Tuesday 16 April 2024

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to hand over leadership to Lawrence Wong on 15 May 2024

It marks Singapore's long-planned leadership transition to 4G political team
PM Lee to stay on as Senior Minister; any major Cabinet changes will come after General Election: Lawrence Wong
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2024

Singapore 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 (PMO) on April 15, a key detail in Singapore’s long-planned leadership transition from the third-generation to the fourth-generation (4G) political team.

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

In a video message put up shortly after the announcement, DPM Wong said he had never expected to be asked to serve as prime minister one day when he first agreed to enter politics in 2011.

“I accept this responsibility with humility and a deep sense of duty. I pledge to give my all in this undertaking,” he said.

“Every ounce of my energy shall be devoted to the service of our country and our people. Your dreams will inspire my actions, your concerns will guide my decisions.”

PM Lee said on his social media pages that 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.”

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

DPM Wong, who is 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 (PAP) 4G team.

Before DPM 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 PM Lee. Mr 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 leadership 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, was also what helped DPM Wong come into prominence, pundits had said.

As co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, DPM Wong had been front and centre in Singapore’s fight against the pandemic, along with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong.

His assured manner during the task force’s many media 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 front-line workers during a speech in Parliament at the height of the crisis.

PM 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, DPM 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.

Amid this, Singapore is restructuring its economy for the future.

While there have been positive signs that Singapore’s economy will do better in 2024 than it did last year, more layoffs are expected due to rising costs and greater automation. Overall growth for 2024 is projected to be between 1 per cent and 3 per cent.

In many developed countries, rising inequality and slowing mobility have also divided people, and a key plank of the 4G team’s agenda has to do with strengthening bonds between people through sports, the arts and philanthropy in order to build national resilience.

With DPM 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 (GE).

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

DPM 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 handover announcement sparked an outpouring of tributes from both political office-holders and backbencher MPs on PM Lee’s two decades as head of government. Many, like DPM Heng, reflected on PM Lee’s role in building a Singapore that is cohesive and future-oriented.

PM Lee will relinquish his role on May 15, and is required under the Constitution to inform President Tharman Shanmugaratnam of his decision to step aside.

He will also formally advise the President to appoint DPM Wong as his successor, said the PMO.

At the PAP convention in November 2023, PM Lee had said he will be at the new prime minister’s disposal after he steps down.

Giving an indication of his possible next steps, he had said: “I will go wherever he thinks I can be useful. I will do my best to help him and his team to fight and win the next GE. I want to help him to fulfil his responsibilities leading the country so that Singapore can continue to succeed beyond me and my 3G colleagues, for many years to come.”

‘Quiet wisdom and a steady hand’: Tributes pour in for outgoing PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Christie Chiu, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2024

Over his 20-year tenure as Singapore’s third prime minister, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong developed a reputation for being a sharp and demanding leader with clear views and strong convictions.

But he is also known for his integrity and fairness, as well as his care and empathy for Singaporeans.

These attributes were reflected in tributes that poured in for PM Lee after news broke on April 15 that he would be stepping down from office.

Political office-holders and backbench MPs took to Facebook to pen bittersweet goodbyes to PM Lee, even as they welcomed Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who will be taking over the baton come May 15.

From how PM Lee guided Singapore through issues such as Covid-19 and the global financial crisis, to his hand in maintaining the country’s unity during times of societal fragmentation and the strides the nation has made under his stewardship, many PAP MPs remember the Prime Minister as a visionary leader who has left an indelible mark on Singapore’s history.

Selflessly dedicated and a hands-on leader

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat recalled the many episodes of uncertainties Singapore has had to navigate over the past two decades, such as the global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and today’s fractured geopolitical environment.

Through all this, PM Lee remained selflessly dedicated to the country, leading with “quiet wisdom and a steady hand”.

His generous service, DPM Heng said, has allowed Singapore to stand out – at a time when societies are growing more fragmented – as “a beacon of openness and collaboration amid a more reticent global environment”.

Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Communications and Information as well as Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity, agreed. She recounted how PM Lee led the Solidarity Walk in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

She also said PM Lee is a hands-on leader who was able to engage in Singapore’s technological conversations with his exceptional grasp of mathematics, economics, science and technology.

But more than that, his efforts to understand such nuances were a source of inspiration to those under his stewardship.

Mrs Teo said: “It helps our professional teams to know that we have a leader who is interested in their work, who understands its difficulties and believes in helping them get things right.

“It helps visitors see that we are a serious-minded country, committed at all levels to deep understanding of issues and not prone to go along with hype.”

PM Lee has also pushed Singapore to expand its scope of involvement in various environmental issues, said Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment as well as Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

Under his leadership, she said, her ministry has expanded its work to embrace a comprehensive sustainable development model where economic progress is achieved with environment protection and resources resilience.

She added that he has been a “strong sponsor and champion” of ministry policies that prioritise issues such as climate action and the circular economy, as well as food and water security.

Nation-building foresight

Stable leadership and the ability to plan long term have always been among Singapore’s biggest assets – a tradition that PM Lee has continued, said Mr Vikram Nair, an MP for Sembawang GRC.

Beyond laying the foundations for Singapore’s protection against climate change, PM Lee has also consistently endeavoured to implement changes that will have lasting impact on citizens’ daily lives.

Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Finance Chee Hong Tat thanked PM Lee for his leadership over Singapore’s different transport sectors, which have vastly improved under his 20-year guidance.

Of the importance of the public transport system, Mr Chee said PM Lee had emphasised its role as a social equaliser, connecting people and places.

He added that PM Lee described it as “a shared experience of living in Singapore, where Singaporeans from all walks of life use public transport to go to work, school and recreation”.

This is only one of the heartfelt takeaways Mr Chee has of his time working with PM Lee to build a “stronger and better Singapore”.

He said the Prime Minister taught him to always think long term and plan for the future, “for the benefit of Singapore and Singaporeans, including future generations who are too young to vote and may not yet be born”.

Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration, concurred, adding that PM Lee “believed strongly in passing on to our children a better Singapore than we inherited”.

Mr Lee recalled how PM Lee made various moves to make public housing more affordable for Singaporeans, such as introducing means-tested housing grants in 2011 and the Standard-Plus-Prime model in 2023.

He noted that PM Lee’s belief in building a better Singapore for future generations also underpins the bold long-term land-use planning moves made in recent years, including the development of Paya Lebar, Jurong Lake District and the Greater Southern Waterfront.

“This forward-looking spirit inspires all of us to keep planning and building a future Singapore that is more vibrant, liveable, sustainable and resilient than today,” he said.

Social support

PM Lee also pushed for policies that ensured all Singaporeans had the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their socio-economic status, said Senior Minister of State for Defence and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.

In his tribute to PM Lee, Mr Zaqy said: “Today, we have broadened social safety nets, and I was privileged to have played a role when PM announced enhancements to our progressive wages policy (during National Day Rally 2021), to uplift our lower-wage workers and bridge income inequality.”

Referencing PM Lee’s 2013 National Day Rally, Mr Desmond Lee said the Prime Minister’s words about the Government and community needing to do more to support individuals “left a deep and enduring impression” on him.

“It was a rallying call for our society and nation to come together, and forge a new way forward as one.”

He witnessed this “new way forward” when PM Lee launched the ComCare Fund to provide a social safety net for lower-income Singaporeans in 2005, and again two years later when the Government rolled out the Workfare policy to top up the wages of lower-income workers.

He continued to see these support efforts throughout the years, such as in 2012 when the Progressive Wage Model was established to sustainably raise wages, and in 2015 when MediShield Life was implemented to cover costly medical bills.

Mr Lee said: “It has been my great privilege to serve under PM Lee’s leadership and stewardship of our country these past 11 years. During this time, I have had the opportunity to experience, first-hand, what PM Lee meant by the ‘new way forward’.”

A leader who listens

While the many tributes that poured in highlighted PM Lee’s formidable leadership, they also spoke highly of his gentle demeanour and the respect he has for others.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Nadia Ahmad Samdin recalled a time when she addressed the Prime Minister as “boss”, and he, in turn, smiled, referring to her as “comrade”.

Addressing PM Lee, she said: “It made me reflect on how open you have been over the years to different views, treating people from different ages and walks of life with respect.

“You seek to engage with genuine interest, never making people feel less despite your years of wisdom and how much you have shouldered for Singapore.”

She described him as someone rooted in his values, yet able to recognise that times change and is willing to listen to others, seeking to enlarge the common space.

“In an increasingly fragmented world, your steadfast disposition has built bridges, holding us together,” she added.

Minister for Education and Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing said: “Policy nous and many other things can be honed. But the most important values that PM has shown us is the critical task to keep our system clean and upright to inspire more good people to come forward and serve.

“We are thankful for PM’s leadership and service to Singapore, always putting the country and people before self.”

‘Your dreams will inspire my actions’: DPM Lawrence Wong on becoming next Prime Minister
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2024

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong has asked Singaporeans to work with him and his team to write the next chapter of the Singapore story.

In a video message posted on social media shortly after it was announced that he would be sworn in as Singapore’s fourth prime minister on May 15, DPM Wong sought the support of Singaporeans “in our shared vision as one united people”.

He said that when he agreed to enter politics in 2011, he had wanted to contribute to the Singapore story, and never expected then to be asked to serve as prime minister one day.

“I accept this responsibility with humility and a deep sense of duty.

“I pledge to give my all in this undertaking,” he said.

“Every ounce of my energy shall be devoted to the service of our country and our people. Your dreams will inspire my actions. Your concerns will guide my decisions.”

The leader of the People’s Action Party’s fourth-generation team, who spearheaded the Forward Singapore exercise to renew the social compact and has promised a partnership model of leadership, asked Singaporeans to join him in his journey.

“Share your ideas, share your passions and dreams. Walk with me and my team. Together, we can build a future that shines brightly for all Singaporeans,” he said.

“I seek your trust, your support and your continued faith in our shared vision as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion.

“We will build a democratic society based on justice and equality. Let us move forward as one Team Singapore and write the next chapter of our Singapore story.”

In a statement announcing the May 15 date for his swearing-in at the Istana, the Prime Minister’s Office said DPM Wong has the unanimous support of PAP MPs.

He will take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who will relinquish his office on the same day.

From Lee Kuan Yew to Lawrence Wong: How leadership transitions take place in Singapore
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2024

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong will be sworn in as Singapore’s fourth prime minister on May 15, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on April 15.

The Straits Times looks at how Singapore has handled transitions of power by its political leaders: From founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew to prime minister Goh Chok Tong; PM Goh to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; and now PM Lee to DPM Wong.

Lee Kuan Yew to Goh Chok Tong

1984: Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announces he wants to hand over by 1988 when he turns 65.

December 1984: Finance Minister Tony Tan organises a gathering at his home for his second-generation Cabinet colleagues to pick their leader. The group, which included Mr Ong Teng Cheong, Mr S. Dhanabalan, Professor S. Jayakumar, Dr Yeo Ning Hong, Dr Ahmad Mattar and Mr Lee Hsien Loong, decides on Mr Goh Chok Tong before he arrives.

Dec 31, 1984: Mr Goh helms a media conference at the Istana to announce a new Cabinet line-up. He is First Deputy Prime Minister, and Mr Ong is Second Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Ong says that barring any unforeseen circumstances, Mr Goh would be the next prime minister.

1988: After the 1988 General Election in September, DPM Goh says he wants another two years before he takes over.

June 13, 1990: DPM Goh says in Parliament during the debate on the President’s Address that he will take over from Mr Lee as prime minister in November. He also says he will have two deputy prime ministers.

Oct 15, 1990: DPM Goh holds a brief airport media conference before his trip to Hong Kong and announces that he will be sworn in on Nov 28.

Nov 28, 1990: PM Lee and his Cabinet step down. Mr Goh is sworn in as prime minister at the City Hall Chamber, along with his Cabinet colleagues.

Goh Chok Tong to Lee Hsien Loong

Aug 17, 2003: PM Goh names Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as his chosen successor during his National Day Rally speech. He says he has taken soundings from his Cabinet colleagues and MPs, and that Mr Lee was also their choice.

May 22, 2004: A group of 10 younger ministers unanimously nominates Mr Lee as the party’s 3G leader at a lunch hosted by Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng at the Istana.

May 31, 2004: The PAP issues a statement, saying that the party’s central executive committee had decided on May 29 that DPM Lee will be the next PM. A day earlier, on May 28, PAP MPs had met and unanimously supported the choice of DPM Lee, in an endorsement process introduced by Mr Goh.

July 17, 2004: The Prime Minister’s Office announces that DPM Lee will be sworn in as Singapore’s third prime minister on Aug 12, with PM Goh relinquishing the office on the same day.

Aug 10, 2004: PM Goh and his Cabinet, including DPM Lee, tender their resignations to President S R Nathan. The President appoints the new prime minister and his Cabinet.

Aug 12, 2004: Mr Goh’s resignation takes effect. PM Lee is sworn in and gives his maiden speech.

Aug 22, 2004: PM Lee makes his first National Day Rally speech as prime minister.

Lee Hsien Loong to Lawrence Wong

Jan 4, 2018: A statement is put out by 16 ministers from the People’s Action Party’s fourth-generation (4G) political team saying that they are “conscious of their responsibility” to choose their leader, and are working closely as a team to do so in good time.

Nov 23, 2018: In a joint statement, 32 ministers and MPs say there is a consensus and the 4G team will be led by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

April 8, 2021: DPM Heng steps aside as leader of the 4G team to pave the way for a younger person with a longer runway to lead the country. He says he will be in his mid-60s by the time the Covid-19 pandemic is over, and would have too short a runway as the next prime minister. The 4G team starts its process again to select a leader.

March 2022: Former minister Khaw Boon Wan oversees the process of finding a successor at PM Lee’s request. After the conclusion of the 2022 Budget debate, he canvasses the 4G ministers, other Cabinet ministers, the Speaker of Parliament and the labour chief, speaking to them individually, on who they would choose to lead the 4G team.

April 16, 2022: PM Lee announces Finance Minister Lawrence Wong will be the leader of the PAP’s 4G team, after 15 out of 19 of those Mr Khaw spoke to say Mr Wong is their top choice.

June 6, 2022: Mr Wong is made deputy prime minister in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Nov 5, 2023: PM Lee says he will hand over the political baton to DPM Wong before the next general election, due by November 2025. He adds that he will do so by the PAP’s 70th anniversary, which falls on Nov 21, 2024. DPM Wong says he is ready for his next assignment.

April 15, 2024: PM Lee announces DPM Wong will become Singapore’s fourth prime minister on May 15, 2024.

PM Lee to become senior minister, no major changes to Cabinet until after next GE: DPM Wong
By Linette Lai and Tham Yuen-C, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2024

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.

Additional reporting by Jean Iau

‘I stand on the shoulders of giants’: DPM Lawrence Wong pays tribute to PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Jean Iau, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 16 Apr 2024

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong thanked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on April 16 for his selfless service and contributions to the nation.

This comes a day after the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that DPM Wong will be sworn in at 8pm on May 15 at the Istana, as Singapore’s fourth prime minister.

Speaking to the media on April 16, DPM Wong started by thanking his Cabinet colleagues and fellow MPs for placing their confidence in him and choosing him to lead the team.

DPM Wong, who entered politics 13 years ago, said: “I stand on the shoulders of giants and one in particular stands out and that’s Mr Lee Hsien Loong.

“He has done so much for Singapore, especially in the last 20 years of leading our country.”

He added that during PM Lee’s tenure, Singapore’s economy has grown tremendously, and Singaporeans have enjoyed steady improvements in their incomes and standard of living.

“We have weathered through many crises and emerged stronger each time,” he said.

DPM Wong said Singapore’s international standing has also strengthened considerably, and the Singapore brand is admired and respected worldwide.

“On behalf of all Singaporeans, I thank Mr Lee Hsien Loong for his selfless service to our country and lasting contributions to Singapore.”

He added that he had asked PM Lee, who has served as prime minister since 2004, to continue serving in the Cabinet as a senior minister after the handover, which PM Lee has agreed to.

DPM Wong, who is 51, had been the presumptive next prime minister since April 2022, when his peers picked him as the leader of the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) 4G team.

At the biennial PAP convention held at Singapore Expo in November 2023, PM Lee made his intention clear that he wanted to hand over to DPM Wong by PAP’s 70th anniversary in November 2024.


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