SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Sunday (Nov 5) that he will be handing over the leadership reins to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong before the next General Election.
He added that if it all goes well, he will do so by the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) 70th birthday on Nov 21 next year.
“I intend to hand over to DPM Lawrence (Wong) before the next General Election,” said Mr Lee, to a resounding applause by party members at the party’s annual convention.
He acknowledged that he had missed his previous “target” of handing over and stepping down before he turned 70 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But if all goes well, Mr Lee added: “I will hand over by the PAP’s 70th birthday next year.”
Speaking to over 1,000 members of the PAP — of which Mr Lee is secretary-general and Mr Wong is deputy secretary-general — Mr Lee said that “high quality leadership” is key for the PAP Government to achieve its three key priorities, namely to govern competently, keep clean and win elections.
Mr Lee said that there was “no way” that the PAP governments could have adopted tough but necessary policies for the long term had they have to constantly worry about being in power after the next elections.
“Today’s Singapore could not have been built by a weak government hanging on to power by a slim majority, or with the governing party and policies chopping and changing after each election,” he added.
He said that the possibility of PAP being challenged or another taking over as government is always there and “always has to be there”, as it is the essence of democracy.
However, if a significant proportion of Singaporeans want the PAP to be checked by the Opposition and more opposition members are voted into Parliament, the political dynamic will change, he said.
Future elections will then not be about how many seats the Opposition should win, but instead about which party wins a majority to form the next government.
“They will be about whether the winning party receives a strong enough mandate, and has enough capable members of parliament, to form a competent Cabinet and govern Singapore well and for the long term,” said Mr Lee.
He added that the Opposition will try to tell voters not to worry, that these opposition parties are not aiming to form the next government and that the PAP will continue to think long term, even if the latter has a majority of just one in parliament.
“But with lives and futures at stake, voters must worry,” said Mr Lee.
Therefore, on the PAP’s part, Mr Lee said the party must keep on working very hard to prepare for elections to keep on winning a strong mandate.
To do this, the party must articulate its vision clearly and keep the nation’s long-term interests front and centre, deliver on good policies that benefit Singaporeans and maintain the integrity and trust in PAP.
‘NO REASON’ TO DELAY POLITICAL TRANSITION
Addressing the party members at the Party Awards and Convention held at Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, Mr Lee said that the decision on the leadership handover was made after thorough discussions with ministers from both the third generation (3G) and 4G leadership slates.
He noted that Mr Wong and the 4G leadership team have been serving for many years, taking on greater responsibilities along the way and are preparing well to take over.
Navigating the nation through the Covid-19 pandemic and partnering Singaproeans in the Forward SG exercise to map out future directions are among the key things that the 4G leaders have done, Mr Lee noted.
“Lawrence (Wong) has told me that he is ready,” said Mr Lee.
“I have full confidence in Lawrence and his team. There is no reason to delay the political transition.”
After the handover, Mr Lee said he will be at “the new PM’s disposal” and will go where the latter will find him useful.
“I will do my best to help him and his team to fight and win the next GE, and to fulfil their responsibilities,” said Mr Lee.
“I want to help him fulfil his responsibilities leading the country so that Singapore can continue to succeed beyond me and the 3G minister colleagues, for many years to come.”
Mr Lee turned visibly emotional towards the end of his speech as he began to recap his decades-long journey serving the nation in various capacities. He paused his speech for about half a minute as attendees gave him a standing ovation.
“It has been my great fortune and honour to have served the country first in the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces), and then in the party and Government for all of my adult life,” he said.
While Singapore has faced many tribulations and has transformed over the past two decades while he was Prime Minister, he said some things have not changed — including PAP’s dedication and sense of duty towards Singapore.
“These things have not changed under my watch and they will not change under the 4G team. I ask each of you to give Lawrence and his team your full support. Help them win a strong mandate and work with them to take Singapore to greater heights.”