SINGAPORE — People’s Action Party (PAP) members said that having Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong leading the party in the next General Election will ensure that if he wins the population’s mandate, it would be on his own merits and not because he is riding on the coat-tails of previous generations of leaders.
At the annual PAP Party Awards and Convention on Sunday (Nov 5), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he will be handing over the leadership reins to Mr Wong before the next General Election, adding that he hopes to do so before the party’s 70th birthday on Nov 21 next year.
Mr Wong is part of the 4G leadership team, a term used to refer to the fourth generation of Singapore’s political leaders.
Speaking to TODAY on the sidelines of the event at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, Mr Ryan Tan, a party member from Pasir Ris East, said: “I think it’s good that (Mr Wong) wins the next election on his own merits.
“For one thing, you don’t have the optics that he’s riding on the victory of the older generation just for him to get the position. If he wins it on his own (merits), I think it goes to show that he actually does have the public’s support.”
Winning the election would give the new prime minister “the full mandate” and signal Singaporeans’ continued vote of confidence for the PAP, said Mr Chua Tian Beng, who serves in the Paya Lebar division of Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
TEARY-EYED AT TRANSITION, BUT FULL CONFIDENCE IN MR WONG
And while party members and activists said they were saddened by Mr Lee’s impending handover, they also expressed their confidence in Mr Wong’s ability to do well, especially after seeing how he led the national Covid-19 task force and the recent Forward Singapore exercise.
Mr Ajdeen Ahamed Jalaludeen, the assistant treasurer at PAP’s Jurong Central branch, said: “For our PM Lee, we almost teared – when he teared, we also teared. So much work, so much effort that he put in the country to develop it until how it is today.
“It’s a very sad thing to see, but he mentioned that he will still be there. So we are still happy and content that he will be there to guide DPM (Wong).”
Asked if they were worried that Mr Lee will not be leading the party into the next General Election, Mr Akhil Iyer, a party member from Pasir Ris East, said he was not.
“From the work that Mr Lawrence Wong did with the Covid-19 task force and in the other work he’s done so far, I think it’s been quite promising.”
Agreeing, Ms Joanna Portilla, a party member at Punggol Shore, said: “I feel that we have gotten to know DPM Wong a little bit better right now, ever since the announcement of him being the DPM.
“Throughout this, he has proven himself and I believe in his leadership – that he will be able to take on the role.
“I’m confident that the 4G team is ready, as they have weathered a bad Covid storm together. Throughout the three years, the team has shown Singaporeans their abilities to make tough decisions that enabled us to emerge stronger.”
‘GREATER CLARITY’ WELCOMED
Knowing the leadership reins will be handed over ahead of the next General Election also gives Singaporeans greater clarity on when the transition could take place, said Mr Xie Yao Quan, Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC.
“The task ahead, I think, is clear – for the People’s Action Party, for the 4G leadership, for everybody – to really engage, reach out to Singaporeans, continue to work even closer with all Singaporeans… And to really implement and realise the directions that have been set forth in the Forward SG exercise,” he said.
Asked by the media how MPs will prepare themselves and grassroots leaders for this transition, MP for Sembawang GRC Vikram Nair said: “I think on the ground, we are always ready. We have always sort of been prepared for the next election at the time that the earlier one finishes.
“So our activities will remain, and our job is to maintain continuity, maintain stability, even as the transition takes place. And I think all of us – MPs, activists – have a role to play in this process.”
While party members and activists said they do not foresee major changes underway with the transition, given the party’s overarching direction and values remain, they anticipate that Mr Wong and the 4G leadership will adopt a slightly different leadership approach, having to deal with their own unique challenges.
These include a more “consultative” style of leadership, which could entail more engagements with senior leaders. Mr Wong and the 4G leaders will also face the challenge of meeting the demands of a new generation of voters.
Mr Tan from Pasir Ris East said: “For me, it feels that under DPM Lawrence Wong, his style of leadership is going to be a bit more different from how it used to be. Especially with this Forward SG project, it seems he’s a bit more consultative.
“So I expect maybe in the near future, we’ll get a lot more engagements with the senior leadership. I definitely see that as a good thing. Hearing from the grassroots institutes themselves, (leaders) will be better able to reflect the views and opinions of the public, especially the youth as well.”
Mr Akhil from Pasir Ris East added: “A new generation is going to be able to vote next, which will play a crucial role in the political landscape for the years to come. So I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges he would face.”
While teething issues are inevitable with transitions, the principles on which the party is founded remain unchanged, said its activists.
Ms Portilla from Punggol Shore told TODAY: “As with all leadership changes, be it in the party or in a company itself, there will always be an initial stage where people need to get used to.
“But in time to come, if the party continues to prove itself in what they do, I’m sure Singaporeans will be able to work closely and have greater confidence in this new leadership team.”
Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development, and Home Affairs, said that the leadership transition will be taking place at a time when the global environment is “fraught with dangerous flashpoints and uncertainty”.
“Even though there will be leadership transition, the founding principles of the People’s Action Party will not change,” she said.