SINGAPORE: Lee Hsien Loong, who has served as the Prime Minister of Singapore for a shade shorter than 20 years, led his final Cabinet meeting on Thursday (May 9).

His successor, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, will be inaugurated on Wednesday (15 May) at 6pm.

While Mr Lee, 72, had said he would step down by the time he turned 70 years old, he stayed on in the role longer and attributed the delay to a need to provide stability as the country grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic. The question of who would succeed him at the helm of the government remained unclear for years, prompting questions of whether the ruling party has a handle on leadership succession plans.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who had been the first assistant secretary-general of the People’s Action Party (PAP), was tipped to be Mr Lee’s successor but bowed out of the running in 2021, citing concerns over his age and health.

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Interestingly, his decision came after the ruling party recorded a lower than expected vote share for East Coast GRC, which Mr Heng led in the 2020 polls.

Mr Wong, who had led the government’s efforts to manage the pandemic, was subsequently  selected as the leader of the PAP’s Fourth Generation of Leaders (4G) in 2022.

As his tenure as PM comes to a close, Mr Lee reflected on his final cabinet meeting as Singapore premier, this week. He wrote on Facebook:

“We have held weekly Cabinet meetings year in, year out – even during the pandemic, where we had to shift to teleconferencing. These meetings are a crucial platform for discussing national issues, major policies, and matters that affect all our lives.”

He added, “It has been my privilege to lead my Cabinet team for the past 20 years.”

Mr Lee also said that the Prime Minister is “primus inter pares” or the first among equals in the Cabinet, and thanked the members of the Cabinet “for their steadfast support.”

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While he is vacating the head of government role, this is not Mr Lee’s last Cabinet meeting, as he is staying on as Senior Minister.

“From next week, PM Lawrence Wong will take charge in Cabinet meetings, but I will continue to contribute as Senior Minister. Singapore will be in good hands under the 4G team and I am ready to support the new team in their work for Singapore’s success,” he wrote.

Mr Wong similarly posted about the Prime Minister’s final Cabinet meeting, adding a photo of himself shaking hands with Mr Lee.

FB screengrab/Lawrence Wong

“We are grateful for his service and leadership. As I prepare to take over the baton, I am also grateful for the support of my colleagues. I will work closely with them, to harness fully the strengths of the team, and to take Singapore forward. I will share more details about the new Cabinet line-up next week,” he wrote. /TISG

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