New Singapore PM to ensure continuity

2024-04-17 China Daily Editor:Li Yan

Incoming Singapore prime minister Lawrence Wong is expected to provide policy continuity as he leads the country's fourth-generation leadership team, analysts say.

However, they said Wong may also need to rethink Singapore's economic and foreign policies as the city-state is facing domestic and external challenges, including the rising cost of living and the changing international scenario.

Current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Monday that he would relinquish his office on May 15 to Wong, the current deputy prime minister and finance minister.

The new prime minister will be sworn in at 8 pm that day at the Istana, Singapore's presidential palace.

Lee's announcement did not surprise observers as he had said as early as November last year that he would hand over the leadership of the ruling People's Action Party to Wong within 12 months.

Bilveer Singh, an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, said Singapore is a "very conservative country".

"We believe in continuity. The political culture here is 'if it ain't broke, why fix it'," Singh said, noting the party has been in power for 60 years.

Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at French investment bank Natixis, said Wong's appointment is "positively received", especially when viewed in terms of meritocracy in Singapore.

But she noted that Singapore is going through some difficulties like rising inflation and higher property prices. "The new leadership will need to rethink Singapore's (economic) model," Garcia-Herrero said.

Garcia-Herrero said Singapore may also need to get closer to member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, especially with its closest neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia.

'Steady pair'

Mustafa Izzuddin, a senior international affairs analyst at Solaris Strategies Singapore, said Wong's appointment means Singapore will have "a safe and steady pair of hands" that can navigate the country through "turbulent geopolitical waters while keeping the domestic social compact intact".

He said Wong is respected in the ASEAN region and is a distinguished figure in the countries that matter greatly to Singapore: China, India and the US.

James Chin, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Tasmania in Australia, said the biggest challenge to Singapore in the coming years is a "rising China and the resurgence of the West trying to stop China".

Chin said this has a huge impact on Singapore as it always tries to balance its relations between China and the United States.

In a message posted on his social media account, Lee asked all Singaporeans to give Wong and his team their "full support and work with them to create a brighter future for Singapore".

Wong said he is "honored to be asked to undertake this new responsibility" and that he is accepting this responsibility "with humility and a deep sense of duty".

Lee, 72, is the eldest son of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who is widely credited with the country's transformation into an industrialized nation. Lee Hsien Loong had planned a leadership transfer before his 70th birthday but postponed the move because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mustafa of Solaris said while Singapore's system of governance is unlikely to change, Wong's leadership style may deviate from his predecessor. He expects Wong to be "more attuned" to the younger generation of Singaporeans.

In October 2023, Wong launched The Forward Singapore road map which aims to create a more equitable and thriving Singapore under the fourth-generation team's leadership. Wong said then that the "Singapore Dream" has gone beyond, attaining material success, with Singaporeans also aspiring for "fulfillment, meaning and purpose in what we do".

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