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Event Series Event Series: Asia in Review Election Monitor 2024

Singapore’s Leadership in Transition: Challenges and Prospects for a Post-Lee Era, June 12, 2024

June 12 from 15:00 - 16:30 BMT

Asia in Review Event Series on Elections in 2024

June 12, 2024, 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. (GMT+7), online via Zoom video teleconferencing

organized in cooperation with the Asian Governance Foundation

Description

After some twenty years in office, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in mid-April announced his intention to step down, paving the way for Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong to be the city-state’s next premier starting on May 15 and to lead the long-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) into the next general election. This transition marks a significant moment in the city-state’s history, ending what was, in effect, 59 years of rule by the Lee family.  

A U.S.-trained economist, Wong was a career civil servant and worked as Lee’s Principal Private Secretary for three years before he entered politics in 2011. As the only senior member of Lee’s cabinet who did not come from a privileged family background, Wong served as indisputably competent in various ministerial positions both in domestic — and mainly economic — roles. But it was his role as co-leader of the government’s COVID-19 task force that garnered widespread recognition and positioned him as the frontrunner to succeed Loong as prime minister. In April 2021, Wong was named leader of the fourth generation (4G) of the PAP, almost exactly one year after Heng Swee Keat, a former central bank chief and education minister, took himself out of the running for the role. 

Crucially, Wong’s succession to the premiership comes at a time when Singapore is facing a broad range of challenges. Domestically, the ruling PAP is emerging from a series of recent political and financial scandals – some of the biggest the city-state as ever seen – that have impacted its famously clean image, including the first indictment on corruption charges of (now former) senior minister S. Iswaran. Additionally, the PAP, though still the dominant force, faces a more organized political opposition that can no longer be easily marginalized as a small group unrepresentative of Singaporean society. Indicative of the level of insecurity in Cabinet is that its primary response to criticism since 2017 has been to draft new laws that make it easier to silence and intimidate independent voices, such as the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act.

Meanwhile, on the international stage, Singapore is finding it increasingly difficult to hedge between its economic relationship with China and its desire to maintain a close security partnership with the United States. In fact, in his speech on May 15, Wong said that 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”. 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 will have to navigate all these challenges in just a few weeks while also preparing the PAP for a contested general election and reassuring the public, which has mostly been led by members of the Lee family, that he is ready on all these fronts. Speaking on May 15, Wong promised a leadership style “that will differ from previous generations, we will lead in our own way”. 

Against this backdrop, this webinar seeks to dissect the nuances of Singapore’s historic leadership transition and its implications for the nation’s future.

Background

The evolution of leadership in Singapore can be categorized into distinct generational shifts, with each generation representing a cohort of new officials being groomed to take over the reins of leadership. The first generation, led by Lee Kuan Yew, laid the foundation for the nation’s governance and development from 1965 to 1990. Lee stepped down as prime minister in 1990, but remained in the Cabinet under his successors, holding the appointments of Senior Minister until 2004, then Minister Mentor until 2011. 

Following Lee’s tenure, Goh Chok Tong assumed leadership, marking the beginning of the second generation that lasted until 2004. Under Goh’s leadership, Singapore underwent significant economic and social transformations, with emerging leader Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Lee Kuan Yew, being prepared to succeed him in 2004 leading the third generation of leaders until the present era. Lee Hsien Loong was from the beginning envisioned as the legitimate successor to Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong’s appointment as Prime Minister allowed for a smooth transition of leadership, providing Lee Hsien Loong with more time to gain experience and readiness for the role. 

Speakers (in alphabetical order)

Dr. Michael Barr is an Associate Professor of International Relations at Flinders University, Australia,  and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of Asian Studies Review and the author of The Ruling Elite of Singapore and Singapore: A Modern History, among other books on Singapore history and politics.  

Eugene Kheng Boon Tan is an Associate Professor of Law at the Yong Pung How School of Law, Singapore Management University (SMU). With a background in law and extensive experience in academia, Eugene teaches across multiple disciplines and conducts research on constitutional and administrative law, public policy, and ethnic relations in Singapore. He is also an active contributor to local and international media on political and societal issues. Eugene has served in Singapore’s Parliament and represents the country in the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. He holds degrees from the National University of Singapore, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Stanford University.

Moderator

Lucas Meier, Senior Program Officer and Asia in Review South Asia Regional Editor, CPG 

Agenda

Webinar Recap and Appreciation

This afternoon, CPG, in collaboration with the Asian Governance Foundation (AGF), hosted another webinar under its Asia in Review series on elections in 2024, titled “Singapore’s Leadership in Transition: Challenges and Prospects for a Post-Lee Era.”

The webinar featured Michael Barr, Associate Professor at the College of Business, Government, and Law at Flinders University, Australia, and Eugene Tan, Associate Professor of Law at the Yong Pung How School of Law at Singapore Management University.

We extend our sincere gratitude to both speakers for sharing their expertise and appreciate all participants who actively engaged and posed valuable questions during the open forum session. Special thanks go to AGF Board Members in attendance, including H.E. Kasit Piromya, former Foreign Minister of Thailand, and Pol. Lt-Gen. Suthin Khiewratana, former Commander of the Thai Border Patrol Police.

We look forward to your continued participation in our upcoming events as we explore key issues shaping Asia’s political landscape. Stay tuned for more insightful discussions and expert analyses in our Asia in Review series.

Contact Information

Contact Lucas Meier at lucas.meier@cpg-online.de for program content.

Contact Ms. Venus Phuangkom at events@cpg-online.de for administrative matters.

Details

Date:
June 12
Time:
15:00 - 16:30 BMT
Series:
Event Category:

Other

Event Type
Panel Discussion / Roundtable
Location
Online
Registration
Required