Tuesday, May 28, 2024
HomesingaporePM Lee to hand over leadership to DPM Lawrence Wong by November...

PM Lee to hand over leadership to DPM Lawrence Wong by November 2024, before next General Election

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Nov 5) that he will hand over leadership to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next General Election, which has to be called by November 2025.

Shedding more light on the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) transition plans, Mr Lee – who is the party’s secretary-general – added that “if all goes well”, he will do so by the PAP’s 70th birthday on Nov 21 next year.

Mr Lee was addressing more than 1,000 party members at the biennial PAP awards and convention held at the Singapore Expo, following speeches by Mr Wong, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and several new PAP faces.

Mr Wong was endorsed as the leader of the party’s fourth-generation, or 4G, team last year after the 62-year-old Mr Heng stepped aside so that a younger leader with a “longer runway” could take over.

Mr Lee previously said he hoped to step down before his 70th birthday, which was in February 2022. However, the plan was disrupted by the pandemic.

During this year’s National Day Rally, he said his succession plans are back on track with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that recent controversies involving ministers and Members of Parliament will not delay the timetable for political renewal. He did not give a timeline then.

On Sunday, Mr Lee reiterated to PAP members that the next GE will coincide with the party’s leadership transition to the 4G team.

He noted that with Mr Wong’s endorsement as leader of the 4G team, there remains only one major decision to make: Should the handover take place before or after the next GE?

“Either I can continue to lead the party in the next GE, which would be my fifth as PM, and then hand over soon afterwards to Lawrence; or I can hand over to Lawrence before the GE, then he leads the party into the campaign, wins his own mandate, and takes the country forward with the full backing of the nation,” added Mr Lee.

He stressed that leadership transition for any country “is always tricky” and “many things can go awry”, with Singaporeans and people outside Singapore watching this development closely.

“Everything depends on the success of this third transition in our history,” Mr Lee said.

“I have thought this over carefully, discussed it thoroughly with Lawrence and the ministers, both 3G and 4G.

“Lawrence and the 4G team have been serving for many years now. They have taken on greater responsibilities, and they are preparing well to take the helm. They earned their spurs during COVID-19 and increasingly, they are setting the national agenda.”

Mr Lee also made reference to the Forward SG exercise, led by Mr Wong and other 4G political leaders, which culminated in a report released last week laying out a roadmap for a new way forward for the nation.

Mr Lee added that Mr Wong and the 4G team have “committed themselves to much hard work and many major initiatives”, while actively bringing in people to further strengthen the team.

“Lawrence has told me that he is ready, and this morning you have heard him telling you that he is ready for his next assignment. I have full confidence in Lawrence and his team and there is no reason to delay the political transition.

“Therefore, I intend to hand over to DPM Lawrence before the next GE,” said Mr Lee.

“After that, I will be at the new PM’s disposal. I will go wherever he thinks I can be useful. I will do my best to help him fight and win the next GE.

“I want to help him fulfil his responsibilities, leading the country so that Singapore can continue to succeed beyond me and my 3G minister colleagues for many, many more years to come.”

Mr Lee noted that he turned 71 this year and did not manage to pass on the baton by his 70th birthday as he hoped to do.

“So if all goes well, I will hand over by the PAP’s 70th birthday next year – it’s not my birthday, but I will borrow it for this purpose.”

PAP MUST PREPARE WELL TO FIGHT, WIN ELECTIONS

Mr Lee also spoke about the importance of preparing well to fight and win elections, aside from governing well and keeping the party clean and incorrupt.

He noted that while PAP’s policies may be working, conviction, support and votes are harder to win. Party members have to engage Singaporeans widely and help them understand how they and their families benefit from these policies, said Mr Lee.

“We have to show them what is at stake, and inspire them to fight hard for us, together with us for a better future,” he added.

“We also need to counter opposition moves to undermine the government, show them up when they are less than upfront, and defeat their tactics to create doubt and sow confusion.

“On the ground, MPs and branch chairmen and activists, you have to work with voters day after day, so that they form close personal bonds with you and identify with you and warm to you and are loyal to you.”

Mr Lee touched on PAP’s history of winning 14 GEs in a row since 1959, noting that the party was “not born dominant” after a hard fight during the first two elections in 1959 and 1963.

“Over the years we have lost some seats, but even till now the PAP has maintained a dominant position. But with each successive election, the PAP’s task has become tougher,” he cautioned.

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Singaporeans’ expectations have evolved and they expect much more from the government, with “quite a few” hoping to see more alternative voices in parliament – even though “the majority overwhelmingly agree” that PAP should continue to govern the country, Mr Lee said.

“In fact, even the opposition parties think so,” he added.

“I think it is fair to say that the PAP faces a political quandary which is unique in the world – an overwhelming majority of voters want us to form the government. In fact, they expect the PAP to form the government.

“But among those who want us to form the government, quite a significant number also want our opponents to do better.”

“MORE OPPOSITION WILL NOT MAKE FOR BETTER GOVERNMENT”

As more opposition MPs enter the fray, parliament now spends more time debating issues, Mr Lee noted.

He added that while constructive and responsible political debate is good and necessary, “not infrequently it becomes a political brawl” with the opposition trying to score political points.

“The government does its best to explain its considerations and constraints, and why the opposition’s proposals may not work. And so it goes, in a repeated cycle,” he said.

Mr Lee noted that some of this is to be expected due to the way parliamentary democracies are meant to work, but if it “goes too far and we will expend more energies debating one another, manoeuvring for political advantage, rather than tackling national issues, then the problem will go unsolved”.

“Society may well become divided, Singapore and Singaporeans will suffer. And therefore I say, having more opposition MPs doesn’t necessarily make for better government.”

Mr Lee cited countries with “mature democracies” like the US where politics have grown increasingly polarised, warning that it could happen to Singapore as well. This means that the PAP must work harder and smarter to explain to Singaporeans what is at stake, he added.

“I have been in government for 40 years now almost, and let me tell you straight: There’s no way the government could have taken the long view, could have planned for the long term, adopted tough but necessary policies, if we constantly had to worry whether we would still be there after the next elections,” Mr Lee said.

“Today’s Singapore could not have been built by a weak government hanging on to power by a slim majority, or with the governing party and policies chopping and changing after each election.”

He said that the possibility of the PAP being challenged for the position of the ruling party is always there, but the political dynamic will change if a significant fraction of Singaporeans want the PAP to be checked by the opposition and more opposition MPs are voted into parliament.

Opposition parties have told voters they do not aim to form the next government, among other things, Mr Lee further noted.

“But with lives and futures at stake, voters must worry,” Mr Lee said, urging voters to cast their ballots for the party they trust to “keep us together” and “build a Singapore fit for your kids and that will be there for their kids”.

In concluding his speech, Mr Lee grew visibly emotional as he told party members that it has been his “great fortune and honour” to serve the country throughout his adult life.

During his tenure as PM for almost two decades, he said Singapore and PAP “have been thoroughly transformed, shaped by our many trials and tribulations”.

“But some things never change. We still wear whites; we still formally address each other as comrades. We remain dedicated to Singapore and we still feel the calling to serve the people, we still have the duty to future generations to keep this island safe and secure,” Mr Lee added.

“These things have not changed under my watch, and they will not change under the 4G team.

“I ask each of you to give Lawrence and his team your full support. Help them win a strong mandate and work with them to take Singapore to greater heights.”

Also read:

PAP must improve how it communicates, highlight differences between its policies and opposition's: Lawrence Wong
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