Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong answered a range of questions on the impact of COVID-19 and leadership succession in the nation he has led for over a decade and a half, at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum that took place this week.

Mr Lee’s answer to a question about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Singapore looks at the world struck a chord with some observers. The Prime Minister had said:

“COVID-19 is a powerful reminder that while Man proposes, God disposes. Immediately, governments worldwide were forced to change gears, put aside their plans, and make COVID-19 their top priority. It was a stark lesson that no matter how carefully one plans ahead, being able to deal with the unexpected is equally important.”

Some observers felt that Mr Lee could be alluding to his plans for leadership succession that have been waylaid by the health crisis.

Mr Lee, 68, had expressed an intention to retire by the age of 70 and had vowed to step down after the General Election, which was held in July this year. He had also said that the 2020 polls would be the last election he would lead as head of government.

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Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat appeared to be shaping up to take over from Mr Lee after the 2020 election until plans changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Singapore. Mr Lee said that he will stay on longer than he planned to initially and that he and the current generation of leaders will see Singapore through the crisis.

In his chat with Bloomberg chief editor John Micklethwait at the virtual New Economy forum, Mr Lee said that the pandemic has presented a “huge challenge for Singapore” when it comes to leadership succession.

He said. “It’s existential, really, both economically as well as from a public health point of view, and I think it’s my responsibility to see us through this crisis before I hand it over in good shape — into good hands, and I hope that will be before too long.”

Mr Lee also spoke about the future of trade and US-China relations among other issues in the Bloomberg forum. Watch his interview in full here.

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Did PM Lee coach Heng Swee Keat on what to say when Sylvia Lim refused to apologise for “trial balloons” statement?