The People’s Action Party will celebrate its 70th anniversary in November 2024, one year before an election is scheduled, and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday that he will transfer leadership of the party to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.
The party is widely expected to extend its dominance of a nation it has ruled since independence in 1965, meaning Wong is likely to become the next – and Singapore’s fourth – premier.
Lee is the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, who is widely credited as establishing modern Singapore. He has served as party secretary-general and prime minister since 2004 and last year chose Wong, who is also finance minister, as his successor.
“I have full confidence in Lawrence and his team and there’s no reason to delay their political transition. Therefore, I intend to hand over to DPM Lawrence before the next general election,” Lee said at an annual party conference.
Lee, 71, had planned to transfer leadership before his 70th birthday but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am ready for my next assignment,” Wong, 50, said in an earlier speech at the conference.
Wong was catapulted into the spotlight as co-head of the government’s COVID-19 task force, imposing restrictions on movement, border curbs and contact-tracing, earning him praise for helping contain infection and keeping deaths low.
He served as Lee’s principal private secretary from 2005 to 2008 and led the education and national development ministries before becoming finance minister in 2021 and deputy prime minister last year.
Wong is also deputy chairman of sovereign wealth fund GIC and chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the Southeast Asian nation’s central bank.
Transferring leadership before the next general election is a “bold move”, some analysts said, though most said they do not expect it to have any impact on political stability.
“The safer thing to do for the party would be for Lee to hand over after the general election and give Wong time to build rapport with the electorate,” said political scientist Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of Nanyang Technological University.
Still, handing over earlier is unlikely to affect stability as Lee would probably still be involved in the cabinet in some capacity, he said.
The ruling party won 83 of 93 parliamentary seats in the 2020 election. But, with the election held amid pandemic upheaval, its share of the popular vote dropped to a near-record low, and the 10 seats won by the opposition was unprecedented.
“The significance is that Wong will have to win his own mandate (in the next election),” said political scientist Chong Ja Ian at the National University of Singapore.