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Lawrence Wong sworn in as Singapore’s prime minister

Lawrence Wong sworn in as Singapore’s prime minister

Baku, May 15, AZERTAC

Lawrence Wong has been sworn in as Singapore’s new leader, as the city-state charts a new path after decades of rule by the founding Lee family, according to Financial Times.

Wong, 51, is only the fourth prime minister of the Asian financial hub. He succeeds Lee Hsien Loong, who had led the tightly governed island nation since 2004 but announced he was stepping down last month.

A US-trained economist who has been deputy prime minister since 2022 and who also serves as finance minister, Wong was sworn in on Wednesday evening at the presidential palace, completing the rare political transition.

Speaking after his swearing-in, Wong warned that Singapore was grappling with a “dangerous and troubled world”. The city-state had enjoyed 30 years of peace in the Asia-Pacific since the end of the cold war, but that “era is over”, he said.

As a small country with an open economy, Singapore would be affected by international conflict and rivalry, “marked by geopolitical tensions, protectionism and rampant nationalism”, Wong said in an often grim speech.

Wong’s succession was carefully choreographed by the ruling People’s Action party, which has governed Singapore continuously since 1959. Lee, who oversaw 20 years of stunning economic success for the country, will stay on in government as a senior minister.

Wong called the moment a “significant milestone” for the young country. “I am the first prime minister of Singapore to be born after independence [in 1965],” he said, adding he and other so-called fourth generation politicians would differ from their predecessors.

“We will lead in our own way. We will continue to think boldly and think far. We know that there is still much more to do,” he said.

Academia SG, a collective of Singaporean scholars, welcomed Wong’s pledge to “maximise the combined energies, imaginations and strengths of all Singaporeans”.

“The new team should reject the legacy of punitive and paternalistic responses to dissenting views,” the group said.

On the domestic front, Wong and his team will face increasing pressures over deepening inequality, higher living costs and unhappiness among the country’s local population with foreign workers, including expatriates.

Record capital inflows from greater China as well as countries such as India and the US have raised living costs and house prices.

A financial hub and trading centre of just 6mn people, Singapore is reliant on overseas workers, from construction labourers to top-tier bankers. But the government has increasingly restricted the employment of foreigners to prioritise the local labour force.

Singapore, which maintains friendly relations with both the US and China, is also navigating a more febrile geopolitical landscape in the Asia-Pacific region as a result of the superpowers’ rivalry.

“We have to be guided by what is in Singapore’s national interest and do so in a way that is consistent and principled,” Wong said. “And that means from time to time, we will have to say things or do things that some countries may not be so happy with. It could be China one day, it could be the US another day.”

Lee’s departure raises the likelihood of a general election, which Singapore is due to hold by November 2025, coming this year. The PAP has in recent elections suffered a declining share of the popular vote, making the first contest with Wong at the helm a consequential test for the ruling party.

Wong, who as with every prime minister to precede him is ethnically Chinese and western-educated, became a member of parliament in 2011 after more than a decade in the civil service.

Despite the carefully managed succession, Wong was not always the intended next leader. The PAP’s initial succession plans for Lee were thrown into disarray in 2021 after deputy prime minister Heng Swee Keat stepped out of the running. Wong was selected in 2022.

Lee’s departure also draws to a close his family’s leadership of the country. His father, the late Lee Kuan Yew, is regarded as the patriarch of modern Singapore, ruling from 1959 until 1990.

When Goh Chok Tong, Singapore’s second prime minister, took over, Lee Hsien Loong was waiting in the wings as deputy prime minister before becoming leader himself in 2004.

 

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