NDR 2022: Good leadership non-negotiable for S'pore, says PM Lee in calling for full support for successor Lawrence Wong

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on Singaporeans to back his successor Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - As a small country, Singapore's continued success and survival depends on having the right leaders, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said as he called on Singaporeans to back his successor - Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.

In his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21), PM Lee said good leadership is non-negotiable if the Republic is to deal with the geopolitical dangers and economic uncertainties ahead, and build for the long term.

"Look at countries where governments are unstable and politics messy, swinging wildly from one election to another.

"Whenever things do not work, leaders are forced out, or they resign en masse. But even after changing teams, things fail to improve," he said.

In these countries, policies and laws are either stuck in political gridlock or they are made by one government only to be reversed by the next, PM Lee added.

"Often, it is not just the leaders who disappoint, but the whole system that has failed. And the result is a devastating loss of faith - not just in individual politicians or parties, but the whole political system and the whole political class. And there is no way forward from there."

PM Lee said: "A small country like Singapore has zero margin for error. Not just Singapore’s continued success, but our very survival, depends on us having the right leaders."

This is why the Republic needs leaders with integrity, dedication and competence; leaders with the conviction to make the tough calls and do the right thing, even if it may cost them some votes; and leaders whom people can trust.

“We cannot afford any compromise on this,” said PM Lee, adding that the country needs to keep working hard to find the right people to serve the nation, and to help these people do their best for Singapore.

He added that for the 57 years since independence, Singapore has had leaders who have earned the people's trust, delivered on sound policies and improved lives here.

Urging Singaporeans not to take this for granted, PM Lee said the country needs to keep working hard to find the right people to serve the nation, and to help these people do their best for Singapore.

"It is our duty to extend our success formula into the next generation and beyond."

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It was in this light that the Prime Minister said he was happy that the issue of his succession is settled, and his leadership transition plans are moving forward again.

He did not elaborate on the timeline of succession, but urged Singaporeans to lend their full support to DPM Wong, who is also Finance Minister, and the People's Action Party's (PAP) fourth generation of political leaders.

"From everything I see, Singaporeans are supportive of Lawrence and his leadership of the team," he added.

PM Lee had previously said he hopes to step down by the time he turns 70, a milestone he reached in February this year.

But after Covid-19 struck in 2020, he said he would see the Republic through the crisis and "hand over Singapore, intact and in working order, into good hands".

He led the PAP to victory in the 2020 General Election with 61.2 per cent of the votes.

But the party's leadership transition hit a snag when Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, 61, bowed out as PM Lee's successor in April last year, citing his age and the need for the next prime minister to have a longer runway.

It took a year before Mr Wong, 49, was endorsed by his peers as the leader of the PAP's fourth-generation team, paving the way for him to eventually succeed PM Lee.

In June, Mr Wong was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister, further cementing his position as Singapore's next prime minister.

In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this month, Mr Wong sketched out two possible scenarios for when the leadership transition could take place.

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

In the first, he could take over as prime minister before the next general election, which must be held by November 2025.

In the second scenario, PM Lee could continue to lead the party in the election and then relinquish the position to him if the PAP wins.

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

On Sunday, PM Lee highlighted two other factors besides high quality leadership that are fundamental to Singapore's success - a united people and high trust between the people and their leaders.

"These are vital if we are to respond creatively and resiliently to challenges, year after year. We may have the best laid schemes, but without these three fundamentals, they will come to nothing," he said.

Concluding his speech, PM Lee said the next few decades will be bracing but exhilarating for Singapore.

"With your trust, we can come through whatever difficulties await.

"With your support, we can turn hopes and dreams into reality.

"And united as one people, we can secure a brighter future in this uncertain world, not just for now, not just for ourselves, but for every Singaporean child, for many generations to come."

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