Home singapore Analysis: When will PM Lee hand power to DPM Wong? Here are some markers to watch

Analysis: When will PM Lee hand power to DPM Wong? Here are some markers to watch

Analysis: When will PM Lee hand power to DPM Wong? Here are some markers to watch
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he will be handing over the leadership reins to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next General Election, possibly by November next yearWhile Mr Lee had previously signalled his intention to step down, this was the most concrete timeline given and set the handover clock in motionPolitical analysts told TODAY that over the next 12 months or so, there are some markers to watch out for including Budget 2024, a possible Cabinet reshuffle and next year’s National Day Rally 

By Deborah Lau Published November 8, 2023 Updated November 8, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

SINGAPORE — On Sunday (Nov 5), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that he will be handing over the leadership reins to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next General Election (GE). In fact, “if all goes well”, this could happen ahead of the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) 70th birthday on Nov 21 next year. 

While Mr Lee had previously signalled his intention to step down, this was the most concrete timeline given and set the handover clock in motion. Over the next 12 months or so, there are some markers to watch out for, according to political analysts interviewed by TODAY.


Will Mr Wong —  who gave his first Budget speech as finance minister last year — deliver Budget 2024? And could he succeed Mr Lee before that?

Analysts expect Mr Wong, to take up the leadership mantle only after he presents next year’s Budget, which is traditionally delivered in February.

This is because various policies and recommendations from the Forward Singapore exercise — spearheaded by Mr Wong and his team of fourth-generation (4G) leaders — are set to be announced in detail at Budget 2024.

It is likely that Mr Wong will oversee the public funding of Forward SG and the details relating to the implementation of these new policies, said Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan, who is also a former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP). 

Agreeing, independent political observer Felix Tan said: “I think the PAP is looking for a buy-in to the Forward SG report. And at the end of the day, the Forward SG report is a ‘baby’ of DPM Lawrence Wong.”

A warm reception for Forward SG policies could signal a “stamp of approval” for Mr Wong, which will be important for the party and Singapore, he added.

Nevertheless, political analysts did not rule out the slim possibility of Mr Wong assuming his new role ahead of Budget, and double-hatting as prime minister and finance minister.

After all, Mr Lee set a similar precedence by serving concurrently as prime minister and finance minister between 2004 and 2007, said Ms Nydia Ngiow, managing director of consultancy firm BowerGroupAsia in Singapore.

Dr Felix Tan said Mr Wong may take some time to decide who should take on his finance portfolio and as such may double-hat while he deliberates. 

“He will need to think very carefully as to who is the best person to take over the role, or who has the financial sense. (Mr) Lawrence Wong has done a pretty good job at being the finance minister, so it’s going to be big shoes to fill,” he said. 

Other analysts, however, think a dual portfolio is unlikely.

Political observer and former NMP Zulkifli Baharudin believes Mr Wong would rather appoint a finance minister from the get-go to demonstrate that he has “enough talented people in Government”.


Is a major Cabinet reshuffle on the cards? And if it takes place, does it mean the handover is imminent? 

There has been speculation that a Cabinet reshuffle will need to take place before Mr Wong takes over the country’s reins.

However, the analysts interviewed by TODAY were split on this. 

Ms Ngiow believes Mr Wong would prefer to be able to choose his own Cabinet line-up after he becomes prime minister.

On the other hand, Assoc Prof Tan from SMU believes the handover would only take place after a new Cabinet led by Mr Wong is “formed and invested into office”.

As to what form a reshuffle will take, most of the analysts said that any changes will be introduced incrementally.  

Said Mr Zulkifli: “You’re not going to have one major reshuffle and say, ‘Oh, this is the shape of our future government’. This is a government that is extremely careful… they’re going to be very deliberate and very careful, all the while watching changes that they make – how (people) are going to evaluate that, make (further) changes along the way – before they are fully certain that they are ready to go.” 

SMU’s Assoc Prof Tan has a different view, pointing out that a series of minor reshuffles will be disruptive.

“The government leadership has never treated Cabinet and other political office-holder appointments as being determined or influenced by popular sentiments,” he said.  

Instead, he believes a major reshuffle is due, given the last major one was in April 2021, which took place shortly after DPM Heng Swee Keat took himself out of the running as Singapore’s next prime minister.  

In April 2021, among other appointments, Mr Wong was announced as the new finance minister while Mr Chan Chun Sing and Mr Ong Ye Kung were named as education minister and health minister respectively. A year later, Mr Wong was named as the leader of the 4G team, paving the way for him to become the country’s next prime minister.

The most recent Cabinet changes were announced in June last year. Then, Mr Wong was promoted to deputy prime minister and also assumed responsibility for the Strategy Group within the Prime Minister’s Office, taking over from Mr Heng. There were no other major changes in that round. 

SMU’s Assoc Prof Tan said a Cabinet reshuffle could even be announced ahead of the new year, to enable ministers in their new portfolios to better engage other MPs and the public, especially during the Budget debates. 

On what a major reshuffle will entail, Assoc Prof Tan said it will be one which involves the leadership of several ministries changing hands, the retirement of some ministers, or the promotion of junior political officeholders.


Will Mr Lee deliver next year’s National Day Rally (NDR)? 

During this year’s NDR, Mr Lee ended his speech with a positive but rather cryptic note on Singapore’s leadership renewal, saying that succession plans were “back on track” — prompting some political watchers to speculate that it could be one of Mr Lee’s last NDR speeches.

“My team and I are deeply grateful to you for standing with us through thick and thin. Please give Lawrence and his team your fullest support, too, now and after they take over,” Mr Lee had said. 

SMU’s Assoc Prof Tan believes NDR next year will still be delivered by Mr Lee, as next year’s rally will coincide with his 20th year as Singapore’s head of government and could be his “valedictory address”. 

On the other hand, Dr Felix Tan believes the rally could be an opportune time for Mr Wong to demonstrate his vision for Singapore in the years ahead as a newly elected PM. As such, Mr Wong might want to use that opportunity to do so, rather than have Mr Lee use it for his swansong, he said. 


Based on what Mr Lee had said on Sunday, the expectation among political watchers is that the next GE will be called in late-2024 at the earliest — but more likely in 2025. 

The next GE is due by November 2025. 

The analysts interviewed pointed out that 2025 will be Singapore’s 60th year of nationhood — it is also the 10th anniversary of the death of the country’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. 

“Tapping such significant milestones in history and looking at how far the PAP has come, it could give Singaporeans an indication of how well they have governed Singapore,” said Dr Felix Tan.

But Mr Zulkifli added: “Of course, you want to make use of (these milestones), but I don’t think the party will take that for granted – that what they have done in the past will necessarily win them a lot of support.”

Mr Zulkifli noted that while such occasions could be celebrated and leveraged upon by the ruling party, it will still have to work the ground to earn the continued support of Singaporeans. 

“There’s greater political contestation and the appetite for opposition is quite great (today). Therefore, you have to be very careful about such things; you don’t take these things for granted,” he said. 

“Because at the end of the day, this is about a free and fair election… and I think they do respect that Singaporeans are not stupid, and they have to win over the hearts and minds of Singaporeans.”