - I try to learn, and I strive to improve, and do better.

So I have never gone out looking for additional work, but somehow the work finds me. Over the last 25 years in public service, my duties and responsibilities have kept on growing.

It is like what happened two years ago when I was in MND (Ministry of National Development), and DPM (Deputy Prime Minister) called me out of the blue.

He asked, "Have you heard about the virus in Wuhan, and before I knew it, I was co-chairing the MTF (Covid-19 multi-ministry task force) with Gan Kim Yong.


Now I will be taking on what would possibly be the biggest responsibility of my life. I am under no illusions about the demands of the job. It will get more challenging with greater political contestation and the growing desire for diversity in Parliament. And as PM said in Parliament recently, we do not assume that the PAP will win the next general election. Every GE from now on will be about which party will form the Government - not just how many seats the opposition wins or what percentage of the votes the ruling party gets.

Knowing full well that we will have to earn the right of leadership, I will continue with the same principles that have guided me all these years, which is to give of my best, to engage and listen, and to learn and improve continually.

And as I have repeatedly emphasised, leadership, and political leadership is never about one person, it's always about the entire team. Even a giant like Mr Lee Kuan Yew had a team. The same was true for Mr Goh Chok Tong, and now PM Lee. He has SM (Senior Minister) Teo, SM Tharman, and many others. So much more the case will be with me.

I need each and every one of the 4G team - the ministers, the SMSes, the MOSes, the parl-secs and the MPs. As a team that has have worked together to fight Covid-19 these past two years, we have gelled and grown closer together as a team. I believe we have strengthened our bonds with Singaporeans too through this crisis of a generation, and the bonds among Singaporeans have also been strengthened by the crisis.

In some societies, the crisis depleted social capital and weakened political trust. In Singapore, I think we have dealt with the crisis in such a way as to add to our social capital and strengthen political trust, and I am very grateful for that.


But beyond this crisis, there will be many more challenges ahead of us, especially as we enter a more complex, volatile and unpredictable world. We need to get through this pandemic and the pressing economic challenges we are facing today. And we must work hard to build a better Singapore tomorrow.

We can overcome all of these challenges only as a strong and united team with a single-minded focus to serve Singapore and Singaporeans. And that is why I value the contributions from everyone in the team, including our broader team of hardworking and dedicated party activists.

I look forward to bringing in more people to join our cause, to contribute in different ways and help strengthen our team. And of course, I will continue to benefit from the advice and guidance of our seniors, especially PM and our two SMs.

I look forward to working closely with everyone to take the PAP and Singapore forward, and to earn the trust and support of each and every Singaporean.










'Leadership is never about one person': Lawrence Wong on challenges ahead for PAP 4G team
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

The successor to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he has never hankered for post, position or power, but instead has aimed to do his best in whatever task he has been assigned.

"I will give of my best and if my best falls short, as it surely will from time to time, I try to learn and I strive to improve and do better," said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.

At an Istana press conference on Saturday (April 16) on his selection as the leader of the ruling People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) team, Mr Wong promised that he will continue to be guided by these principles as he takes on what he called "possibly the biggest responsibility" of his life.


"My philosophy in life, instilled by my parents from young, is that whatever task I'm assigned, I will give of my best... I have never gone out looking for work, additional work, but somehow the work finds me."

Mr Wong pledged to engage with and listen to Singaporeans as the Government meets the challenges of an uncertain and volatile world.

He also emphasised that political leadership is never about one person. "Even a giant like Mr Lee Kuan Yew had a team.

"The same was true for Mr Goh Chok Tong and now PM Lee who has SM (Senior Minister) Teo, SM Tharman and many others."

Mr Wong said: "I need each and every one of the 4G team."


At the press conference, PM Lee said a key part of the PAP's leadership renewal process is choosing someone who can bring the team together and get the best out of each member.

He had advised ministers that this quality is a major consideration, especially in this renewal, given that the world is getting more complicated and Singapore's challenges more multifarious.

"You must maximise the abilities and the experiences and the instincts of people from a wide range of backgrounds and get them to work together so that you have an outstanding result which no single person can deliver," he said .

"It's always been like that, but much more so now. Even with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, he had a core team of ministers who helped him achieve many of the things which Singapore did: Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr Rajaratnam, Lim Kim San. Without them, much less would have been done," added PM Lee.

Drawing on a football analogy, Mr Lee said an effective prime minister must be able to trust and rely on his ministers, who in turn must be team players who support their leader and the team.

"They all have to help the team to score goals collectively for Singapore," he said. "So if it means passing the ball to somebody else who can head it in, you must be willing to do that.

"And that's how the team has to work, and that's how Singapore cabinets have worked and been able to deliver results."

Mr Lee noted that this is not the case in many other countries, where rivalries and internal politics occupy the pages of their newspapers.

"These destructive dynamics, all these years we have avoided them and that's been a very important factor in the PAP's success and in Singapore's success," he said. "And for Singapore's sake, we must ensure that the PAP Government always continues to work like this."

Mr Wong said that as leader of the 4G team, he will do his best to ensure that the contributions from the entire team will be greater than the sum of its individual parts.

"This is what Singaporeans can expect from me and my team: that collectively, we will always do our best for our people and our nation," he said.

The 4G team has not only gelled and grown closer having fought Covid-19 together, but also strengthened its bonds with Singaporeans, said Mr Wong.

"In some societies, the crisis depleted social capital and weakened political trust. In Singapore, I think we have dealt with the crisis in such a way as to add to our social capital and strengthen political trust and I am very grateful for that," he said.

But many more challenges lie ahead that will require a strong and united team with a single-minded focus on serving Singapore and Singaporeans, he added.


Mr Wong said his team will have its work cut out for them, including the immediate tasks of getting through the pandemic and dealing with the economic challenges arising from the war in Ukraine, such as the threat of more persistent inflation and weaker growth.

Beyond these immediate challenges, the ones on the horizon include how to better position Singapore for a post-pandemic future that looks volatile and uncertain, he added.

In delivering this year's Budget, Mr Wong had framed the Government's measures as a first step in a multi-year plan to renew and strengthen Singapore's social compact for this new future.

Mr Wong said on Saturday that the 4G ministers had been discussing these issues and have some ideas on the additional steps the Government might want to take on this front.

"We do intend to engage the public later on and comprehensively review our policies to see what needs to be adjusted and improved," he said.

"So this will be a major agenda for the 4G team."

Mr Wong said he is under no illusions about the demands of the job, and that governing Singapore will get more challenging, with greater political contestation and Singaporeans' growing desire for diversity in Parliament.

He pledged that the 4G team will continue working hard to win the trust and support of the electorate, and that the Government will connect with the people to "develop new ideas that will resonate with Singaporeans, and especially with a new generation of Singaporeans".

"I fully recognise the growing diversity of experiences and perspectives amongst Singaporeans, and I would like every Singaporean to know and feel that they will always have a stake in our society, even as we chart our new way forward, together," he said.

"And as leader of the team, that will be the approach, the attitude and the spirit I adopt."










Lawrence Wong's deputy will be decided later by him, says PM Lee
By Goh Yan Han, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

The decision on who will be Mr Lawrence Wong's deputy will be made later by him in due course, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (April 16).

He was speaking at a press conference at the Istana two days after Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, 49, was named the leader of the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) team, following a consultation exercise led by former party chairman Khaw Boon Wan.


PM Lee said the exercise was to choose the leader of the 4G team.


"And in due course, Lawrence will decide who will be his deputy and who will be in his core team. And I hope he and his colleagues will work hard to identify and induct more promising leaders into the team to build up the 5G team for Singapore," PM Lee said.

Mr Wong will be Singapore's next prime minister if the PAP is voted into power at the next general election, said PM Lee.

When current Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat was selected to be the 4G team's leader in 2018, he had asked then Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing to be his deputy. Mr Heng stepped aside from this role last year to pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country when PM Lee retires.

On the question of choosing a prime minister's deputy, PM Lee said the party had gone about this in different ways.

When it came to selecting Singapore's second prime minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong was clearly identified as Mr Lee Kuan Yew's successor when Mr Goh was made first deputy prime minister. Mr Ong Teng Cheong was second deputy prime minister.

"In my case, the ministers settled on me and, later on, I appointed deputy prime ministers, a series of them," PM Lee said.

"In the case of Mr Heng Swee Keat and Mr Chan Chun Sing, on that occasion, the ministers who caucus, who were involved, thought that they wanted to have a pairing and that would be the best choice."


During the press conference, Mr Wong was asked about how the 4G team was working together, especially over the past year, and what were its strengths and weaknesses.

Mr Wong said everyone on the team brought with them unique capabilities and strengths. Some come from the public sector with exposure to policy work, and others are from the private sector with different perspectives and ideas.

"I value this diversity in our team greatly. And you see this not just in the 4G team, but also in our team of elected MPs. They have their own constituencies, but they champion a range of important causes and issues," he said.

"So collectively, we have a strong team and I will continue to work on strengthening the team. And amidst this diversity, in the end, it is about all of us working together."

He added that as the leader of the team, he will do his best to ensure that contributions from the entire team will be greater than the sum of the individual parts.

"So this is what Singaporeans can expect from me and my team - that collectively, we will always do our best for our people and our nation."



















Three weeks, 19 leaders interviewed: Khaw Boon Wan details how Lawrence Wong was picked as PAP's 4G leader
By Hariz Baharudin, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

Former minister Khaw Boon Wan started sounding out the ministers on their pick of the People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth-generation (4G) leader after the ministerial budget debates concluded in March.

Giving details of how he went about his work at a press conference on Saturday (April 16), the former PAP chairman said he spoke to the ministers individually and each interview took up to an hour. The whole process took three weeks.


The former minister said that when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong asked him to take charge of the process, PM Lee told him to find a way to bring the team together while doing so.

"He stressed that we approach this choice in the right spirit. We are trying to make a very consequential choice: who would be best able to unite the team, make the most of the different strengths of the ministers, provide the leadership to both the team and to Singapore, and give ourselves the best chance of continuing to succeed," said Mr Khaw.

He added: "PM told me that my task was not only to ascertain who has the strongest support from the ministers, but to do so in such a way as to foster a consensus and bring the team together.

"I therefore took a team-building approach to facilitate forthright and candid discussions of each potential candidate's strengths and weaknesses. Our overriding objective is to promote unity, and to ensure a strong 4G team to lead Singapore forward."

Mr Khaw spoke to Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, who were former 4G ministers; and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as well as the following ministers: Dr Ng Eng Hen, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Mr K. Shanmugam, Mr Gan Kim Yong, Mr S. Iswaran, Ms Grace Fu, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Lawrence Wong, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Mr Ong Ye Kung, Mr Desmond Lee, Mrs Josephine Teo, Ms Indranee Rajah, Dr Maliki Osman, Mr Edwin Tong and Dr Tan See Leng.

During the interviews, Mr Khaw assured them of full confidentiality and told them that only the overall results and anonymised findings of the discussions would be shared with only those who needed to know them.

He took the leaders through key political leadership attributes in order to encourage them to make a considered and dispassionate decision.

They were asked for their views on their preferred choice, other than themselves, and to rank their potential candidates in order of preference.


Mr Khaw said the leaders were emphatic in wanting to pick someone with unquestionable commitment to Singapore, who inspires trust in Singaporeans, colleagues and MPs, who has the backs of his colleagues and is most able to unite them to serve the nation.

Asked who they will choose as their leader, bearing in mind the need for the leader to bring others together and to win elections, 15 of the 19 voted for Finance Minister Lawrence Wong as their top choice. None of the other choices for the 4G leader received more than two votes.


Asked to give details of how the voting went, Mr Khaw said that there was already a clear outcome on who the next 4G leader is.

"Now that we have a clear outcome, there is really no need for me to discuss who was the second or the third choice. Suffice to say that Lawrence was the first choice of an overwhelming majority," he said.













Process of selecting 4G leader was thorough, carefully deliberated: PM Lee
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

Former minister Khaw Boon Wan was tapped to facilitate the selection of the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) leader, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and other ministers wanted the process to be systematic and thorough.

Explaining why the process of picking Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, 49, as 4G leader differed from that of previous generations, PM Lee said the party had sought to do so in a way "which encourages candour, introspection and objectivity, yet without impairing mutual relationship and trust amongst the team".

Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong was chosen by his peers to lead the PAP's second-generation team at an informal meeting after the 1984 election, while a group of ministers decided on PM Lee as the third-generation leader at a lunch.

Disclosing these details on Saturday (April 16) at a press conference, PM Lee said: "People must be able to speak honestly to express their views of the strengths and weaknesses of the different potential candidates and speak frankly: What do they worry about? What do they feel comfortable about? Whom they would like to support? But do it in such a way that the views can be put together.

"If there are different views and different concerns, then their concerns can be surfaced without it being personalised - an "I like you" and "I do not like you" matter.

"And then people can think it over again, and maybe reconsider their conclusion, but we want you to be in a collected, dispassionate, almost Zen state of mind, when you said I think for Singapore, this is the best choice, putting aside personal preferences, ambitions and biases."


PM Lee said this was the third time that the party's leaders were going through the process, which was done in different ways previously.

With Mr Goh's selection process in the 1980s, a small group of at most six ministers had met after the 1984 election "very informally, and had made the decision", he said.

Recounting how he was selected, PM Lee said the decision had been settled over a lunch hosted by then Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng. This time, it was a larger group of ministers involved, though not all of them made the decision.

"I was very moved that everybody felt that it was a straightforward matter, and then we came to a conclusion very quickly," he said.

Most recently, when it came to the turn of the 4G team to choose their leader, PM Lee said he wanted a more systematic process: "We felt that a more systematic way of doing this, rather than all sit down and then we nod our heads politely, is to have a process, and we concluded that Mr Khaw Boon Wan is the best person to lead the process."


Fundamentally, the intent was to bring everybody together and reach a choice of a new leader in a way that fosters consensus and trust, and helps this person to consolidate his standing and build his team as well as his ability to lead Singapore forward, PM Lee added.

As a former PAP chairman, Mr Khaw knows all of the ministers and also has their trust, explained PM Lee in Mandarin.

On accepting the task, Mr Khaw then thought over how he would approach the process and decided on speaking to the stakeholders individually.

This included all the Cabinet ministers - excluding PM Lee and Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam - and also labour chief Ng Chee Meng as well as Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin.

PM Lee said Mr Ng was involved because it was important to consider the views of the National Trades Union Congress. And Mr Ng - like Mr Tan - had been involved in the previous decision involving Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Mr Heng, 61, had stepped aside as the leader of the 4G team last year to pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country.

At the press conference, Mr Lee was also asked about why there was a difference between the selection process for Mr Heng and Mr Wong. When the team selected Mr Heng to lead, the process had involved office-holders as well, not just ministers.


To this, PM Lee said Mr Heng had opted for a more inclusive process that entailed getting support from the ministers of state and other office-holders before going to the caucus of PAP MPs.

This time round, only the Cabinet ministers were involved, as they - along with the prime minister who is first among equals - have collective responsibility for governing Singapore, he noted.

The decision was subsequently presented to PAP MPs, including office-holders, who supported it, PM Lee said. "And of course, I and the two Senior Ministers have also strongly supported the choice."


"The senior Cabinet members and myself will guide and advise the younger team as we transition towards the new leadership. I wish Lawrence and his team the very best in carrying Singapore forward."










Whether Lawrence Wong will lead PAP in next GE to be decided later: PM Lee
By Lim Min Zhang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (April 16) that whether he or the new leader of the PAP's fourth-generation (4G) team, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, will lead the ruling party in the next general election is a decision to be made later.

PM Lee was speaking at a press conference at the Istana two days after he announced that Mr Wong was selected as his successor in a process involving Cabinet ministers and members of the 4G team.


PM Lee said: "I will discuss with Lawrence and we will decide later what the best strategy is for us to fight the next general election.

"Whether it is for me to hand over to him first, he consolidates, he leads into the next election as leader of the 4G team and will be in charge after the next election; or I go into the next election leading the PAP, fight the next election, and if we win, after that, Lawrence takes over and then the 4G team goes forward."

He added: "It will depend on how things evolve and is something which we’ll decide later on. Either way, our plan is for Lawrence to be the next PM if the PAP wins the next GE. That has been settled."

The next general election must be held by November 2025.

PM Lee said the political succession process will be done carefully and deliberately.


PM Lee had previously said he wanted to relinquish his current post before he turned 70 on Feb 10 this year. He later said he would stay on to see Singapore through the Covid-19 pandemic.


Mr Wong - who was at the press conference along with retired minister Khaw Boon Wan, who conducted the 4G leader selection consultation process - said that the PAP does not assume that it will win the next general election.

"Every GE from now on will be about which party will form the government, not just how many seats the opposition wins or what percentage of the votes the ruling party gets," he said.

He added that the demands of his new role will get more challenging with greater political contestation and the growing desire for diversity in Parliament.


"But for now, I will need time to consolidate, to discuss with the team to see what steps we might take, how we would like to organise ourselves to tackle all the pressing challenges," he added.

Mr Wong said he was fully aware that PM Lee would like to hand over to him as soon as he is ready and the Prime Minister has told him this more than once.

"I will bear that in mind as I embark on my new responsibilities.

"I would say this is also the value of our approach to leadership succession, which is that when we seek to renew the mandate, we do so with the strongest possible team that is ready to take on the mantle of leadership. This is how we ensure continuity and stability in our system," said Mr Wong.










Lawrence Wong as 4G leader: What we know and don't know yet about Singapore's political succession
By Grace Ho, Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2022

Before the media conference on Saturday (April 16) on the choice of Mr Lawrence Wong to helm the People’s Action Party’s fourth-generation (4G) leadership, three questions some Singaporeans might have had were:

- Who, and how many, in the Cabinet voted for and against the choice of Finance Minister Wong?

- Why was former PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan needed to facilitate the process of choosing the next 4G leader - and how was the approach different from the one used to select the 2G and 3G leaders?

- Will it be Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong or Mr Wong leading the ruling party in the next general election, and when will it be held?


Answers from the conference at the Istana to the first two questions were clear; the third, less so.

On the first two, the general thrust of Mr Khaw’s reply was this: The process had to not only ascertain who had the strongest support from the ministers, but also do so in such a way as to foster a consensus and bring the team together.

The 19 leaders Mr Khaw spoke to were all the Cabinet ministers, excluding PM Lee and the two senior ministers, and included Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, both former 4G ministers.

Each was interviewed separately over the past month after the Budget debate in March. They were asked for their preferred choice - other than themselves - and had to rank potential candidates in order of their preference.

Contrast this with the process for Mr Goh Chok Tong. A small group of ministers met informally after the 1984 elections, in what former senior minister S. Jayakumar described in his book Governing: A Singapore Perspective, as a “coffee/orange juice session at (then minister Tony Tan’s) home”.

In PM Lee’s case, some time in mid-2004, then Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng organised a lunch among ministers at his office, and the matter was settled over lunch as everyone felt it was straightforward.

The subtext to the first question, really, was this: Was there disagreement among the ministers to the extent that a neutral “mediator” such as Mr Khaw was needed?

Well, the numbers do not bear this out, since 15 out of 19 chose Mr Wong as their preferred leader.

Some will, of course, speculate over who did not. Mathematically, this would be three of them, since Mr Wong could not vote for himself.

But let’s not forget the bigger picture: 15 out of 19 is an overwhelming majority of 79 per cent, way above the traditional supermajority benchmark of two-thirds. None of the other names garnered more than two votes.

And when this was presented both to the Cabinet and the caucus, everyone unanimously agreed and supported the choice of Mr Wong.


The process stemmed from a desire to find a more systematic and thorough way that would encourage candour, introspection and objectivity, without impairing mutual relationship and trust among the team.

Here, it is worth citing more fully what PM Lee said: “People must be able to speak honestly to express their views of the strengths and weaknesses of the different potential candidates and speak frankly… then their concerns can be surfaced without it being personalised…

“We want you to be in a collected, dispassionate, almost Zen state of mind, when you said, I think for Singapore, this is the best choice, putting aside personal preferences, ambitions and biases. We felt that a more systematic way of doing this rather than all sit down, and then we nod our heads politely, is to have a process.”

Already, some netizens are saying that the party is “ownself support ownself”.

But think about the last time you and I “nodded our heads politely” in a meeting room full of people, because we felt the pressure to agree with the majority.

Then you and I can perhaps begin to understand why the process is actually fair and sensible.

Anonymised findings? Check. Objective assessment of key political leadership attributes? Check.

If this wasn’t to determine the next 4G leader, it could have been a properly conducted performance appraisal, paired with a 360-degree assessment where peer feedback is actively solicited and thereafter anonymised.

So one should not confuse form and process - of which there has been variation through the years - with function, which has always been to coalesce a team that will make sure Singapore continues to do well.

The answer to the third question - who will lead the PAP into the next general election - is less clear.

For previous generations of leaders, the issue of a successor was settled early on, to allow them a clear runway and period of understudy as deputy prime minister - a runway which both PM Lee (1990-2004) and Mr Goh (1985-1990) had.

Mr Wong has a shorter runway of up to 3.5 years, with the next general election due in November 2025 and more likely to be held before then.


The only thing certain at this point is that he is slated to be the next PM, if all goes according to the PAP’s plans. But a few things could throw a spanner in the works.

A sudden downward turn in the Ukraine crisis - and any other crisis, or black swan event, for that matter - could make the domestic and global situation so untenable that a speedy transition, even if desired, would be difficult.

Or the PAP may not win the next general election (GE), or not win it convincingly.

As Mr Wong said, it will get more challenging with greater political contestation and the growing desire for diversity in Parliament. “Every GE from now on will be about which party will form the Government, not just how many seats the opposition wins or what percentage of the votes the ruling party gets.”

PM Lee had previously said he wanted to relinquish his current post before he turned 70 on Feb 10 this year. He later said he would stay on to see Singapore through the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also had this to say in 2018 about the 4G team taking shape and learning to work together: “They need a bit of time for Singaporeans to get a feel of them - not just to be known as public figures, but to be responsible for significant policies... carrying them, justifying them, defending them, adapting them, making them work, and showing that they deserve to lead.”

Obviously, the PAP’s political strategy for the next general election has to factor in more than just Singaporeans’ feelings.

But I would like to think that the 4G team Singaporeans saw in 2018 is very different from the one that they have come to know, four years on.

Week after week, month after month, they have appeared on our doorsteps, our telephones, our computer and television screens to exhort, explain and cajole.

They have conducted conversations on difficult topics, from gender to race to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning).

They have taken up policy reforms that would have been inconceivable more than a decade ago, from the broadening of social support schemes, to more pathways in education, uplifting wages and calibrating foreign manpower.

Of course, nothing is ever enough. But one only has to look around at how the rest of the world has dealt with Covid-19 and the economic downturn so far, to admit that not only has the team not dropped the ball, it has even managed to lob it over the net despite significant obstacles.


Mr Wong signalled on Saturday that more is to come: This is a first step in a multi-year plan to renew and strengthen the social compact, and comprehensively review policies to see what needs to be adjusted and improved.

He also made a clear statement of intent and guiding principles, which I think captures the zeitgeist quite well: “We will, as a team, continue to work hard to win the trust and support of every Singaporean - to create bonds and connect with them and to develop new ideas that will resonate with Singaporeans and especially with a new generation of Singaporeans.

“I fully recognise the growing diversity of experiences and perspectives amongst Singaporeans. I would like every Singaporean to know and feel that they will always have a stake in our society, even as we chart our new way forward together.”
































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