Singapore’s new Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, replaces Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore’s new Prime Minister Lawrence Wong (2nd R) shakes hands with now senior minister Lee Hsien Loong (2nd L) during the swearing-in ceremony at the Istana in Singapore on May 15, 2024. Lawrence Wong was sworn in on May 15 as Singapore’s new prime minister, after Lee Hsien Loong stepped down following two decades in office.

Edgar Su | Afp | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s Lawrence Wong was inaugurated as the city-state’s fourth prime minister on Wednesday, taking over from former prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has led Singapore for 20 years.

At the ceremony, the newly minted prime minister said he was “deeply honored” and told Singaporeans that he and his new cabinet will “do our utmost to serve you and our country.”

Wong acknowledged that he, as well as most of his current cabinet, are the beneficiaries of the Singapore leaders that have come before him, and that they “will continue to think boldly and think far.”

Speaking on Singapore’s position in the world, Wong said that the country’s position is strong, “but the world around us is in flux.”

He pointed out that the Asia Pacific region has seen unprecedented peace and stability for 30 years after the Cold War, but added that “unfortunately, that era is over, it will not return.”

Wong noted that great world powers are competing to shape a new, yet undefined global order, which will be characterized by geopolitical tensions, protectionism and nationalism.

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

On the domestic front, Wong highlighted that Singapore is at a high economic level compared to most other countries. The country has developed excellent systems of education, housing, healthcare and transport, he said.

Singapore, however, cannot cruise along, he warned. “This is my promise to all Singaporeans. I will serve you for all my heart. I will never settle for the status quo. I will always seek better ways to make tomorrow than today.”

Wong concluded his speech by saying: “My mission is clear, to continue defying the odds and to sustain this miracle called Singapore, so that we can reach even greater heights, so that we can be a beacon of hope and unity for ourselves and our children.”

Continuity in the cabinet

While Lee — the eldest son of Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew — has stepped down as prime minister, he will stay on as a senior minister in Wong’s new cabinet, which was announced on Monday, ahead of the swearing-in ceremony.

During his tenure, he saw the nation state through events such as the 2008 global financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the elder Lee’s death in 2015, which triggered a public outpouring of grief.

Lee had announced last month he will hand over power to Wong in mid-May. He had said in 2023 that he would like Wong to succeed him before November this year, after having already delayed his retirement plans due to the Covid pandemic.

The new prime minister will also be supported by two deputies. Trade and industry minister Gan Kim Yong was promoted to deputy prime minister and work alongside current DPM Heng Swee Keat.

“I have known both Kim Yong and Swee Keat for many years. I value their advice and counsel,” Wong said earlier this week.

Gan will also take over as chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s central bank and financial regulator.

Singapore will continue to 'strengthen and deepen' trade relations with the U.S.: Gan Kim Yong

Wong was in civil service for 15 years before he entered politics in 2011. “This is my calling, I decided that being in public service is what I would like to do,” Wong said Tuesday in an interview with local media.

It was during the Covid-19 pandemic that Wong rose to political prominence, steering Singapore through the crisis along with Gan and current health minister Ong Ye Kung.

Wong will retain his current post as finance minister. Other promotions and appointments were also announced, but there were no major changes to the ministers helming each ministry.

“Continuity and stability are key considerations, especially as we are approaching the end of this term of government,” Wong has said.

First post independence PM

Wong, who is 51, is the country’s first leader born after its independence in 1965.

He first entered politics in Singapore after the 2011 general election, having spent time at various government agencies before his political debut. He held ministerial positions in four Singapore ministries, and led both the national development and education ministries.

Wong also served as principal private secretary to then prime minister Lee Hsien Loong from 2005 to 2008.

The political transition has been carefully orchestrated for years.

In April 2022, Wong was picked as the leader of the ruling People’s Action Party’s so-called fourth generation leadership, putting him as the heir apparent to Lee.

He was appointed deputy prime minister in June 2022, holding the role concurrently with his finance ministry portfolio.

With the handover, Wong will be leading the ruling People’s Action Party into the next general election, which must be called by November 2025.

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