Lawrence Wong clear choice to helm PAP's 4G leadership, with 15 of 19 stakeholders backing him

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SINGAPORE - The choice of Mr Lawrence Wong to helm the People's Action Party's fourth-generation (4G) leadership was made by an "overwhelming majority" of those involved, and this was subsequently endorsed by its top leaders and all its MPs.

This process of forging a consensus on who should lead the party, and Singapore, should the PAP win the next general election, was undertaken in a systematic and thorough way, to allow for candour, introspection and objectivity, and to help forge unity and support for the outcome.

Mr Wong, 49, emerged as the top choice of 15 out of the 19 stakeholders involved.

The 19 were all the Cabinet ministers, excluding Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the two senior ministers, and included Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, both former 4G ministers.

Each of the 19 was interviewed separately by former PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan over the past month after the Budget debate in March. They were asked for their preferred choice - other than themselves - and had to rank potential candidates in order of their preference.

None of the other names garnered more than two votes, said Mr Khaw, indicating a clear majority of 79 per cent for Mr Wong.

This was more than a super-majority, he added.

Details of the vote were disclosed at a media conference held at the Istana on Saturday morning (April 16). It was chaired by PM Lee and attended by Mr Wong and Mr Khaw, to elaborate on Thursday's announcement of the party's choice of its next leader.

PM Lee said this was a major step forward in the political succession process, which he felt could not be delayed much further, as the uncertainty was not good for the country, given the many challenges ahead.

Now that the 4G choice was made, he would discuss with Mr Wong the timeline and next steps, with a view to handing over when Mr Wong and the 4G team are ready. This process would be done "carefully and deliberately", he said.

He would discuss with Mr Wong and decide later what was the best strategy for the PAP to contest the next election, which is due by November 2025.

This might include handing over to Mr Wong and his team ahead of the polls to allow them to contest and seek a fresh mandate from the electorate. Alternatively, PM Lee could lead the PAP team to fight the election, and if the PAP wins, Mr Wong would step up as PM some time thereafter.

"It will depend on how things evolve, it's something which we'll decide later on. But either way, our plan is for Lawrence to be the next PM, if the PAP wins the next GE. That has been settled.

"And the reaction from the public over the last two days shows that many people are happy we have taken this decision, and are happy with the decision."

This process of forging a consensus around the next leader was important, he added, since as first among equals in the Cabinet, the PM must have the support of his ministers, who bear collective responsibility for their decisions.

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"Otherwise, the Government cannot function," said PM Lee, adding that the process was to pick the 4G leader, not his deputy or a 5G leader. It would be up to Mr Wong to pick his choice of deputy and his team later.

"To be effective as a PM, he must be able to trust and rely on his ministers, and his ministers must also be team players, supporting the PM, their PM, and supporting the team. And they all have to help the team to score goals collectively for Singapore."

For his part, in his first public outing since Thursday's announcement, Mr Wong said that he would work hard, together with his colleagues, to continue to win and earn the trust of Singaporeans.

He noted 4G leaders had already taken a “first step” in a multi-year plan to renew and strengthen society’s social compact in this year’s Budget, and would comprehensively review policies to see what more could be adjusted and improved. 

“So, this would be a major agenda for the 4G team,” he said. “But beyond that, we will as a team continue to work hard to win the trust and support of every Singaporean, to create bonds and connect with them, and to develop new ideas that will resonate with Singaporeans, and especially with a new generation of Singaporeans."

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He added: "I fully recognise the growing diversity of experiences and perspectives amongst Singaporeans, and I would like every Singaporean to know and feel that they will always have a stake in our society, even as we chart our new way forward together.

"And as leader of the team, that will be the approach, the attitude and the spirit I will adopt."

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Acknowledging that he had his work cut out for him as he embarked on "possibly the biggest responsibility of my life", he added that he was "under no illusions about the demands of the job".

"It will get more challenging with greater political contestation and the growing desire for diversity in Parliament.

"And as PM said in Parliament recently, we do not assume that the PAP will win the next general election. Every GE from now on will be about which party will form the Government, not just how many seats the opposition wins or what percentage of the votes the ruling party gets.

"Knowing full well that we will have to earn the right of leadership, I will continue with the same principles that have guided me all these years, which is to give of my best, to engage and listen, and to learn and improve continually."

Read the full transcript here and watch the full video below:

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