Lawrence Wong focusing his work on cost of living & housing issues, not when he'll succeed PM Lee

Answering a question on Singapore's system, Wong said that it will continually evolve, but it will be determined by Singaporeans and not external parties.

Andrew Koay | May 25, 2023, 04:28 PM

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Despite persistent curiosity over when he will rise to the top post in Singapore's government, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said he is more focused on domestic issues Singaporeans are concerned about.

Addressing a question at the 28th Nikkei Forum on the Future of Asia in Tokyo, Japan on May 25, Wong said that he had other "preoccupations" at the moment, instead of the exact timing of when he will become prime minister.

The moderator, Nikkei's Chief of International News Center Shigesaburo Okumura, had relayed a question from a contributor observing that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong designated Wong as his successor in April 2022, and asked when exactly will the transition take place.

"I have lots of things to do because we've got to work on the domestic issues where many Singaporeans are concerned about, areas of the economy, cost of living, jobs, housing," said Wong. "We are reviewing the social policies comprehensively within Singapore, so this occupies a lot of my time."

Next general election as milestone

Wong added that he is also stepping up his engagements overseas with Singapore's partners around the world.

Wong reiterated that the big milestone for succession was the next general election, which must be held by 2025. The leadership succession can take place either before or after the election.

There are either two options that revolve around this milestone — either he will succeed PM Lee before the election and lead the ruling party into the hustings, or he will take over after, should the People's Action Party return to power, although he will still take a key role in the campaign.

"So that's where we are," he said, adding that while "we will eventually make a decision" on the leadership succession timeframe at some point, "we should also focus on these other, broader issues."

Does not need external parties to validate Singapore's democracy

During the question and answer segment of his Nikkei Forum appearance, Wong was also asked about how Singapore felt about not being invited to the U.S. Summit for Democracy for the last two years.

Wong, who is also the Finance Minister, seemed unperturbed by the omission.

"We know who we are. The facts about our democracy speak for themselves," he said. "We are comfortable with who we are and we really do not need external parties or external events to validate our status."

Wong acknowledged that Singapore did not have all the characteristics seen in Western liberal democracies, but countered that the country's modus operandi was not to "blindly copy" but to adapt, learn and develop a model "suitable to our own circumstances".

"That model has worked so far and has delivered good outcomes," he added, citing surveys done by external parties indicating that Singapore has a high level of trust in the government and public institutions, like the judiciary.

While the system is not static, and continually evolves, it ultimately depends on Singaporeans and not external parties.

"We will have to determine our own fate," Wong said.

Integrated resorts not just about casinos

Wong also addressed a question about Singapore's approach to casinos in the context of Japan approving its first casino last month (April 2023).

"It was really about building something special," he said about the integrated resorts, which was "never just about casinos." Wong pointed out that the resorts provides a "whole range of offerings" not possible without the casino, which in turn created many jobs for Singaporeans.

"We have since reaped the dividends. Yes, we have built two integrated resorts, we have seen the positive outcomes arising from that, from these two resorts in terms of the economic benefits — the jobs created — and how its really put Singapore on the map when it comes to world-class entertainment (and) lifestyle offerings."

Wong added that the government would always be watchful regarding the issues that may arise from gambling, and that he would be happy to "exchange notes" with his Japanese counterparts on their experience with casinos.

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Top image by Ministry of Communications and Information