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Commentary: Forward Singapore shows the emerging contours of 4G leadership style

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s leadership transition plan has a clearer timeline. The handover to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong will happen before the next General Election, announced Mr Lee at the People’s Action Party (PAP) biennial convention on Sunday (Nov 5).

This came shortly after the release of the government’s Forward Singapore report on Oct 27 by Mr Wong. While both the nationwide engagement exercise and PAP leadership plans have been in the works for some time, their culmination gives Singaporeans a glimpse of how the party’s fourth-generation, or 4G, team will lead.

To start, we should consider how our society has evolved in its aspirations and expectations.

Led by Mr Wong and the 4G leaders, the Forward Singapore exercise was initiated in June 2022 with the aim of refreshing Singapore’s social compact. Encompassing the views of more than 200,000 Singaporeans, the report indicated a shift in the Singapore Dream – no longer solely about material success but now includes fulfilment, meaning and purpose. 

In particular, there is a growing desire for meaning and purpose among the youth as well as increasing interest in fairness, diversity and inclusiveness in various aspects of social and economic life in Singapore.

This shift to post-material concerns should not come as too much of a surprise, given Singapore’s transformation from developing to advanced high-income economy.

Perhaps more importantly, the Forward Singapore report reflects not just societal changes the 4G leadership will have to grapple with, but also its approach to governance in this new social compact.


That the 4G leadership had initiated the Forward Singapore process in the first place is an indication of its desire to adopt a more open and consultative style. While the government has previously engaged in public consultation exercises such as Our Singapore Conversation, these had placed a stronger focus on collecting public feedback to inform policies.

In contrast, Forward SG has been pitched as the 4G leadership’s effort to refresh Singapore’s social compact. The 4G leadership’s approach to public consultation is therefore more deeply connected to its overall governing approach.  

Indeed, party members who were interviewed at Sunday’s PAP convention expect the 4G leadership to be “different from how it used to be”, involving more engagements with both the public and grassroots organisations.


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A more consultative approach to policy formulation and decision-making that aims to incorporate the views and inputs of broad segments of society makes sense, given other themes that emerged in both the Forward Singapore report and the PAP convention: Inclusiveness – from embracing learning beyond grades to empowering those in need – and consensus on how to achieve it.

Mr Wong stated his preference to “start by listening, hearing a diverse range of perspectives and views and staying open to different ideas”. He also highlighted his approach to leadership as one that emphasises common ground rather than accentuate differences.


These three elements – consultation, inclusiveness and consensus – will be important as the policy environment that Singapore faces becomes increasingly complex and the policy problems that we will need to address become increasingly wicked.

A consultative approach will allow the 4G team to not only secure citizens’ trust but, on a more pragmatic level, draw on the collective insights of Singaporean society to formulate effective and responsive policy solutions.

Inclusiveness and consensus too will become increasingly necessary as our population become increasingly diverse and their needs equally, if not more, so.

The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer report released earlier this year revealed that perceptions of civility and mutual respect has weakened significantly among Singapore residents.

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