TOKYO – There is no decision yet on when exactly he will take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, but it is “a matter of time”, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Thursday.
This could happen “before or after” the next general election, which must be held by 2025, added Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister. “These are the options and we haven’t decided, but it will happen, it’s a matter of time.”
The last time he spoke publicly about succession was in August 2022.
His comments on Thursday came in response to a question by Nikkei’s chief of international news Shigesaburo Okumura, who was moderating a dialogue at the 28th Future of Asia forum by the Japanese media giant. The conference was attended by business leaders, academia and the media.
Mr Wong quipped that the succession timeline has been a “favourite question” from the media, but he said he has been preoccupied with domestic issues relating to the economy and a review of social policies.
He has also been stepping up engagements overseas, he added, noting that he is in Japan for the second time in May. He had earlier attended the Group of Seven finance ministers’ meeting in Niigata, with Singapore invited as a guest country.
Mr Wong also fielded questions about integrated resorts (IRs) and Singapore’s exclusion from the United States’ Summit for Democracy, which was held twice and involved more than 100 nations.
On IRs, Japan in April had finally given its first green light for a new development in Osaka after years of political impasse.
Mr Wong said that Singapore’s two IRs – Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa – firmly put the Republic on the world-class entertainment map.
They enabled Singapore to reap the economic benefits of job creation and tourism. While problem gambling had been a concern, this has been successfully managed through safeguards.
“With Osaka, we will be very happy to exchange notes and continue learning from each other’s experience,” Mr Wong said.
On Singapore’s exclusion by the US from its summit, he said: “We are comfortable with who we are, and we really do not need external parties or external events to validate our status.
“If you ask, does Singapore have the characteristics of other Western liberal democracies, the answer is not all.
“And, in fact, we do not blindly copy what others do. We adapt and learn, and we apply and develop a model that is suitable for our own needs, our own circumstances and that model has worked so far and has delivered good outcomes.”
External surveys, he noted, have shown how Singaporeans held a high level of trust in the Government and public agencies.
While the political system has worked well, Mr Wong said: “We will continue to develop it. This system is not static. It will continue to evolve, but how it evolves will ultimately depend on Singaporeans, not external parties. We will have to determine our fate.”
He added that he was under no illusion that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) would be in power forever. If the PAP falls short and leaves voters dissatisfied, they could elect the opposition to form the new government, he noted, emphasising the party’s prerogative to focus on bread-and-butter concerns for Singaporeans such as jobs and the cost of living.
In any case, Mr Wong observed that the world is complex and “cannot be easily distilled into binary labels”.
Many countries do not appreciate having “external parties impose their values and their systems on them”, he said.
It is in this environment, he added, that Singapore’s lodestar has been taking a consistent and principled approach in its world view.
He noted that Singapore has condemned and sanctioned Russia for its war on Ukraine. He said this was because the invasion went against Singapore’s key principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“We do not choose countries, we choose principles,” he said.
“We hope that through our consistent actions, everyone knows what Singapore stands for. You may disagree with us – and that’s fine because there will always be differences in views from different countries.
“But through our consistent, predictable and principled actions, we hope that we can be a more reliable and trusted partner to countries everywhere around the world.”