Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know by now that Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was recently elected as PAP’s new fourth-generation (4G) leader by… well, PAP ministers themselves.
And if you didn’t get to catch up on the press conference held today (16 April) at the Istana regarding Mr Wong’s newest appointment, here’s all you need to know about how our next prime minister (PM) in line was selected.
Selection Process Headed by Khaw Boon Wan
If you’re thinking that the voting process was as simple as how you and your friends vote for where to eat for dinner, you’re wrong.
And if you’re thinking that former politician Khaw Boon Wan decided to reenter politics after retiring, you’re (kinda) wrong as well.
At the end of 2021, PM Lee Hsien Loong, along with a few other ministers proposed to have a more systematic and clear selection process what would “encourages candour, introspection and objectivity, yet without impairing mutual relations and trust amongst the team”.
PM himself also emphasises that he would want the candidate for the country’s next prime minister to be chosen with a “collected, dispassionate, almost Zen state of mind”, and not be chosen out of ministers’ own personal biases.
In order to carry out this new way of selecting the next PM candidate, Mr Lee decided to consult Mr Khaw Boon Wan, who used to be the former chairman of the PAP.
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As a politician who was known as “Mr Fix-It” due to how he dealt with candidates that had “challenging portfolios” in the past, Mr Khaw assisted Mr Lee with the selection process, which began in March after the Budget debate.
The selection process kicked off with hour-long interviews that Mr Khaw, along with Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin and labour chief Ng Chee Meng, conducted with 17 Cabinet ministers. The entire interview process took three weeks.
And in true 4G style, PM Lee and Senior Ministers Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam were not involved in the selection process.
Mr Wong Received 15 Out of 19 Votes
Throughout the interview process, interviewees were asked about who they would prefer to be the next 4G leader (other than themselves la, of course).
They were also asked to rank the potential PM candidates according to their preference.
And if you seriously still don’t know who the 4G leader candidates are now, they’re Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, as well as Mr Wong himself.
The fourth candidate, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat, took himself out of the running last year due to his age.
Mr Khaw also commented, “PM told me that my task was not only to ascertain who has the strongest support from the ministers, but to do so in such a way as to foster a consensus and bring the team together.”
When the tallied results came in, Mr Wong was selected as the clear frontrunner of the bunch, with 15 out of 19 of the ministers indicating that Mr Wong was their preferred choice for the new 4G leader.
This was based on the candidates’ overall assessment, which included the need for the new leader to unite the party and to win elections.
After the results were submitted to the ministers and PAP MPs on Thursday (14 April), Mr Wong was officially announced as the new 4G leader.
PAP Not Revealing Who Didn’t Vote for Mr Wong
If you’re thinking of kaypohing about who didn’t support Mr Wong, you probably won’t ever get to know lah.
Due to the fact that the candidates could not vote for themselves when asked to rank the 4G leader candidates by Mr Khaw, simple maths would show that out of the 19 ministers, three did not choose Mr Wong as their choice for Singapore’s next PM.
Additionally, Mr Khaw also said today (16 April) that neither of the other two candidates received more than two votes. (Again, simple maths would show that one candidate garnered two votes, and another only got one.)
Mr Khaw also emphasised that “full confidentiality” was promised to those voting so that they would be able to cast truthful and unbiased votes. Overall results and “anonymised findings” were the only things that were shared in group settings.
“Now that we have a clear outcome, there is really no need for me to discuss who was the second or the third choice,” he commented.
“Suffice to say that Lawrence was the first choice of an overwhelming majority.”
Beyond that, PM Lee also mentioned separately, “The reaction from the public over the last two days shows that, I think, many people are happy we’ve taken this decision and are happy with the decision.”
Deputy to be Chosen by Mr Wong
PM Lee also accentuated how the selection process was only to nominate the new 4G leader, not the 4G deputy leader.
“In due course, Lawrence will decide who will be his deputy and who will be in his core team,” PM Lee noted.
“And I hope he and his colleagues will work hard to identify and induct more promising leaders into the team to build up the 5G team for Singapore.”
PM Lee also touched on the importance of teamwork between ministers, and also highlighted how Singapore has tried to refrain from having “destructive dynamics” of rivalries and internal politics in the political scene.
“That has been a very important factor in the PAP’s success and in Singapore’s success,” PM Lee explained. “And for Singapore’s sake, we must ensure that the PAP government always continues to work like this.”
General Election Date Unconfirmed
Mr Wong was also asked if he thought that he should “secure a mandate from the electorate sooner rather than later”.
And of course, that question followed with the question of whether or not Singapore could see our next General Election in a year’s time or so.
The next GE is supposed to be held before November 2025.
After hearing the question, PM Lee chuckled and replied, “You surely don’t expect an answer, right?”
Mr Wong then emphasised that he would not take for granted that the mandate “ultimately comes from the people”, reiterating his earlier points that the demands of top-spot politicians in Singapore have become increasingly higher.
With more political contestation, as well as an increasing need for diversity in Parliament, Mr Wong assured that details regarding the next General Election would be settled “in due course”.
PM Lee also mentioned that point earlier on during the press conference.
“For now, I will need time to consolidate, to discuss with the team to see what next steps we might take,” Mr Wong explained.
“We do not assume that the PAP will win the next general election. Every GE from now on will be about which party will form the government, not just how many seats the opposition wins or what percentage of the votes the ruling party gets.
“Knowing full well that we will have to earn the right of leadership, I will continue with the same principles that have guided me all these years, which is to give of my best, to engage and listen, and to learn and improve continually.
“And as I have repeatedly emphasised, leadership, and political leadership, is never about one person, it’s always about the entire team,” he concluded.
Mr Wong’s Takeover from PM Lee
If you don’t remember what PM Lee said before the pandemic, he actually had plans to retire and hand over his role by the time he turned 70. (FYI, he just did in February this year.)
However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, PM Lee decided that he would continue to stay as Singapore’s PM.
Afterwards, when DPM Heng stepped down as a candidate for the 4G leaders, PM Lee decided once again to delay his retirement until a 4G leader was elected.
“I’m looking forward to handing over to Lawrence once he is ready,” PM Lee commented during the press conference.
He also assured Singaporeans by saying that the transition would be done “carefully and deliberately”.
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Of course, as mentioned previously, one important factor to decide when Mr Wong will take over from PM Lee is the next General Election.
With regards to this, PM Lee explained that Mr Wong and himself would get together and consider when would be the best time for PM Lee to hand over his duties to Mr Wong.
“It will depend on how things evolve, it’s something which we’ll decide later on,” said the Prime Minister.
“But either way, our plan is for Lawrence to be the next PM if the PAP wins the next GE. That has been settled,” PM Lee concluded.
In response to the multiple times that PM Lee had commented on the handover of the PM position to him, Mr Wong commented, “I will bear that in mind as I embark on my new responsibilities… I will certainly let the Prime Minister know when I’m ready. And I am also very sure that before too long, he will be reminding me and chasing me for a response, and I will do so in due course.”
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