SINGAPORE: “Succession plans are back on track” after setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong confirmed at his 19th National Day Rally on August 20.
Although he assured the nation of the renewed trajectory, he did not specify a clear timeline for this succession in his address.
Previously expressing his wish “to step down before his 70th birthday in February 2022,” the unexpected challenges of the pandemic disrupted Lee’s plans.
“I promised Singaporeans that I would see the nation through the crisis, together with both the current and the 4G leadership,” the 71-year-old Secretary-General of the People’s Action Party (PAP) declared.
He further elaborated, “Now that COVID is behind us, my succession plans are back on track.”
Addressing recent controversial headlines, including the arrest of Transport Minister S Iswaran and certain resignations within the Parliament due to extramarital affairs, PM Lee stated, “We dealt with each incident thoroughly and transparently. Let me assure you: These incidents will not delay my timetable for renewal. We are on track.”
Reflecting on the foundational values of the nation, PM Lee emphasized, “Integrity and incorruptibility are ‘fundamental’ to Singapore.”
He fondly remembered his father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s stance, noting that he had “considered these ideals as the most crucial of all.”
Recalling a poignant memory, Lee shared his father’s words during a parliament sitting on his 90th birthday: “He reminded us that Singapore must always remain clean and incorruptible, with ministers and MPs setting the example. Otherwise, he cautioned, we are finished.”
Highlighting the upcoming leadership transition, PM Lee mentioned Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, describing him and his 4G team as “increasingly setting the pace.”
In 2018, the public was informed that Mr Heng Swee Keat, a former top civil servant, had been chosen by his PAP peers as “first among equals” and was set to become Singapore’s fourth prime minister upon PM Lee’s retirement.
PM Lee, who was 66 at the time and had succeeded Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong as Prime Minister in 2004, had intended to hand over the reins of power by February 2022, his 70th birthday.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic seemed to shift the succession timeline. In July 2020, amidst Singapore’s general election, PM Lee expressed his commitment to see Singapore through the crisis and hand over the country “intact and in working order” to his successor.
By April 2021, after the PAP’s victory in the 2020 general election, Heng conveyed his intentions to stand aside. Reflecting on the severity of the pandemic, Heng commented, “I believe it’s better for someone younger, with a longer runway, to take on this role.”
Subsequently, a year later, in April 2022, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was announced as the leader of the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) fourth-generation team.
PM Lee then said in a social media post that Wong was slated to succeed him as PM, either before or after the next General Election, due in 2025, which he predicted would be “a tough fight.”
At a PAP party conference in November last year, PM Lee reiterated that Singapore’s planned political succession, aiming to see Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong become the nation’s next leader, would align with the general elections scheduled for 2025.
Given PM Lee’s strong affirmations and past shifts in succession plans, coupled with his statements from November of the previous year, Singaporeans are left to wonder if there might be any further changes in leadership transition plans after the PAP’s potential reelection.
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