On Sunday (20 August), during his 19th National Day Rally, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong confirmed that his succession plans are back on track” after setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.”
Speculation on PM Lee’s retirement timeline
Many are engaged in speculation that PM Lee might not be prepared to step down yet, given the circumstances of the past few years, particularly Singapore’s gradual recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, the Singaporean ruling PAP government is facing heightened scrutiny from the public. This is notably due to the emergence of controversies such as the Ridout Road saga, the arrest of Transport Minister S Iswaran, and several parliamentarians resignations prompted by extramarital affairs.
Conversely, certain netizens have pointed out that PM Lee has not provided a definitive timeline for his transition of power, leading to inquiries about when the handover will occur.
There’s also curiosity about whether PM Lee will continue to deliver speeches at the 2024 National Day Rally.
Some claim DPM Wong ‘might not be PM Lee’s preferred choice’
There is growing speculation that PM Lee’s hesitance to reveal an exact retirement timeline might stem from uncertainties about his confidence in his chosen successor, DPM Wong.
This is in contrast to his predecessor, Goh Chok Tong, who confidently provided a clear timeline for his own succession.
Echoing this sentiment, a Facebook user concurred, suggesting that Wong might not be PM Lee’s preferred choice.
This prompts wider concerns about PM Lee’s capacity to identify and cultivate effective leaders within his party.
Instances like his handling of the former Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin matter and his overall approach to party management and guidance are cited as examples of potential shortcomings in his decision-making process.
Amidst the discussions, an intriguing theory put forth by a netizen suggests that Lawrence Wong might be serving as a temporary placeholder, strategically positioned for the imminent entry of another individual, bearing the Lee surname.
PM Lee said ‘no system is perfect’
In his NDR 2023 speech, PM Lee addressed concerns about Singapore’s political system, following a wave of scandals in recent months.
He also elaborated about the importance of maintaining the trust between Singaporeans and the government to build a prosperous Singapore.
In addressing concerns over Singapore’s political system, PM Lee said that no system is perfect.
“Whether these events would be a blow to Singapore depends on how we respond,” he stated.
PM Lee promised that he and his team will do their utmost to maintain Singapore’s clean and effective political system and our reputation for incorruptibility.
Discontentment with current PAP leadership echoed by netizens
Critiques of the present People’s Action Party (PAP) leadership have surfaced online, reflecting the discontentment felt by some netizens.
One netizen’s disappointment with the current leadership is palpable. The sentiment harks back to the eras of revered figures such as the late Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, and S. Rajaratnam, individuals remembered for their dedication and public service.
This netizen voices the collective desire for leaders of their caliber, contrasting them with the perceived self-serving nature of today’s leadership.
Aligning with similar sentiments, another netizen named Siva Ram weighs in on the state of affairs, drawing a comparison between past and present Finance Ministers.
Siva Ram fondly recalls the period when Tharman Shanmugaratnam held the position of Finance Minister, suggesting that those were times of prosperity and contentment.
However, the netizen laments the subsequent transitions to Heng Swee Keat and now Lawrence Wong in this role, hinting at a perceived decline in economic circumstances.
Looking ahead to 2024, Siva Ram expresses the concerns of many citizens regarding the projected increases in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and overall living costs. This anticipation of rising financial burdens adds to the prevailing apprehension.
Another netizen, who claimed to be an elder born in the 1950s, voices a perspective contrary to the government’s practice of distributing cash.
The comment cites the current costs of vital necessities like HDB flats, food, and COEs (Certificate of Entitlement for vehicles) as evidence of the broader inflationary effects.
In a follow-up response, Siva draws attention to the older generation, pointing out that they managed without the need for government handouts.
“The key aspect is to keep everything affordable without all these extra taxes.”
Challenging the notion of high ministerial salaries as a deterrent to corruption
In response to a CNA Facebook post, a netizen reflects on a notorious statement made by a Singaporean leader, asserting that high salaries were intended to deter corruption.
However, he expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of this approach. He then proposes a bold suggestion: that all ministers consider a substantial reduction in their salaries, potentially halving them.
“Can all the ministers reduce their salaries by at least half to prove that they want to serve Singapore and it’s citizens because they want and not because of the high salary?” the netizen challenged.
Interestingly, the netizen references a statement made by Prime Minister Lee in 2020.
In July 2020, in a conversation with American philanthropist and businessman David Rubenstein and the Atlantic Council, PM Lee defended the existing system works for Singapore, despite acknowledging that it is “not uncontroversial”.
He went on to say that the Government pays the officials “according to what he (or she) is worth), as well as “according to what they are contributing”.
The Prime Minister noted that if the Government does not do that, it would compromise on the quality of the civil service.
Challenging claims of clean governance amidst recent scandals
In response to Prime Minister Lee’s assertion about the integrity of governance, a netizen expresses strong disagreement.
The netizen starkly questions how the claim of being “cleaner than clean and whiter than white” can be maintained in light of a series of recent scandals that have emerged over the past month.