Turning a Page: Lee Hsien Loong Steps Down As Singapore’s PM 

The stage is set for Singapore to welcome its fourth prime minister, only the second from outside the founding family that has governed the country for over five decades since independence in the 1960s. The current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, is stepping down after nearly two decades in office in a carefully orchestrated transition aimed at maintaining Singapore’s reputation for stability amidst economic and geopolitical challenges.

Lawrence Wong, aged 51 and currently serving as deputy prime minister and finance minister, will be sworn in as the next premier on Monday, May 15. Wong has long been seen as the successor to the outgoing Prime Minister and enjoys unanimous support from the Members of Parliament of the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has been the dominant force in Singaporean politics since its inception under the late Lee Kuan Yew, who served as the country’s first Prime Minister for 31 years until 1990. Lee Kuan Yew remained active in politics until 2011.

An Early But Well-engineered Power Transition 

Few things are as consistently stable as the politics of Singapore. This island state is renowned for its highly regarded civil service, efficient governance, and policies conducive to business. Since gaining independence in 1965, one political party has maintained power without interruption. Among the founding members of this party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), in 1954 was Lee Kuan Yew, widely recognised as the nation’s founding father. His strategic positioning of Singapore as a bastion of predictability in a turbulent region has been instrumental in ensuring the PAP’s victory in every election since independence. Leadership transitions are infrequent, and when they occur, they are carefully communicated in advance.

The current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, announced last weekend that he intends to step down before the upcoming election, scheduled to take place by November 2025. He will hand over the reins to his deputy, Lawrence Wong. Lee hinted that this transition could occur as early as next year. While the announcement was widely anticipated, the timing surprised many Singaporeans.

Singaporeans prefer predictability and are accustomed to the orderly transfer of power from one leader to the next. Since gaining independence in 1965, there have been only three prime ministers: Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong, and the younger Lee. Stability is highly valued in Singapore.

In a Facebook post on Monday, 15 April, Lee wrote, “For any country, a leadership transition is a significant moment. Lawrence and the 4G team have worked hard to gain the people’s trust, notably during the pandemic. I ask all Singaporeans to give Lawrence and his team your full support and work with them to create a brighter future for Singapore.” 

Conversely, on the same day, Wong posted a video on Instagram saying, “I accept this responsibility with humility and a deep sense of duty. Together, we can build a bright future for all Singaporeans.”

Wong’s Coronation coincides with Singapore’s emergence from a series of notable political and financial scandals, some of the largest ever witnessed in the city-state. Additionally, Southeast Asia grapples with the geopolitical tension between China and the U.S., which casts a shadow over the region. Despite being consistently ranked as the world’s most expensive place to live, Singapore also maintains its position as one of the happiest countries in Asia.

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