No timeline yet for taking over as PM, says Lawrence Wong

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong speaks to Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait on Aug 15, 2022. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF FINANCE

SINGAPORE - A decision on when Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong will take over as prime minister has yet to be made, but work is under way to prepare for him to take over from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister, on Monday (Aug 15) sketched out two possible scenarios for when the leadership transition could take place.

In the first scenario, Mr Wong could take over as prime minister before the next general election, which must be held by November 2025. In such a case, Mr Wong said he would "clearly lead" the People's Action Party (PAP) and its fourth generation of political leaders, or 4G team, in the election.

In the second, he said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could continue to lead the party in the upcoming election, and then relinquish the position to him if the PAP wins.

Mr Wong was responding to Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait who had asked during an interview on Monday when Mr Wong might assume the role of prime minister and if it will be before the next general election.

"These are the options, but we have still yet to make a decision on the actual timing," said Mr Wong.

For now, what is most important for him is thinking about organising the team of Singapore's leaders and to become familiar with his own expanded role, said Mr Wong.

In June, Mr Wong was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and will be acting prime minister whenever PM Lee is absent.

Mr Wong also assumed responsibility for the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister's Office, taking over this role from Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

"My priority for now is really to start thinking about organising the team, how we might want to go about dealing with our immediate priorities and really take this time to settle in to my new expanded responsibilities and portfolios," he said.

"In due course, we will make a decision on this important matter (of succession)."

Mr Micklethwait recounted to Mr Wong how in an interview with PM Lee last November, Mr Micklethwait had compared Singapore's political succession to Squid Game, the popular Netflix drama series which saw contestants violently eliminated as they compete for a prize.

He noted then that key fourth-generation leaders had been chosen to co-lead the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 "to see how they do", to which Mr Lee replied that he had put his best people on the task force as they could make a contribution and not as if they were in a beauty contest.

Mr Micklethwait said on Monday that Mr Wong seemed to have won the "sort of Squid Game competition", to which the minister disagreed.

"It was never a matter of competition, certainly not the Squid Game. We had a very thorough and deliberate process to think about what we might do with succession planning," said Mr Wong.

"The plans were disrupted because of Covid-19. Then we had to come back together, and we wanted a process that would allow us to choose a leader while strengthening the sense of team within the Cabinet, and we have done that."

During their interview, which touched on Singapore's approach to racial harmony, Mr Micklethwait asked Mr Wong if the real test for whether the Republic has come a long way is if it is able to have a leader who is not ethnically Chinese.

Mr Wong replied that Singapore chooses its leaders based on their abilities.

"I would certainly welcome a leader in the future who is not from the majority community," he said.

"We choose our leaders on the basis of merit and if there is a leader that emerges down the road who is not Chinese, I would certainly welcome that person."

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