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Singapore’s Lawrence Wong sworn in as new prime minister

By AFP - May 15,2024 - Last updated at May 15,2024

SINGAPORE — Singapore on Wednesday swore in Lawrence Wong as its new prime minister on Wednesday, replacing Lee Hsien Loong following two decades in office, with the new leader warning that the trade-dependent city-state faced a riskier, more conflict-ridden world.

Wong, formerly deputy prime minister, became only the second person outside of the Lee family to helm the affluent nation as he was inaugurated at the Istana government office shortly after 8:00 pm (12:00 GMT).

“We will lead in our own way. We will continue to think boldly and think far,” the 51-year-old said in his maiden speech, adding that “the best chapters of our Singapore story lie ahead”.

Members of Wong’s Cabinet were also sworn in, including his predecessor Lee, 72, who was appointed to the advisory role of senior minister.

Wong also said Singaporeans “face a world of conflict and rivalry”, with geopolitical tensions, protectionism and nationalism possibly stretching for years.

“We must brace ourselves to these realities and adapt to a messier, riskier and more violent world,” said Wong.

The US-educated economist is widely seen as a social media-savvy stalwart who effectively handled the Covid-19 crisis when he oversaw the government’s pandemic taskforce.

“He brings a style of leadership that’s more attuned to a different generation,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, a political analyst with the Solaris Strategies Singapore consultancy.

“The core principle of what Singapore is about will remain because it is a system that has worked for many years. But I think his style may be slightly different because he comes from a different generation.”

Wong, who will remain as finance minister, was chosen as Lee’s heir-apparent in 2022 from a new generation of lawmakers from the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled uninterrupted since Singapore’s independence in 1965.

 

Stern patriarch 

 

Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong’s father, was Singapore’s first prime minister when it became a sovereign nation after a brief, unsuccessful union with Malaysia.

The stern patriarch, who once said he preferred to be feared than loved, oversaw the transformation of Singapore from a sleepy British colonial outpost to a financial hub in a little more than 30 years.

The elder Lee handed power in 1990 to his deputy, former shipping executive Goh Chok Tong, who was initially considered a “seat-warmer” for the patriarch’s son.

Goh, however, stayed on for 14 years before Lee Hsien Loong took over in 2004.

Wong, the fourth prime minister in Singapore’s history, must lead the PAP to the next general elections, which are not due until November 2025 but could be called as early as this year.

“We’re looking at a time when the ruling party’s stranglehold on politics appears to be weaker than it has ever been before,” said political analyst Eugene Tan.

“We’re talking about a more competitive political landscape, we’re talking about Singaporeans who feel that it might be good for Singapore to have a strong opposition,” said Tan, associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University.

The opposition had its strongest performance since independence in the previous election in 2020 but hardly made a dent in parliament, with 83 out of the 93 seats won by the PAP.

The PAP’s squeaky clean image was stained recently by scandals that saw two lawmakers resign and a minister charged with graft.

The Workers’ Party, Singapore’s main opposition group, has also suffered from scandals, with two members resigning and its leader charged for giving false testimony before a parliamentary committee.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered congratulations to Wong on Wednesday. Singapore is a treaty-bound ally of the United States, which has sought to counter China’s rising assertiveness in the region.

The United States looks forward to working with Wong “to further strengthen the US-Singapore strategic partnership and uphold international norms and standards in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world”, Blinken said in a statement.

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