Lawrence Wong swearing in ceremony
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Commentary: S’pore needs a bold Prime Minister to win younger voters over

Lawrence Wong needs to show that he has the guts to go where others had decided to let things be

Unlike his predecessor’s charmed entry into the prime ministership, Mr Lawrence Wong’s was unexpected and not a unanimous decision. 

Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s rise to the top job went according to script.

He is the son of Singapore’s founding father, the late Lee Kuan Yew, became Minister of State soon after entering politics, and rose up the ladder quickly to be Minister, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and then Prime Minister (PM).

Until a couple of years ago, Mr Wong was not even in the running. And even when he was in the race, not all his colleagues thought he should be PM

All that is now water under the bridge as Mr Wong has become Singapore’s fourth PM — the first new PM in 20 years.

Prime Minister’s Office on YouTube

But the succession setbacks are nothing compared to those he will face as he takes on the mantle of leadership of a tiny island state that is in a tricky and difficult world fraught with an economic slowdown and geopolitical tensions. 

Many issues to settle, geopolitically and domestically

Immigration, which brought the ruling party’s vote share to a historic low of 60.1 percent in 2011, looms large, and Singapore’s balancing act of playing the card right in the tussle between China and the US for world supremacy will be tested severely.  

These problems are not new to Singapore and the playbook left behind his predecessors will come in handy. It is in domestic politics that Mr Wong and his team will be scrutinised. 

Domestically, Singapore has problems of its own. The years of high economic growth are over. Political contestation is here to stay. Social issues are springing up regularly. 

We have yet to hear what his clear stand is on political plurality, media openness and education reforms.

It remains to be seen if he will champion them in some form to show that Singapore is not only a successful economy but also a modern society.

There are some low hanging fruits that can be plucked quite easily to show that he is prepared to go where others had decided to let things be. 

Throw out outdated policies that no longer belong

The institution of the Mayor needs a relook, even a dumping.

The cutting up of the country into five geographical parts with a Mayor responsible for each part had upset those who saw the move as an advantage to the ruling party during the elections.

The five districts of CDC run by mayors

Source: cdc.gov.sg

And there are suspicions that mayors, who disbursed money to residents, were another tool to beat the PAP drum.

Then there is the perennial angst revolving round the appointment of losing candidates of the ruling party as grassroots leaders in opposition-held constituencies.

They help to run grassroots activities and are given the opportunity to grace activities for residents. The intention is clear: to make them visible to residents and to show them that the losing candidates are there to help solve people’s municipal problems.

Wong himself said he is ready for a refresh

Mr Wong can seize the moral high ground and get rid of these issues. which a developed nation like Singapore needs to dump into the bin of relics.

He has already said that he is prepared to change policies that are becoming irrelevant in a new Singapore Order that wants a more equal and equitable society.

His surprise appointment of 65-year-old Gan Kim Yong as one of his two deputies, instead of somebody from the 4G leadership, shows he is prepared to be a bold and take some calculated risks. 

Gan Kim Yong Lawrence Wong cabinet reshuffle

Prime Minister’s Office on YouTube

Mr Wong and Mr Gan bonded well when they were in the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force to take Singapore out of the crisis of confidence. Indeed, Mr Wong said they had gone through “the Covid baptism of fire together”.

“I will never settle for the status quo,” Mr Wong declared as he took the oath of office on Wednesday. It is domestic politics where he can show that he is serious about this declaration.  

PN Balji is a veteran journalist and former editor at TODAY and The New Paper, with more than 40 years of experience in the newsroom.

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Featured image adapted from Lawrence Wong on Facebook and Facebook.

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