SINGAPORE: It has been two years since it was announced that Lawrence Wong would lead the ruling People’s Action Party’s fourth generation of leaders and he is set to be sworn in as Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister on May 15.

In the leadup to the official handover, numerous pieces have been published on the merits of the incoming PM, including an article published on the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) website on Thursday (25 Apr).

Written by US journalist Joshua Kurlantzick, the senior fellow for Southeast Asia at CFR, the piece notes from the get-go that “Singapore’s New Prime Minister Lawrence Wong Faces Challenges From Day One.”

However, Mr Kurlantzick notes that DPM Wong “Wong comes into the office with numerous strengths,” and adds that he “is a more natural politician than some of the other candidates who were in the running to replace Lee Hsien Loong… Wong also has held a diversity of positions and jobs, unlike some PAP members, giving him potentially greater insight into more sectors of Singaporean society and also the many domestic and regional issues the city-state now faces.”

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The Deputy Prime Minister, after all, has served as Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Second Minister of Communications and Information, Minister for National Development, and Minister for Education. Additionally, he was the Deputy Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore before being appointed its Chairman last year.

He took what was perhaps his most high profile role during the Covid-19 pandemic, having led the multi-ministry task force assigned to manage Singapore’s response to a worldwide years-long crisis.

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But, as Mr Kurlantzick points out, the challenges that the incoming Prime Minister will be facing both externally and internally will be considerable.

To start with, at a time of heightened global tensions, Singapore will need to maintain its balancing act between China and the United States, given trade and security considerations.

On the home front are the issues that the ruling party faces, which includes the corruption charges against former Trade and Industry Minister S Iswaran, as well as “a more organized political opposition that can no longer be easily marginalized as a small group unrepresentative of Singaporean society.”

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He adds that the Singaporean government is also “coming to terms with the fact that its historically minimal social welfare net needs to be modernized and expanded, an approach Wong will likely continue in Lee’s wake.”

Mr Kurlantzick ends his piece by writing: “Wong will have to navigate all these challenges in just a few weeks while also preparing the PAP for a contested general election and reassuring the public, which has mostly been led by members of the Lee family, that he is ready on all these fronts.” /TISG

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