There are many things up in the air as Singapore transitions from the “Lee Hsien Loong era” into the still-to-be-defined “Lawrence Wong years”. As they say, it is very much early days. At this point, Singapore’s just-appointed fourth Prime Minister is not an unknown quantity. We have seen him leading the country safely out of the frightening Covid-19 pandemic and delivering friendly pre-new GST budgets which have been generous in making sure that the less fortunate are not forgotten.

Still, Lawrence Wong, who is also in the midst of getting acquainted with international and regional leaders at a fairly breakneck pace in a compressed learning pace, has his work cut out. Remember, the world is also in great and unpredictable flux.

Here’s a small and simple checklist of some things for Wong to do, not in any significant order.

Start preparing for the National Day Rally

This is important. The rally has become an institution since Lee Kuan Yew started the Singapore version of a national fireside chat. It is a good way for the PM to present his report card cum general game plan, usually with some hints of upcoming goodies, every year – and do it all in an engaging manner expected of a good public speaker. Basically, substance minus a strong communication talent is half the battle lost.

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Dealing with the Opposition in Parliament

Lawrence Wong faces a Parliament with the most number of Opposition MPs in the post-Barisan Sosialis era. There is a slight but important dent in the number since the exits of the Workers’ Party’s Raeesah Khan and Leon Perera though the People’s Action Party itself could also cite the resignations of Tan Chuan Jin, Cheng Li Hui and S Iswaran.

The strength of the Opposition in Parliament is unlikely to go back to the lone ranger years of JB Jeyaretnam, Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Khiang. Two GRCs are already in Opposition hands. And the quality of Opposition MPs will inevitably get better. Wong and the PAP will face such a future. What will his approach be? He should neither be thinking about using knuckle dusters to whack opponents nor waste time trying to “fix the Opposition”.

The new PM must set the right tone in tune with the times as he tries to move Singapore forward – and NOT lurch backward.

Be ready for GE2024/5

This is likely to be tough for the new PM. He has to get his selection and placement spot on.

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The electorate is changing. People want more Opposition. We saw evidence of that in GE2020 when the unsettled Sengkang GRC went for the Workers’ Party which also retained Aljunied GRC with a bigger majority and held its Hougang ward rather comfortably.

The PAP itself is undergoing a change of guards come the next GE. Selection of new candidates will be a priority, and I think Wong will have to rope in all the party veterans for help in an all-hands-on-deck approach.

He has to be given a strong final say in the candidate election if he is to lead the country in any meaningful way. Even the current PAP secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong should only be in an advisory role. Will that be too big an ask?

There are also some other unexpected challenges for GE2024/25.

The losses of Tan Chuan Jin (Speaker of Parliament) and S Iswaran (Transport Minister) are not minor. Another MP had to leave his constituency to be the new Speaker. Someone had to be the new Transport Minister. And West Coast GRC (Iswaran’s GRC) is now a renewed target of the Opposition’s Progress Singapore Party.

Get a better feel of the electoral ground

Lawrence Wong’s team garnered 63.19 per cent of the votes in GE2020 in his own Marsiling -Yew Tee GRC, compared to the party’s 61.24 per cent. Time to walk the walk in as many wards as he can. Nothing excites voters more than a new PM making the rounds on the ground. Not Zoom, Skype, podcasts or livestreaming. Everyone wants to take selfies.

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Move away from the Lee shadow

Finally, a piece of humble advice which I hope will not be misinterpreted.

Singapore is moving into 4G, 5G territory. We have to have fresh approaches and perspectives.

We have to step away from the Lee family shadow, with all due credit for what they have done for Singapore. I think many Singaporeans were happy when they could see for themselves Lee Hsien Loong passing the baton to Lawrence Wong with a sense of fulfilment and deep satisfaction. And when they heard him say that he would support Singapore’s new PM in whatever way Wong wanted him, they cheered. So did I.


Sense And Nonsense returns after a seven-month hiatus and will appear in its usual weekly slot. Tan Bah Bah was a senior leader, writer and columnist with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company